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Alex Haley


Roots (TV miniseries)

“Roots” (Part 1)

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“Roots” (Part 2)

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“Roots” (Part 3)

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“Roots” (Part 4)

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“Roots” (Part 5)

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“Roots” (Part 6)

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25th Anniversary DVD cover, 2001

Roots is an American television miniseries based on Alex Haley‘s novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which aired on ABC in 1977Roots received 36 Emmy Award nominations, winning nine. It also won a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award.   It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings with the finale still standing as the third-highest rated U.S. television program ever.   It was shot on a budget of $6.6 million.

The series introduced LeVar Burton in the role of Kunta Kinte. A sequel, Roots: The Next Generations, was broadcast in 1979, and a second sequel, Roots: The Gift, was produced as a Christmas movie which starred LeVar Burton and Louis Gossett, Jr.

Plot Summary

In the GambiaWest Africa in 1750, Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) is born to Muslim Mandinka warrior Omoro Kinte (Thalmus Rasulala) and his wife Binta (Cicely Tyson). When their son reaches the age of 15, he and a group of other adolescent males take part in a tribal “coming of manhood” ceremony, after which they officially become Mandinka warriors. When given a task to find a goose Kunta spots a white man, carrying a firearm. Later, trying to find wood outside his village to make a drum for his brother, Kunta is captured by contentious tribe members and sold to slave traders of the infamous Atlantic Slave Trade and put on a slave ship commanded by Captain Davies (Edward Asner) for a three-month journey to Colonial America. During the course of their forced journey, a group of African rebels try, but fail to take over the ship.

The ship lands months later in AnnapolisMaryland, where the captured Africans are sold at auction as slaves. Kunta Kinte is sold to plantation owner John Reynolds (Lorne Greene) and is given the slave name of “Toby.” An older slave named Fiddler (Louis Gossett Jr) is charged with teaching Kunta the ways of being a chattel slave, including learning English. In a desperate struggle to be free and to preserve his Mandinka heritage, he makes several unsuccessful attempts to escape. Kunta doesn’t want to give up his Mandinka roots and is reluctant to change his name to “Toby” and give up his Muslim faith. An overseer named Ames (Vic Morrow) has Kunta Kinte severely whipped, until he submits to his slave name.

The adult Kunta Kinte (John Amos) eventually learns what it means to be a chattel slave but is haunted by his Mandinka roots and his memories of being free. He submits to the harsh life, but only after having half of his (right) foot severed to keep him from attempting further escapes. He is sold to John Reynolds’ brother Dr. William (Robert Reed), eventually marrying another slave named Belle (Madge Sinclair), who treats his severed foot. Kunta and Belle have a daughter named Kizzy (Leslie Uggams). Kizzy is secretly taught to read and write by Missy Anne (Sandy Duncan), the product of an adulterous affair between John Reynold’s wife and Dr. Reynolds. When Kizzy is in her late teens, she is caught writing a fake travel pass for a boy she is in love with, Noah (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs). Missy Anne turns her back on Kizzy when Kizzy needs her the most, which makes Kizzy think white people aren’t to be trusted. She is then sold away to Tom Moore (Chuck Connors) in North Carolina. Kizzy is raped by Moore when she arrives at his plantation and, as a result, gives birth to a son named George.

The adult George (Ben Vereen) becomes an expert in cockfighting, earning him the moniker “Chicken George”, which eventually gives him the opportunity in the 1840s to be sent into servitude in England. He returns to America a free man 14 years later in 1861. George’s son Tom Harvey (Georg Stanford Brown) becomes a blacksmith—and a slave for George Harvey – whose slave labor is used by the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. After the war, white men led by Evan Brent (Lloyd Bridges) give birth to an early form of the Ku Klux Klan, and begin to frequently harass Tom, his family and other blacks — exploiting them economically by day and terrorizing them by night wearing the infamous white hoods. The problem escalates when Tom reports the issues to authorities and Brent finds out about it. However, Chicken George returns after the news of blacks being freed, and tells his family of land he bought that they may live in. Afraid of the Ku Klux Klan, especially after receiving a whipping from one of them, Tom and his family move to George’s land in Tennessee to begin a new life. And as the series ends in 1870, Chicken George tells his grandson about his grandfather, the African who went to find some wood for a drum, and was captured by the slave traders in 1767.

Alex Haley narrates the last few minutes of the miniseries: a montage of photos of family members connecting Tom’s daughter Cynthia, the great-great-granddaughter of Kunta Kinte, to Haley himself.


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