Actor David Harewood burst into tears after discovering the names of his four-time great-grandparents and having an extraordinary conversation with The Earl of Harewood, whose ancestors enslaved them.
Born in Birmingham to Barbadian parents, the 55-year-old Homeland star traveled to Barbados to see the plantations his relatives worked on and to Harewood House in Yorkshire – the home of an aristocratic British family built with the profits from the slavery.
He met Viscount David Lascelles, 70, the 8th Earl of Harewood, the Queen’s godson and first cousin after he was removed. The actor’s surname is taken from the name of the house. Slaves, who had no records of their origin, were given the names of their masters.
In scenes captured by Channel 5’s cameras for the documentary 1,000 Years A Slave, which aired last night, the aristocrat explained that he doesn’t feel guilty about his family’s past, but does feel “responsible” for his family name for good today.
Actor David Harewood burst into tears after discovering the names of his four-times great-grandparents and having an extraordinary conversation with The Earl of Harewood, whose ancestors enslaved them in a new Channel 5 documentary (pictured together)
The couple first met in 2007, during celebrations to mark the bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery Act, but at the time David did not know the names of his enslaved ancestors. David also visited the house – near Leeds – when he was in his twenties, but had no idea of his family’s connection to it.
But after meeting genealogists in Barbados, he discovered that his paternal great-great-great-grandfather, Richard Harewood, was born in 1817 on the Fortescue Plantation in St. Phillip, who helped fund the English mansion.
Richard’s wife Betty – David’s four-times great-grandmother – was also born a slave on the Fortescue Plantation.
While David had explored part of his family tree, he had never known the names of his enslaved ancestors until he met local genealogist Pat Stafford in St Philip.
Before 1854 and the abolition of slavery, enslaved people were not included in the register of births and deaths, meaning David could not find the names through conventional methods.
The Homeland star, 54, (pictured) who was born in Birmingham to Barbadian parents, traveled to Barbados to see the plantations his relatives worked on and to Harewood House in Yorkshire – the home of an aristocratic British family built with the profits made from slavery.
But Pat was able to find the names of David’s relatives by looking through the slave registers, which were introduced in 1817 after the Bussa Rebellion – the largest slave revolt in Barbadian history.
“I learn more about my family, it just helps to color my identity and the history of my people. I’m sure it can get a little emotional, it’s a very dark chapter in British history,” David explained, adding that he was never taught about slavery in schools.
While looking out over a cluster of sugar plantations with Pat, David explains, “I know part of my family tree.
“These plantations belonged to Leo of Harewood,” Pat explained.
“We found a file on a lady named Betty who had a son named Benjamin.
“I found Richard – 17 years old in 1834 – these people who we think are your four times great-grandparents.”
Gratefully, David said ‘that’s unbelievable’, adding ‘it’s kinda sad to know’.
While David had explored part of his family tree, he had never known the names of his enslaved ancestors until he met local genealogist Pat Stafford in St. Philip, Barbados (pictured together)
In further disturbing scenes, the father of two read the Barbados Slave Code of 1661, a piece of colonial law instructing slave owners on how to control their “chatels” with torture. The document instructed plantation masters to use enslaved people and brand initials in their faces with hot irons.
David Harewood’s Paternal Family Tree
Great-great-great-great-grandfather Richard Harewood, born into slavery in 1817 at Thickets, Fortescue Plantation in St Phillip, later a laborer
Great-great-great-grandfather Benjamin William, born 1840, St John, Laborer
Great-great-grandfather, Daniel Harewood, born 1867 in St John (Worker)
great-grandfather, Nathaniel Harwood born 1867 in St John
grandpa, Herbert Harewood, born 1900 in St. John
Father – Romeo Harewood, born 1937 in Barbados
David Harewood- born 1965 in Birmingham, UK
David is one of many British stars exploring their past on the Channel 5 show.
Others included British-Ghanaian actor Hugh Quarshie, Tottenham MP David Lammy, who is of Guyanese and Barbadian descent, and Lenny Henry who was born in Dudley to Jamaican parents.
On his return to the UK, David went to Harewood’s house to meet with Viscount David Lascelles, 8th Earl of Harewood, 70.
The Earl is a great-nephew once removed from the Queen and a great-grandson of King George V.
David described the palladium mansion — which had been built on the profits of sugar and slavery as a “monument to white supremacy,” explaining that the building’s “emotional toll” until the meeting left him “wasted.”
“The opulence, the grandeur, it’s like a monument to white supremacy. What I don’t see is the other side of the story,” the actor explained.
“I didn’t sleep last night, I’ve been thinking a lot about this meeting. I think the emotional toll of building it up made me pretty wasted, to actually meet the 8th Earl when it was the 2nd Earl my grandparents owned, it’s pretty big.
Speaking to the Earl, he continued: ‘My great-great-great-great-grandparents were slaves on your family’s plantation, this is a beautiful house, but it was built with the proceeds of slavery. Do you feel guilty or ashamed about That?
“No, not in a personal way,” Viscount Lascelles replied.
“I don’t feel guilty about something you had nothing to do with, that helps. I think you should take responsibility for your own actions.
“But in this day and age I don’t feel responsible, but I do feel responsible. There is nothing you can do to change the past, but you can be active in the present.
“We did a lot in 2007 for the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and beyond for the programs we have here.
On his return to the UK, David went to Harewood House (pictured) to meet David Lascelles, 8th Earl of Harewood, 70. The house was built on the profits of slavery
“What I’m trying to do about that legacy, to try in a little way to make that a force for good today.
Collapsing after the encounter, David explained how grateful he was to be able to tell his daughters Maize, 18, and Raven, 16, about their parentage.
“I’ve underestimated its psychological toll, and knowing how much resistance there has been to Black Lives Matter in the press and social media, it’s exhausting dealing with the ignorance because it’s tangible to me.
“It’s something I’m working on and what I’m working on. And my daughters will know where they come from and understand where they come from in a way I didn’t know.
“It’s a sense of history and story and longevity and understanding of who I am. I now understand who I am, I’m not just these kids coming from Birmingham – I’m more than that.
“It makes me proud, very proud, I can say to my children, these are your grandparents, this is what happens to them, they survived, they have to hold their heads up, they have to carry on the story, that’s a proud line of strong people.’
Watch 1000 Years a Slave on My5