Edward Norton Ancestors Owned Slaves: ‘You Just Want To Die’

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Videos by Rare

Hollywood star Edward Norton had a straightforward answer to learning his family had been slave owners.

The exchange happened on the latest episode of Finding Your Roots. In the reveal, Norton is shown a photo of a slave family and is told that they were owned by his ancestors. Norton gives a succinct reply in the exchange.

“The short answer is, these things are uncomfortable, and you should be uncomfortable with them,” he said. “Everybody should be uncomfortable with it.

“It’s not a judgement on your and your own life but it’s a judgement on the history of this country. It needs to be acknowledged first and foremost, and then it needs to be contended with.”

The somber message continued.

“When you go away from census counts and you personalize things, you’re talking about, possibly, a husband and wife with five girls – and these girls are slaves. Born into slavery.”

Host Henry Louis Gates Jr. responds: “Born into slavery and in slavery in perpetuity.”

“Yeah,” Norton acknowledged. “When you read ‘slave aged eight,’ you just want to die.”

What was in the photo?

The photo was of a 55-year-old man, a 37-year-old woman, and five girls. The children are listed at being age four, six, eight, nine, and 10.

There was not a date on the photo. According his wikipedia page, Norton is the grandson of James Rouse, making William Goldsmith Rouse his great-grandfather. The elder Rouse was a wealthy attorney and businessman that was born in 1867. Before him, his great-great-father, was John Goldsmith Rouse. That would be the only generations with photography, and slavery, in Maryland.

If Norton is not a direct-descendent, Willard Rouse II and Willard Rouse III were both wealthy real estate developers in the area at the time.

Julia Roberts was the guest on the season premiere with Norton.

Brian Cox, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, Viola Davis, David Duchovny, Richard Kind, Cyndi Lauper and Danny Trejo are all scheduled to appear in the ninth season of the show.

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