A Look At 'African-American Lives'

Oprah Winfrey arrives at the Legends Ball in this May 14, 2005 file photo, in Santa Barbara, Calif. In 1988, Winfrey, dressed in skinny jeans and a long-sleeve dark top, wheeled a wagon loaded with fat onto the set of her show to represent her recent 67-pound weight loss.
This column was written by CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.
The first installment of "African-American Lives" aired last night on PBS. The brilliant historian Henry Louis Gates delves into the family trees of a number of prominent African-Americans, and the result is nothing short of spellbinding.

Oprah, Quincy Jones, TD Jakes, Whoopi Goldberg — all are equally awestruck by the findings of Gates and his researchers. Oprah found out that her passion for education, instilled in part by her father, was indeed the product of generations of teachers.

Whoopi finds out that her forebears were homesteaders — people strong enough to get and hang onto land — something almost unheard of for black Americans at the time.

Gates' program is like a modern version of "Roots." We see quite clearly, for instance in his own family, the lines straight back to slavery — even the rental price paid for his own relatives.

Thank goodness for PBS and its rerun schedule. You haven't missed it yet and part two is next week

Harry's daily commentary can be heard on manyCBS Radio News affiliates across the country.
By Harry Smith