There’s a guest star for this episode, and I always make it a point to mention guest stars. The fellow is an actor named Wren T. Brown. Wikipedia shows he’s appeared in small roles in a lot of stuff, with this episode being one of them. I don’t know if the show wanted a more recognizable actor for the part, but Brown does fine. And that is all I am going to say about that.
It’s a slow day at Springfield Elementary, at least in the third grade. Bart has already used his knowledge of explosives to help Groundskeeper Willie blow up an old tree stump in such a way that it lands on Skinner’s car. But in the third grade, Miss Hoover decides to assign a family tree project to the class because, well, it’s something to do.
Lisa is at first excited to do such a thing, but then she learns that all the old Simpson ancestors are alcoholics, pirates, murderers, bootleggers, and even Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Searching the attic, she finds an old diary for one Eliza Simpson from the year 1860. At first, Lisa is horrified to learn Eliza might be buying a slave, but then she cheers up when she sees Eliza is really helping to free a slave and help the guy onto the Underground Railroad, which Bart suggests is a bad name as it is neither underground nor a railroad.
But the diary is missing some pages shortly after Eliza helps Virgil (Brown) escape. It’s an old book, and one good sneeze from the dog causes it to fly apart. Marge takes Lisa to the local library to look for more information and they find a cookbook from Eliza’s mother Mabel. In a footnote, Lisa learns Eliza and Virgil found a friendly clown that looks like Krusty that as a member of the Underclown Railroad helps Virgil get away from some slavecatchers. Virgil also wins over Eliza’s father Hiram with what looks an awful lot like doughnuts, so it looks like Eliza and her parents have successfully helped Virgil to freedom. Lisa proudly displays her knowledge at a school assembly for Black History Month. She went after Ralph. He talked about how Martin Luther King had a dream, and in Ralph’s dream he goes to a party with Elmo and “Toy Story”. It was the best presentation Ralph had ever delivered.
It was also Lisa’s worst, because Milhouse likewise had an ancestor who wrote about what happened next, and he’s more than happy to say so in front of the whole school. It seems Milford VanHouten witnessed Colonel Burns come to the Simpson house and was able to get Hiram’s trust with the offer of a pleasant surprise (revealed to be a new pair of shoes). Eliza herself tries to speak up, but Col. Burns points out that good girls are seen and not heard, and doesn’t Eliza want to be a good girl? Yes, sadly, she does, and a filmstrip Lisa finds at the library reveals this to be the greatest shame in Eliza’s life. Miford’s diary is accurate, though he never saw Eliza again…possibly because he was blinded by bad well water the following day.
What can Lisa do? Maybe Mr. Burns knows something. He does say the colonel was his father and…
Hey, wait a minute. Since when is Springfield in a southern state? The Capital City Goofball said they’re in a northern state. I mean, the episode “Behind the Laughter” does mention Kentucky as a point of origin in one version of the ending, and that was a slave state that wasn’t a Confederate state, but it’s almost like continuity doesn’t matter on The Simpsons.
I may be overthinking things.
At any rate, demoralized, Lisa does get some good news about Virgil. Grampa takes up the story and reveals that while Hiram was weak and Eliza had a weakness, Mabel knew Hiram would crack and brandished a shotgun to help Virgil escape from Col. Burns. She fled with him to Canada (wait, back to Canada again for this show?!), and then divorced Hiram, married Virgil, and had a son named Abraham, who would be the great-grandfather of Grampa Simpson. That means that Bart and Lisa are 1/64th black, explaining why Bart is cool, Lisa loves jazz, and Homer makes less than his white co-workers. Why did Grampa not speak up before? His generation is kinda racist.
So, happy ending all around, though maybe Lisa should have tried the Bouvier side first.