January 29th, 2012
05:34 PM ET

Don Lemon: Legacy of 'one drop' rule inspires search for family history

Editor's note: Don Lemon anchors CNN Newsroom during weekend prime-time and serves as a correspondent across CNN's U.S. programming. He is the author of the memoir "Transparent."

This is  final installment of  a three-part series about the 1ne Drop Project. Read Don Lemon's column, "It only takes one drop," and Yaba Blay's column, "What does Blackness look like?"

The video above contains offensive language. Viewer discretion is advised.

By Don Lemon, CNN

You never know from where inspiration will come.

I am often envious of my friends who can recite stories about ancestors that have been handed down through generations. I can’t do that. As a descendant of slavery in America, that hasn't felt possible for me. Truthfully, I didn’t think about it much until a few weeks ago, after I was asked by CNN’s In America team to write about the impact of a mixed racial background on my life, the idea that "one drop" of black blood makes you black.

In that article, I wrote about how my aunt and grandmother in Louisiana often were mistaken for white. I wrote about the extremes they went to in order to protect their husbands, who were black, from beatings by white men, or worse.

As I began to write the article, I sent a text message to my mother asking that she email photos of my aunt and grandmother. She sent me what she had, but asked why I wanted them. I told her I’d call to explain once I got home that evening.

When I finished the draft of the article, I zipped off a copy to her via email. A few minutes later, as I was driving home from work, my phone rang. When my mother began to tell me the stories of my aunt and grandmother, I had to pull over in a parking lot to take it all in. Some of it I knew. Much of it I didn’t.

My mother said, “Don, your aunt and grandmother really are quintessential ‘one drop’ Americans.”

“Why, mom?” I asked.

“I know you overheard some of this as a child, but your aunt’s father was a white man,” she said. “Your grandmother’s father was a white man.”


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Filed under: Black in America • Discrimination • History • How we look