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I knew they were just being mean, but I also thought, Well, what if they’re right? We rented a two-bedroom house: kitchen, sitting room, and we had an outhouse. When my parents saved enough money to purchase a home in Lincoln Heights, a segregated community just outside Cincinnati, we all felt we were big stuff. Gus, my father, taught math at Lincoln Heights Middle School. But every Saturday night about 11 pm, if you asked what I was doing, I was hearing my father beat my mother. My godmother, Baby West, died and left me fifty dollars. I’m not sure fathers are necessary beyond their biological function. What I really understand about my Roots is that the black woman mated, willfully or not, with the life form on this land they were brought to. That life form would now like to deny its responsibility. Our only question is, do we pull them up like weeds to be destroyed, or do we nurture them to allow them to blossom? He gave us, at a perilous time, reasons to go forth. Our human, our humane, job is to entwine and enrich.I remember the outhouse and, for reasons I don’t understand, have a fondness for that memory. Lincoln Heights didn’t have garbage collection, so we had to burn our garbage. The lot next door was empty, and I remember the rabbits lived over there. I would chase the rabbits but I was never successful. One day, for reasons totally unknown or not remembered, I decided to meet Gus, who walked up the hill every day to our home. As I started down the hill I seem to remember or thought I heard Gus say, “Look at that crazy kid coming down the hill.” By that time the bike was actually riding me. The saddest sound I ever heard one night was, “Gus, please don’t hit me.” It was a prayer. She had girlfriends that she would spend the weekend with. I walked to the bank in Lockland to see what I could do with it. I purchased a Butterfinger and a ticket to Knoxville. Gray, who must surely have known what went on in our home, gave me a ride to the train station. I read now about the need for black boys to have fathers in the homes, and I wonder. Now the white boys are policemen shooting unarmed 14-year-olds to death. If we are going to criminalize women for abortions, shouldn’t we also criminalize the men who impregnated them? But the black woman loved that which she incubated. This essay is part of the Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfires Initiative, a joint venture of the Pulitzer Prize board and the Federation of State Humanities Council in celebration of the 2016 centennial of the Prizes.
James Baldwin, in an overall positive New York Times book review, hinted at the approaching storm: “[Haley] must have studied and sweated hard to achieve such ease and grace, for he would appear to have been born in his ancestral village and to be personally acquainted with everybody there.” Plagiarism allegations were lodged and lawsuits filed.
The claim with the most merit belonged to Harold Courlander, who identified dozens of instances in which Roots either directly or indirectly borrowed from his novel The African.
Alex Haley penned these words in an attempt to account for the extraordinary popularity of his 1976 book Roots and its 1977 television miniseries adaptation.
In Roots, Haley traces his ancestry back to Kunta Kinte, a Mandinka warrior who was captured in present-day Gambia, shipped as cargo across the Atlantic, and forced (along with his immediate descendants) to experience the indignities of American chattel slavery.
In an effort to introduce Haley’s “Saga of an American Family” to a new, younger audience, the History Channel recently elected to remake the 1977 miniseries. It employs more accurate (and also consistently delivered) dialects.
Better makeup design allows characters to age realistically.
Peniel Joseph writes, “Flawed as a piece of historical scholarship and genealogically questionable, Roots was nevertheless a masterpiece of popular writing that spoke to larger truths about racial slavery and American history.” The new Roots feels true.
Like its predecessor, the series recreates various moments of black captivity across three centuries and grants the viewer a distinct perspective on history.
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I was born in Tennessee in the old Knoxville General Hospital.