“You Know You’re Black, Right?” NBCUniversal Executive Questioned For Finding Her Chinese Roots
Paula Williams Madison, a retired journalist and NBC Universal executive has longed to connect with her extended family all her life. Growing up, her mother would often tell her about the importance of family, yet would not disclose their own mysterious background. Madison’s mother, Nell Vera Lowe, was half-Jamaican, half-Chinese and a descendant of the Hakka tribe from China.
Madison’s maternal grandfather Samuel Lowe left his Jamaican family to return to China when Madison’s mother was three years old. He never returned to Jamaica and Madison’s mother never saw him again. As a child, Madison recalls pretending to “speak” to her grandfather in order to gather more information about their family history. She told ABC News reporter Juju Chang, “I used to talk to my grandfather. What I would hear was ‘Keep looking for me. You’ll find me.’”
Once she got older, Madison wrote a book and filmed a documentary by the same title, Finding Samuel Lowe, to capture her search for her mother’s patrilineal roots. During her search, Madison traveled to the Hakka conference in Toronto and met its director Dr. Keith Lowe. After their initial meeting, Dr. Lowe emailed his family to see if they knew of a Samuel Lowe.
Much to Madison’s surprise, Dr. Lowe’s uncle said that was his father. Once the connection was made, Madison learned of her Chinese lineage dating back more than 3,000 years. Three years ago, Madison along with 19 Black Chinese family members flew to China to meet the 300-plus descendants of Samuel Lowe. During the trip, Madison was able to visit her grandfather’s grave, which left her in tears. Of the experience, she noted: “What hit me was that I am physically in the presence for the first time in my life of the remains of my grandfather and it just hit me hard.”
The Hakka tribe is known in China to be migratory. Originally from Northern China, the Hakka people migrated to Southern China and other areas in the world. During the mid 19th century, there was a mass migration of Hakka people to the Caribbean where many served as indentured servants through labor contracts. Once their contracts ended, some of them moved back to China whereas others stayed in the Caribbean and sought entrepreneurial or professional careers.
In the trailer for Finding Samuel Lowe, Madison recalls her husband asking if she knew she was Black despite descending from the Chinese Hakka tribe prior to meeting her Chinese relatives. He questioned her expectations before visiting them because of the negative race relations between Chinese and Black people in the United States. See how she responded to him, below.