76. Roots By Alex Haley-The Journey of African Americans

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Circa 1988, Krishna District , Andhra Pradesh, India....

When I was a 10th Class student and I heard a Book Review in Telugu in Radio Broadcasted by Vijayawada Satation of All India Radio , explaining about the Journey of One African Zambian Teenager to America as a slave...

This program was about the Novel, Roots . Though Roots has been written 1976, it took more than 10 years to reach Indian shores and then on to All India Radio of Vijayawada Station in those Non-Social Media Times...

They have explained that, How Slaves have been transported in inhuman conditions in Ships like Animals with no proper food, with or without dress, no Sanitation and health care etc....

When They arrived in America, how they have been auctioned, beaten and chopped of their hands sometimes and enslaved in the fields and houses for life...

And Generations of African Americans brought into slavery until abolish of Slavery in 1865....

Later in my life, I could read this very intense and gripping Novel in 1996.....to feel and empathise with fate and lives of these African American as we too, Indians, had passed through Extreme British Brutality for 200 Years in India.

Roots is One of the Original Treatises on African American History and its Fame and Popularity proven that beyond a doubt and This Book has been taken as Television Series and it was highly successful, there after, It was unstoppable....

Why Roots is Relevant in American History Forever ?

Roots: The Saga of an American Family is a 1976 novel written byAlex Haley. It tells the story of Kunta Kinte, an 18th-century African, captured as an adolescent, sold into slavery in Africa, transported to North America; following his life and the lives of his descendants in the United States down to Haley. The release of the novel, combined with its hugely popular television adaptation, Roots (1977), led to a cultural sensation in the United States, and it is considered to be one of the most important U.S. works of the 20th century.

The novel spent forty-six weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List, including twenty-two weeks at number one.

The last seven chapters of the novel were later adapted in the form of a second miniseries, Roots: The Next Generations (1979). It stimulated interest in genealogy and appreciation for African-American history.

The book was originally described as "fiction," yet sold in the non-fiction section of bookstores. Haley spent the last chapter of the book describing his research in archives and libraries to support his family's oral tradition with written records. However, historians and genealogists found critical errors in his research. Most of the novel is either unsupported or contradicted by the available evidence.


Roots tells the story of Kunta Kinte—a young man taken from the Gambia when he was seventeen and sold as a slave—and seven generations of his descendants in the United States. Kunta, a Mandinka living by the River Gambia, has a difficult but free childhood in his village, Juffure. His village subsists on farming, and sometimes they lack enough food, as the climate is harsh. Kunta is surrounded by love and traditions. Ominously, the village had heard of the recent arrival of toubob, men with white skins who smell like wet chickens.

Kunta is excited to see the world. At one point, Kunta sees men in hoods taking away some of the children. This confuses Kunta, but is eager to learn his father, Omoro, will take him outside Juffure. Omoro and Kunta set off, learning much more about their surroundings. When they return, Kunta brags to all his friends about the journey, but does not pay attention to his family's goats, which fall prey to a panther.

Later on, Kunta is taken off from manhood training, with other children of his kafo (division or grade). Kunta learns even more about the Gambia, but fears the slave trade, which he learns is closer to home than he thinks. Kunta passes his training, and learns more about Juffure's court system. One day, he witnesses the case of a young girl, who was kidnapped by the toubob, and came back pregnant. She gives birth to a mixed-raced child, and the case is unresolved.

One morning when Kunta is cutting wood to make a drum, he is ambushed by slatees (black slave traders), and is knocked unconscious. He awakens in the brig of a ship, naked and chained. After a nightmarish journey across the Atlantic on board the British slave ship Lord Ligonier, he is landed in Annapolis in the British colony of Maryland. John Waller of Spotsylvania County, Virginia purchases Kunta at an auction and gives him the name Toby. However, Kunta is headstrong and tries to run away four times.

When he is captured for the last time, slave hunters cut off part of his right foot to cripple him.Kunta is then bought by his master's brother, Dr. William Waller. He becomes a gardener and eventually his master's buggy driver. Kunta also befriends a musician slave named Fiddler. In the aftermath of the American Revolutionary War, Kunta marries Bell, Waller's cook, and together they have a daughter, Kizzy. Kizzy's childhood as a slave is as happy as her parents can make it.

She is close friends with John Waller's daughter "Missy" Anne, and she rarely experiences cruelty.Her life changes when she forges a traveling pass for her beau Noah, a field hand. When he is caught and confesses, she is sold away from her family at the age of sixteen.

Pic: Transporting Africans as Slaves in Ship

Kizzy is bought by Tom Lea, a farmer and chicken fighter who rose from poor beginnings. He rapes and impregnates her, and she gives birth to George, who later becomes known as "Chicken George" when he becomes his father's cockfighting trainer. Chicken George is a philanderer known for expensive taste and alcohol, as much as for his iconic bowler hat and green scarf. He marries Matilda and they have six sons and two daughters, including Tom, who becomes a very good blacksmith. Tom marries Irene, a woman originally owned by the Holt family.

When Tom Lea loses all his money in a cockfight, he sends George to England for several years to pay off the debt, and he sells most of the rest of the family to a slave trader. The trader moves the family to Alamance County, where they become the property of Andrew Murray. The Murrays have no previous experience with farming and are generally kind masters who treat the family well. When the American Civil War ends, however, the Murray slaves decide rather than sharecrop for their former masters, they will move from North Carolina to Henning, Tennessee, which is looking for new settlers.

They eventually become a prosperous family. Tom's daughter Cynthia marries Will Palmer, a successful lumber businessman, and their daughter Bertha is the first in the family to go to college.

There she meets Simon Haley, who becomes a professor of agriculture. Their son is Alex Haley, the author of the book.

Search for his roots

Alex Haley grows up hearing stories from his grandmother about the family's history. They tell him of an ancestor named Kunta Kinte, who was landed in "'Naplis" and given the slave name Toby. The old African called a guitar a ko, and a river the Kamby Bolongo. While on a reporting trip to London, Haley sees the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and thinks of his own family's oral traditions. Could he trace his own family lineage back to its origins in Africa?

In the United States Census for Alamance County, North Carolina, he finds evidence of his ancestor Tom Murray, the blacksmith. He attempts to locate the likeliest origin of the African words passed down by Kunta Kinte. Dr. Jan Vansina explains that in the Mandinka tongue, kora is a type of stringed instrument, and bolongo is the word for river. Kamby Bolongo could then refer to the Gambia River.

Alex Haley travels to the Gambia and learns of the existence of griots, oral historians who are trained from childhood to memorize and recite the history of a particular village. A good griot could speak for three days without repeating himself. He asks to hear the history of the Kinte clan, which lives in Juffure, and is taken to a griot named Kebba Kanji Fofana. The Kinte clan had originated in Old Mali, moved to Mauritania, and then settled in the Gambia. After about two hours of "so-and-so took as a wife so-and-so, and begat," Fofana reached Kunta Kinte:

About the time the King's soldiers came, the eldest of these four sons, Kunta, when he had about 16 rains, went away from his village to chop wood to make a drum ... and he was never seen again.

After searching records of British troop movements in the 1760s, Haley finds "Colonel O'Hare's forces" were dispatched to Fort James on the Gambia River in 1767. In Lloyd's of London, he discovers a British merchantman named the Lord Ligonier had sailed from the Gambia on July 5, 1767 bound for Annapolis. The Lord Ligonier had cleared customs in Annapolis on September 29, 1767, and the slaves were advertised for auction in the Maryland Gazette on October 1, 1767.

He concludes his research by examining the deed books of Spotsylvania County after September 1767, locating a deed dated September 5, 1768, transferring 240 acres and a slave named Toby from John and Ann Waller to William Waller.

Pic : Alex Haley's boyhood home and his grave beside the home (2007)

Characters in Roots

  • Kunta Kinte – original protagonist: a young man of the Mandinka people, grows up in The Gambia in a small village called Juffure; he was raised as a Muslim before being captured and enslaved. Renamed Toby.

  • John Wallerplanter, who buys Kunta

  • Dr. William Waller – doctor of medicine and John's brother: buys Kunta from him

  • Bell Waller – cook to the doctor and wife of Kunta

  • Kizzy Waller (later Kizzy Lea) – daughter of Kunta and Bell

  • Missy Anne – Dr. Waller's niece, who lives off the plantation, but visits Dr Waller regularly. She befriends Kizzy and teaches her reading and writing by playing "school".

  • Tom Lea – slave owner in North Carolina to whom Kizzy is sold

  • George Lea – son to Kizzy and Tom Lea, he is called "Chicken George"

  • Matilda – whom George later marries

  • Tom Murray – son of Chicken George and Matilda

  • Cynthia – the youngest of Tom's and Irene's eight children (granddaughter of Chicken George)

  • Bertha – one of Cynthia's children; the mother of Alex Haley

  • Simon Alexander Haley – professor and husband of Bertha; father of Alex Haley

  • Alex Haleyauthor of the book and central character for last 30 pages; the great-great-great-great-grandson of Kunta Kinte.

Pic : Historical marker in front of Alex Haley's boyhood home in Henning,Tennessee(2007)