LeVar Burton is shocked to learn he is descended from a Confederate soldier

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Actor LeVar Burton was in disbelief when he learned he was descended from a White Confederate soldier on Tuesday's episode of “Finding Your Roots.”

The PBS documentary uses written ancestry and DNA research to uncover the long-lost family stories of celebrity guests.

Show host and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. revealed to Burton that his family had been keeping a deep secret for generations. The man he thought was his great-great-grandfather was not a genetic match for him. His great-grandmother, Mary Sills, was actually descended from a white man named James Henry Dixon.

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“Did you expect that? “Did you have any idea that you had a white direct ancestor?” host Gates asked Burton.

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Actor LeVar Burton was stunned when he discovered his white heritage on the PBS show “Finding Your Roots.” (PBS/Screenshot)

Burton was incredulous at this discovery. “No! No, I had no idea. So grandma was half white! Wow,” he responded.

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Further research into Burton's ancestry revealed even more surprising discoveries. His ancestor was born in North Carolina in 1847 and served in the Confederate Army reserves as a teenager. He later fathered a child with an African American woman who was born into slavery.

“Are you kidding? Oh my God. Oh my God. “I didn’t see that coming,” Burton admitted.

Burton, who portrayed a slave in the 1977 TV miniseries “Roots,” was stunned to learn that his great-great-grandfather had fought to protect slavery during the American Civil War.

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He thought aloud about his great-great-grandparents' relationship.

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Actor LeVar Burton learned that his great-great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier who fathered a child with an African-American woman born into slavery. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“I often wonder about the white men of this era and how they justify to themselves their relationships with black women, especially those with unbalanced power dynamics. There has to be a strong emotional and mental separation,” Burton reflected.

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“So in my opinion it's possible that he thought about it and was conflicted at worst, perhaps remorseful at best. And then there’s a chance he didn’t think about it at all,” he added.

After seeing a photo of his great-great-grandfather, Burton joked that he would have “fighted” Gates if he had told him he had white ancestry before he was presented with the evidence.

Referencing his “Roots” character’s name, he joked: “What? Kunta has white ancestry? What? Come on, Skip,” he said, referring to Gates by his nickname.

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Based on Alex Haley's best-selling book, “Roots” follows 100 tumultuous years and multiple generations of the author's African ancestors, from the arrival of Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton, right), the West African youth kidnapped into slavery and shipped to America, through emancipation after the Civil War. (Getty Images)

As Burton reflected on these discoveries, he confessed, “There is a conflict raging inside me right now, but strangely I also feel a path opening.”

He said he wanted to have a “conversation” with Americans about how our history with slavery has led us to the current moment, but felt that wasn't possible because of political and racial polarization.

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“That’s why I was looking for an entry point to talk to White America,” he said. “Here it is.”

After the initial shock, Burton said he was surprised but “acknowledged” his entire family history.


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Other celebrities were shocked to learn about her heritage on the hit PBS show.

Last year, former Black Panther Angela Davis was surprised to learn that her ancestors passed by on the Mayflower.