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Billy Porter: 'The Thing I Hate the Most on the Planet Is Injustice'

While investigating his great-grandfather's murder on NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?, the Pose actor discovered a devastating—but sadly, not surprising—incident of police brutality. 

By Christopher Rosa

Who Do You Think You Are? returns to NBC Sunday, July 10 at 7 p.m. ET with an episode centered on Pose actor Billy Porter. 

How to Watch

Watch Who Do You Think You Are? on NBC and Peacock

Porter—who won a Tony in 2013 for playing Lola in the hit Broadway musical Kinky Boots—came to Who Do You Think You Are? with questions about his great-grandfather, who he believed was shot in the back. (WDYTYA, of course, sees celebrities investigating their family lineages and, more often than not, discovering shocking and surprising tidbits.) 

To get some answers about his great-grandfather, Porter started with newspaper archives and found two articles with conflicting reports—neither which matched what his family had told him. Both papers said Porter's great-grandfather had an incident with a police officer that led to his shooting—but not in the back. In fact, the papers made it seem like Porter's great-grandfather did something to warrant being shot. 

So Porter sought the help of Nicka Sewell-Smith, a family historian/genealogist with Ancestry. Sewell-Smith went to the Carnegie Library and discovered a third newspaper article that had the account of Porter's great-grandfather reported as Porter remembered it: that he was shot unjustly in the back by a police officer. It turns out the two newspapers that got it wrong were publications run by white editors, which slanted the way they wrote the story. The paper that accurately published the information was the Pittsburgh Courier, a Black newspaper that Sewell-Smith said was "dedicated to reporting out on [the Black] community." 

The Pittsburgh Courier correctly depicted the death of Porter's great-grandfather as an incident of police brutality—one that incensed the community. A "mass meeting of indignation" was held at a local Baptist church because of what happened to Porter's great-grandfather. 

"The community came together," Sewell-Smith said. "They're upset. One of their own has been killed. Them even gathering in 1923 as a result of a shooting by a white police officer and a Black man was an act of protest." 

To this, Porter said, "It makes me happy that they were so active in getting the truth out, because that's who I am. The thing I hate the most on the planet is injustice." 

Watch Porter's episode of Watch Who Do You Think You Are? in full on NBC Sunday, July 10 at 7 p.m. ET. 

And watch Who Do You Think You Are? in general on NBC Sundays at 7 p.m. ET and next day on Peacock.