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Regina King gets emotional after discovering grandfather’s ‘unimaginable’ double life

The actor said her grandmother was a "very sad woman." During an episode of "Finding Her Roots," she learned why.
Regina King gets emotional while learning about her ancestry on "Finding Your Roots."
Regina King gets emotional while learning about her ancestry on "Finding Your Roots."'Finding Your Roots' / McGee Media LLC

Regina King's late father didn't open up about his childhood while he was alive, but the actor learned some eye-opening facts about his upbringing that helped her understand him more while appearing on episode of PBS' "Finding Your Roots."

During the episode, which aired during Season Eight of the PBS show, Hall spoke fondly of Thomas King Jr., who died in 2009. But she acknowledged that her father was a very mysterious man.

"Growing up, I never really knew much about him other than he loved us and where he worked and his friends, who were his good friends. But never did he share (his roots)," she said.

The show’s host, Henry Louis Gates Jr., then told King that her grandfather, Thomas King Sr., wasn’t around for part of her father’s childhood.

This came as a surprise to King.

“From my vantage point as a girl, my grandfather was definitely in (my father’s) life because I knew my grandfather. My grandfather actually gave me away at my wedding,” she said.

King, now 52, had a mix of emotions upon hearing that her late dad didn't have a steady father figure in his life.

“It makes me angry. It makes me feel sad for my dad," she said.

Census records from 1940 show that King's grandfather had two separate families in two different cities. King's father and grandmother, Ruby, lived in Memphis. But he was legally married to a woman named Cora who lived in Chicago.

When King first read the census record, she said, "I don't understand." His double lives had never been discussed in her family.

Hearing this gave King new perspective on Ruby's demeanor.

"My grandmother was a very sad woman. I remember that as a little girl," King said.

"Now you know why," Gates replied.

Gates and the "Finding Your Roots" team were able to dig into Thomas King Sr.'s history to find that he also grew up under "challenging circumstances." His parents, James and Callie King, divorced when he was a child. Records she she disappeared form his life and lived with a new husband, in a new city.

"My mind is just ... this is a lot to take in. A lot I've never seen and never heard," King said, speaking about her family's "patterns." She called the revelation "unimaginable."

Learning about the many layers of her father's upbringing helped the actor understand him a bit more.

“Pain is inherited as well as joy," she said.

King also learned about some painful stories on her mother's side of the family. For instance, her third great-grandfather, Bob Kane, was a slave and was bequeathed as property when he was only 6. King reflected on how different her life was at that age.

“At the age of 6, I was safe,” she said.

While thinking about everything that her great-grandfather went through, King suggested that her family's "resilience" comes from him.

She was also pleased to hear about Bob's life after he became a free man in Alabama. He married his wife, Ellen Kane. And two years after the Civil War, he registered to become a voter as soon as it was legal, even though he was illiterate at the time.

"That’s amazing," King said, wiping her eyes. "So now these are happy tears because he understood the importance of that and what that meant. Like you said, even though he couldn't read and he couldn't write, he could feel."