Who Do You Think You Are: Billy Porter learns the shocking truth about his ancestor

Billy Porter in Who Do You Think You Are?
Billy Porter on Who Do You Think You Are? (Image credit: NBCUniversal)

The new season of NBC’s genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? kicked off with actor Billy Porter’s deeply moving journey to discover the truth about an old story passed down about one of his ancestors. "These are the shoulders that I stand on," Porter said of his experience as he connected with several generations of his family.

Porter, who starred in Kinky Boots and is known for roles on popular shows like Pose and American Horror Story, was the first openly gay man to win an Emmy for Lead Actor in 2019. 

In the clip below, Porter learns the shocking truth about what happened to his great-grandfather, Thomas Richardson. He knew his relative had been shot but the details surrounding Richardson’s death were always fuzzy until a report from a Black newspaper set the record straight: Richardson had been shot in the back, in cold blood, by a police officer. What’s more is that this wasn’t the first time the officer had been accused of shooting someone in the back.

The connections between past and present speak for themselves; it was one of many moments in the episode where Porter found himself rendered speechless by the revelations. Seeing a story written in 1923 that could have been ripped from headlines in 2022 is sobering. 

Later, Porter visited the graves of his ancestors, noting how unusual it was for Black families to have gravestones at all. The fact that he was able to visit their graves was remarkable in itself, highlighting the power of his experience. “You know, what I’m grateful for,” Porter said, “is discovering and uncovering these specific stories from both sides of my family. It feels empowering. Magical, actually.”

Seeing Porter recite his ancestors’ names, acknowledging them and honoring them, was a moment that had fans buzzing on social media. 

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After this incredible experience, Billy Porter is going to have a milestone moment in his career later this July, as the first movie that he has directed, Anything's Possible, is going to be released exclusively on Prime Video on July 22.

Who Do You Think You Are? airs Sundays at 7 pm ET/PT on NBC. The latest episodes are available next day on Peacock.

Sarabeth Pollock
Editorial Content Producer


Sarabeth joined the What to Watch team in May 2022. An avid TV and movie fan, her perennial favorites are The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, true crime documentaries on Netflix and anything from Passionflix. You’ve Got Mail, Ocean's Eleven and Signs are movies that she can watch all day long. She's also a huge baseball fan, and hockey is a new favorite.  

When she's not working, Sarabeth hosts the My Nights Are Booked Podcast and a blog dedicated to books and interviews with authors and actors. She also published her first novel, Once Upon an Interview, in 2022.