How well do you know your family tree? For some, the branches extend into centuries of well-documented history with the swipe of a DNA sample. For others, like Dr. Antoinette Harrell, ancestral stories are kept alive through word-of-mouth passed down from generation to generation. This is the case for millions of Black and African Americans, whose lineage has been buried or erased entirely by slavery, making it difficult to connect with their roots.
Harrell, also known as the “Slavery Detective of the South,” is a genealogist, activist, historian, and author whose underground research revealed cases of illegal slavery well into the 1960s — over a century after the Civil War. Her exposure of sharecropping and modern-day slavery in the Southern states of Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi sent a shockwave throughout the country. The difficult discoveries were transformed into stories of resiliency seen by millions with the Starz thriller Alice, and an impactful Vice film Slavery After Freedom about how she tracks down modern-day slavery practices. She empowers others to spread her message: We all have a right to know where we come from.
Harrell will be a speaker at HP’s Black History Month Town Hall on February 8, leaning into the 2023 theme “Black Resistance” by shedding light on how Black Americans defy a painful past and centuries of oppression by arming themselves with knowledge and an urgency to act. She’ll be joined by Arthur Miller, the brother of Mae Louise Walls Miller, on whom the movie Alice was based and whose family was Harrell’s first case. Arthur Miller was also enslaved and held in involuntary servitude, only hearing about the Civil Rights Movement when African Americans began to march for their freedom in 1966.