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During his 2017 NFL Hall of Fame induction, running back LaDainian Tomlinson gave an inspiring speech about his family roots.

I grew up on the land of a former slave plantation,” said Tomlinson. “And although I didn’t know this as a child, it is where my great great great grandfather tilled the soil.

Tomlinson, who played for the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets, told the story of his great great great grandfather George. George was taken from west Africa as a slave, and given the last name “Tomlinson”–the last name of the plantation owner. Tomlinson talked about the hardship his ancestor endured, but also the dignity he had to show in order to make a new life in a new land. To honor his memory, Tomlinson took his family to the plantation to show them the slave quarters in which he lived.

The family legacy that began in such a cruel way has given birth to generations of successful, caring Tomlinsons,” he said. ‘My story is America’s story. All of our ancestors, unless we are American Indian, came from another country, another culture.”

Near the end, Tomlinson advocated for the country to become “Team America”. He used the story of George Tomlinson to implore Americans to come together, aim for higher ideals, and strive to be better than our pasts.

“My great great great grandfather had no choice,” he said. “We have one.”

You can watch Tomlinson’s full speech here  (fast forward to 19:50 to hear about his ancestry).

Joshua Adams is a  journalist and adjunct instructor from Chicago. His writings often explain current and historical cultural phenomena through personal narratives – @JournoJoshua


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‘My Story Is America’s Story:’ NFL Hall of Famer On Slave Ancestry  was originally published on