Bishop T.D. Jakes, who has visited Africa many times, proudly talks about his Nigerian roots after confirming, through a DNA test, that his ancestors were from Nigeria.
“Going back there recently, I went into an area that was predominantly Ibo and it was kind of emotional to me,” Jakes said. “Because they made presentations to me — my house is decorated with a lot of African art — and they were telling me this is what your language sounds like.”
Jakes said he has a vivid recollection of his great-grandmother who was once enslaved. He was just 10 years old but said he remembers listening to his great-grandmother talk about slavery and his family’s history.
“And I think of how so many people look at Africa and they talk about poverty but when I looked at it, I thought they are so rich in ways that we are poor.” Jakes said. “They know who they are, they know whose they are, they know where they came from, they proudly understand their languages, and in that way, we are very poor and so there needs to be a greater exchange between us as people because for me it was like regaining a part of myself that was lost.”
Jakes served as the honorary co-chair of a new traveling exhibit, “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty,” which will run recently at Dallas’ African American Museum and premiered at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The exhibit showcases more than 300 artifacts.
Jakes reflected on the artifacts, which conjured images of enslaved Africans aboard slave ships heading from West Africa to the Americas.
“All of the people who got on the boat were not the same people, but they had to unify in order to survive under stress.” Jakes said. “It’s an amazing story when you think about it. They didn’t even speak any other’s language so well that was a certain amount of distrust under the planks of the ship there was a huge enemy above and so in that sandwich dimension of history we survive nonetheless.
“We learn how to communicate with each other,” Jakes said. “We learned how to become a people. We struggle with what to call ourselves — ‘darkies’ and ‘coloreds’ and ‘niggers’ and Negroes’ and all of these names that were thrust upon us is a reflection of trying to identify who am I.”
Dallas is the first city to host the exhibit that will feature additional objects that have never left Monticello. Other stops for the exhibit include Detroit, Richmond and the West Coast in 2019.
“I think that no matter what the color of the people are anytime we allow one group of people to have that much power, abuse perpetuates itself,” Jakes said, “whether you are talking about some of the atrocities that have happened in the history of the Jews or whether you’re talking about the apartheid in South Africa, or whether you’re talking about slavery and Jim Crow in America.”