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Byron Hurt documents journey to trace his ancestry in new NOVA special

Byron Hurt sits on a curb, smiling, hands folded in front of him and his elbows rest on his knees. He is wearing a striped button down and denim pants.
Courtesy of Byron Hurt
Byron Hurt is currently adjunct faculty at Columbia Journalism School.

On this edition of In Black America, producer and host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with Byron Hurt and Althier Eady-Hurt. The two were recently involved in the Nova film Lee and Liza’s Family Tree, a documentary that traces the lineage of the Hurt family.

Hurt spent decades documenting the nuances of Black American culture. He produced award-winning films like film Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, which focused on how the titular genre intersects with misogyny and homophobia.

When Hurt was approached by Nova, a television program produced by WGBH, he was tasked with creating a documentary that was science-forward. Hurt remembered that his family had been documenting their history for generations. Like many Black American families, he relied on family gatherings and reunions to fill in the gaps of history that aren’t as easily accessible to descendants of slaves.

He told Nova that with the help of genealogists, maybe his ancestry would become more clear. Hurt’s idea was greenlit.

A scanned black-and-white photo of Lee Hurt Sr. and Liza Waller Hurt.
Portraits of Lee Hurt and Liza Waller, oldest known patriarch and matriarch of the Hurt-Waller family tree.

Hurt began with his oldest known ancestors, Lee Hurt Sr. and Liza Waller Hurt. He got in contact with their granddaughter, Althier Eady, and together they began uncovering more about their shared family history.

The two of them were lucky enough to access the photos, documents, and stories passed down by the elders in their large family. The Waller-Hurts have an executive committee, by-laws, and a reunion of up to 300 people. Hurt and Eady combined this resource with genealogy to rediscover a family history marred by slavery.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

On how this film impacted Eady’s family and community

Althier Eady: I had about 22 people over for dinner. And at the dinner we watched the documentary, and it was unbelievable because everyone sat so quiet and watching this documentary. And and after it was finished, they all applauded that, you know, this is this is wonderful. They loved it.

Not only family members, but people that I know in my community, at my church, are still asking if the documentary “Is still being streamed,” “Can I still watch it?” And so I think it has had a tremendous impact on the family and, and, you know, the closeness of the family. A couple of people that I know have looked at the documentary and they want to research their family tree. They feel that this has given them some information that they didn't have before, so that they can start researching their family history.

On how Hurt believes this film brings the family together

Byron Hurt: This is a film that's going to be in our family for generations. When we're long gone, you know, people will be able to people in our family will be able to watch this film and have a sense of our history. And hopefully, you know, younger family members will stand on our shoulders and we'll continue to journey.

This is the first of two interviews from Byron Hurt and Althier Eady on In Black America. The program airs on KUT on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. and Sundays at 6:30 a.m. You can also listen anytime on wherever podcasts are available. Lee and Liza’s Family Tree is available to be streamed on the PBS website.

John L. Hanson is the producer and host of the nationally syndicated radio series In Black America. It’s heard on home station KUT at 10 p.m. Tuesdays and 6:30 a.m. Sundays — and weekly on close to 20 stations across the country. The weekly podcast of IBA, the only nationally broadcast Black-oriented public affairs radio program, is one of KUT’s most popular podcasts.
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