It’s Rare to Find a Black American With 100 Percent African Ancestry

Most African-Americans have some degree of mixed race, according to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.

Posted: 03/28/2012 04:45 PM EDT
Henry Louis Gates Jr.

According to noted educator Henry Louis Gates, there are no Black Americans with 100 percent African ancestry.

“We have never tested an African-American who is 100 percent African,” Gates said, speaking at Grambling State University. “The average African-American is 77 percent Black or African, 17 percent European and less than 5 percent Native American."

Gates is a professor at Harvard University and director of the school’s  W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research.

Gates was the host and co-producer of the PBS show “African American Lives" and “African American Lives 2.” In those series, the ancestry of more than a dozen African-Americans were traced using genealogical and historic tools in addition to DNA testing. Gates is continuing his look at ancestry with the new PBS show “Finding Your Roots.

While at Grambling, Gates asked the group of students at the historically Black university, faculty and staff how African they considered their heritage to be. He told the attendees it is unlikely any one of them was as Black as they might have considered.

Gates has written, “Every Black American text must confess to a complex ancestry."

He told the group he first became interested in African-American genealogy years ago, when he “stumbled” on a photograph of his great-great grandmother Jane Gates.

“It’s the day I first saw this photograph, and I saw this photograph on the day my grandfather was buried,” Gates said.

Gates was the center of national news two years ago when he was arrested on the porch of his own home after being mistaken for a robber. President Obama weighed in on the arrest, saying the police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had acted “stupidly.”

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(Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

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