Alex Haley. Roots. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1976.

This blockbuster novel, and the television mini-series made from it, are widely acknowledged as the sparks that ignited the genealogical craze in America in the 1970s.  It also started a national conversation on topics that had been off limits for most Americans–slavery and race.

Working from his own family’s history, Alex Haley tells the story of Kunta Kinte and his descendants.  Kunta Kinte’s early life in Africa, his capture and sale to slave traders, and the horrific sea voyage to America hold the reader’s attention for the first third of the book.  In America, Kunta is sold to a plantation owner in Virginia.  As the years go on, Kunta attempts escapes, but freedom will not be his.  Yet Africa remains alive in his mind, and he passes words and stories of his homeland on.

The scholar Michael Eric Dyson, writing in the introduction to the thirtieth anniversary edition of Roots says that the novel “helped convince the nation that the black story is the American story.”  It is also a North Carolina story.  Kunta’s daughter Kizzy is sold to a cockfighting ne’er-do-well in Caswell County.  That man rapes Kizzy, fathering her only child, “Chicken George” Lea. George works with the master’s birds and becomes so valuable to the master that George is allowed to bring his love, Matilda, onto the farm.  Their family grows, but the master’s bad bet at a cockfight breaks the family apart. George is sent to England and the rest of the family is sold to a more prosperous plantation in Alamance County.  There they remain until after the Civil War, when the family moves west into Tennessee.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1970-1979, 1976, Alamance, Caswell, Historical, Piedmont

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