DNA used to reveal MLK and Garvey’s European lineage

theGRIO REPORT - Besides being civil rights icons, King and Garvey share another unique bond -- their paternal ancestries trace back to Europe...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Using the power of DNA, AfricanAncestry.com has traced the lineage of civil rights icons Marcus Garvey and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. back to their native African tribes. It turns out King and Garvey share a unique bond — their paternal ancestries trace back to Europe.

The test was conducted using DNA samples from the each the of men’s sons, Martin Luther King III and Dr. Julius Garvey, respectively.

For the King family, the results complement the paper trail research they’ve done on Dr. King’s paternal side that traces to Ireland. Martin Luther King III’s test also revealed his mother’s lineage, the late Coretta Scott King, who it was determined, shares ancestry with the Mende people of Sierra Leone.

Dr. Garvey’s paternal lineage traced back to Portugal and Spain in Europe, and his maternal line traced to present-day Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Senegal.

“It is actually not uncommon for paternal lineages of African-Americans to trace to Europe due to the number of white male slave owners fathering children with enslaved African women,” said Dr. Rick Kittles, co-founder and scientific director for African Ancestry.

“Being able to give that information to the descendants [of the King’s and Garvey’s] is a milestone for the organization,” Nichole Taylor, the website’s spokesperson told theGrio. “What DNA is able to do is take us back to the actual grounds of where we came from. We don’t have to just say that we are from Africa anymore, we can say ‘I’m from Sierra Leone,’ or ‘I’m from Cameroon.’”

Taylor says AfricanAncestry has tested some of the largest icons in the U.S., especially African-Americans, but until now they have focused mainly on those who are already living.

“Who better than someone like Dr. Martin Luther King or Coretta Scott King?” Taylor said.

AfricanAncestry has paved the way for DNA-based ancestry tracing for African-Americans, revealing the roots of prominent black people like singer India Arie, Judge Glenda Hatchett, film director Spike Lee and actor Blair Underwood.

“One test can reveal the lineage of an entire family,” said Gina Paige, co-founder and president of AfricanAncestry. “As an African-American, I’m personally proud and passionate about all the families we’ve been able to help since our inception several years ago. It is of the highest professional honor that we’ve contributed to history by tracing the ancestries of these iconic families.”

Taylor calls this a breakthrough in science. African-Americans have much more of a challenge in tracing lineage than any other group, she says, because of the way blacks came to the Americas. Taylor says people no longer have to stop their lineage at the slave trade.

“Prior to 2003, we were not able to tell where we are from as black people in America farther than the slave ships. Now you have this tool, this resource, that literally bypasses anything that you can find in the library, or any missteps or incomplete information. You have your body, exactly what you are constructed of, to lead you back to the continent,” Taylor added.

Tests range in cost from $275 to $320 and results are made available in approximately six weeks.