Billy Porter discovers the real story behind great-grandfather's death and Twitter is in tears

Actor and activist Billy Porter appeared on the season premiere of NBC's Who Do You Think You Are? Sunday night, where he went on a journey to uncover his family's history and, ultimately, discovered the true story behind the death of his great-grandfather, Thomas Richardson. "I do remember hearing a story that my great-grandfather got shot in the back. That's as far as the conversation went," shared Porter.

After looking up Richardson's death certificate and multiple newspaper articles from 1923, he was surprised to read that his great-grandfather was shot in the breast, not his back. However, Ancestry Family Historian/Genealogist Nicka Sewell-Smith told Porter that white newspapers, back then, wrote stories "in a particular way" that differed from Black newspapers.

Sewell-Smith found the Pittsburgh Courier, a publication dedicated to reporting on the Black community, which pointed out that the story identified the fact that Richardson was shot and killed by a police officer. "Investigation discloses fact that white police officer 'with reputation for shooting' killed Joseph Richardson in cold blood," read Porter.

When Porter questioned what happened to the police officer who shot and killed his great-grandfather, he wasn't all that surprised to learn that the jury freed the officer of the murder charge, but was still overcome with emotions.

"The thing I hate the most on the planet is injustice," said Porter, who later added, "How do we continually take in this information, continually take in this trauma, continually live through this, and still show up for our lives? Violence against people of color is wholly American and reading this really sheds light on why it was never spoken about."

Viewers were also emotional over Porter's discovery, especially since these tragedies still exist a century later.

Fortunately, it wasn't all sad. Porter also learned that his great, great, great-grandparents were part of the 10% of Black people in America that were freed inhabitants early on, which to him, was empowering.

"Now when somebody asks me, 'How do you have so much strength? How can you stand up to a world that dismisses you,' it's, like, I come from this on both sides. You know, I came from people who were making a way out of no way the whole time. I am who I am because of who I come from," shared Porter.

Video transcript

BILLY PORTER: I do remember hearing a story that my grandfather got shot in the back. That's as far as the conversation went. So we know our great grandfather was murdered.

- Yes.

BILLY PORTER: We're calling it a murder.

- Yes.

KYLIE MAR: On the season premiere of NBC'S "Who Do You Think You Are?" Sunday night, actor and activist Billy Porter went on a journey to uncover his family's history and ultimately discovered the true story behind the death of his great grandfather.

BILLY PORTER: Investigation discloses fact that white police officer with reputation for shooting killed Joseph Richardson in cold blood.

KYLIE MAR: When Porter questioned what happened to the police officer who shot and killed his great grandfather, he wasn't all that surprised to learn that the jury freed the officer of the murder charge. But he was still overcome with emotions.

BILLY PORTER: How do we continually take in this information, continually taking this trauma, continually live through this, and still show up for our lives?

KYLIE MAR: Viewers were also emotional over Porter's discovery, especially since these tragedies still exist a century later. One person tweeted, I am watching Billy Porter on the show "Who Do You Think You Are," and my heart feels a little heavy seeing the discovery that his great grandfather was murdered by a white cop in 1923. Here we are in 2022, still witnessing those same atrocities. My God.

But it wasn't all sad. Porter also learned that his three times great-grandparents were part of the 10% of Black people in America that were freed inhabitants early on, which to him was empowering.

BILLY PORTER: When somebody asks me, how do you have so much strength? How can you stand up to a world that dismisses you? And, you know, and it's like, well, I come from this on both sides.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting