NBC Television Documentary “Who Do You Think You Are”
Partially transcribed and compiled from Secretary of State and National News Releases
TV Star Discovers TN Legislator Ancestor -- On TV
While actress and singer Vanessa Williams made history by becoming the first African American woman to be crowned Miss America, one of her ancestors was among a group that made an important first in Tennessee history. Recently Kathy Lauder, researcher, archivist and historian for the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) helped guide the Grammy, Emmy and Golden Globe winner through the history of her West Tennessee ancestors in the February 4th, 2011, season premier of the popular genealogy tracking show “Who Do You Think You Are?” televised on NBC-affiliated stations across the country.
Williams was delighted to learn that her paternal great-great-grandfather, William Feilds, (also spelled “Fields”), was a teacher just like both of her parents. But Lauder's deeper research uncovered other findings that surprised Williams.
Following Emancipation, Fields was one of fourteen African Americans elected to the Tennessee General Assembly during Reconstruction. Representing northwest Shelby County from 1885 to 1886, he advocated for fair labor laws and advanced education opportunities. Fields went on to serve his community nobly as a notary public, justice of the peace, census taker and county magistrate until his death in 1898.
Lauder's research work caught NBC's attention last summer, when they first inquired about her findings on Fields. Camera crews arrived to film at the TSLA and State Capitol in October, taking great care to maintain historical accuracy and use information only from primary sources.
TSLA provided antique photographs, records of General Assembly proceedings, Field's certificate of election and several hand-written copies of bills that he introduced. Tennessee's historical records also include a 1.5 larger-than-life bronze and Tennessee pink marble statue of Sampson W. Keeble just outside of the Tennessee House of Representatives chamber that commemorates the first black legislators. Sculptor Roy W. Butler created the Keeble Monument and Fields' name is included on the plaque in that exhibit.
Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State.
"It is vital that the history of our black legislators be preserved and we are pleased that NBC has taken an interest in the TSLA," said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. "This show will give those across the country a lesson in Tennessee's rich history and the state's vast archival collection."
To learn more about Fields and Tennessee's African-American legislators from the Reconstruction era, CLICK HERE
To read more about sculptor Roy W. Butler's Sampson W. Keeble Monument, CLICK HERE
Vanessa Williams viewing Sampson W. Keeble Monument for first time which prominently includes the listing of her great-great-grandfather, William A. Fields.
Kathy Lauder, researcher, archivist and historian for the Tennessee State Library and Archives, was very instrumental in assisting Vanessa to trace her Tennessee ancestry.
Kathy has also spent many years researching the ancestry of Sampson W. Keeble, Tennessee’s first black legislator, and many aspects of the USCT and Tennessee involvement in the Civil War. Her research has brought her face to face with Keeble’s current relatives living throughout the northeast, many of whom attended the unveiling ceremony in March of 2010.
We are very proud of this photo of Kathy, because it shows the true, sincere person she really is and her genuine love for history and research documentation.
Tennessee historical photograph of Vanessa’s great-great-grandfather, William A. Fields.
William A Fields inscription on Sampson W. Keeble Monument.
Vanessa Williams and Kathy Lauder reviewing Tennessee historical documents listing William A. Fields.
Vanessa kept a detailed journal throughout her travels to several states researching her ancestry. Here she is pictured reviewing her journal with the Sampson W. Keeble Monument in the background.
Photo of original 44th General Assembly Legislative Composite. Provided by Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Vanessa reviewing the original 44th General Assembly Legislative Composite.