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NFL quarterback Russell Wilson gets hometown welcome

Joey Matthews | 4/8/2016, 7:20 a.m.
Seattle Seahawks All-Pro quarterback Russell Wilson scored a touchdown with a hometown crowd of 4,500 people at the Richmond Forum, ...
With a large screen illuminating their onstage presence Saturday, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson talks about growing up in Richmond with Harvard University professor Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. at the Richmond Forum. James Haskins/Richmond Free Press

Mr. Wilson also praised his grandmother, Carolyn Wilson, and grandfather, Harrison B. Wilson Jr., who served as Norfolk State University’s second president from 1975 through 1997 and was a winning basketball coach at Jackson State University in Mississippi with a record of 340 wins and only 72 losses.

As they discussed his family roots, Mr. Wilson was wide-eyed and repeatedly shook his head in wonderment as he learned of a heritage that included enslaved and freed black people and white ancestors.

“I knew it!” Mr. Wilson exulted at one point as he stood and shook his fist in delight to applause after Dr. Gates informed him his ancestors included King Henry II of England who was born in 1133; Charlemagne, king of the Franks, who was born in 782; and Saint Arnulf, the bishop of Metz, who was born in 582.

He also learned about his maternal grandfather, Alexander B. Jackson, a renowned painter and teacher who became the first full-time African-American professor at Old Dominion University in 1967. He died in 1981. President Lyndon B. Johnson purchased some of his artwork.

Mr. Wilson also learned that some of his perseverance could be traced to Charity Southgate, his paternal great-great-great-great-grandmother. She was born free to a white woman and black man and should have remained that way, according to the law at that time, but she later was enslaved, Dr. Gates said.

She fought for her right to be free starting as an 18-year-old in 1824, but it took 23 years and two lawsuits before she and her family finally gained their freedom.

Dr. Gates showed Mr. Wilson a pollbook from 1967 that showed that his maternal great-great-great-great-grandfather, Britton Turner, and his son, Washington, had registered to vote two years after the end of the Civil War.

At the end of the forum, Mr. Wilson told the audience, “Some of our ancestors may have grown up as slaves. Some may have been slave owners. We forget we’re all human.”

What it comes down to now, he said, is “really loving people.”

“Sometimes, you have to forget what a person looks like, forget what a person believes in, forget what a person does have or does not have … You have to look deep inside and love.”

After a brief pause, he laughed and added, “Because you’re probably connected” in some way.