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In 1977 I watched with my family the serialisation of Roots based upon the life of Alex Haley's ancestors. I recall, even my Grandmother who very much had the opinion that history was simply life yesterday, was enthralled with the programme. I can recall being allowed to stay up and watch the program. For some strange reason I recall it being on the TV at 8pm (probably BBC) on a Thursday. Why I recall that I have no idea, but I do, whether that is accurate or not, is another matter.
Of course, since then there have been various statements that the story was not true, that it was plagiarised. There was a court case and a financial settlement made.
Regardless of that, Roots was inspirational to lots of people, whether you were black or white. It was the story of a family, which is something that everyone can relate to. More importantly, it dealt with the issues of slavery. That subject that is emotive to many people on different levels. It gave people hope, that even if you you descended through slavery you could, if you wanted to or tried to trace your Roots.
So, Hero or Heel? I think perhaps a little of both.
Heel because you never, ever take someone work as your own. If you do, your secrets will surely out!
Hero, because from that book it gave an opportunity for some people, who had dreamt of their ancestry to be reassured sufficiently that perhaps, just perhaps, they could research their past.
......and perhaps that was the point.
Other sites of interest
- Alex Haley Museum and Interactive Centre
- Alex Haley papers at the University of Tennessee
- Article - Roots and the New Faction A Legitamate Tool for CLIO Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 89, January 1981 pp 3-26 by Gary Mills and Elizabeth Shown Mills
- The Genealogist's Assessment of Alex Haley's Roots by Gary Mills and Elizabeth Shown Mills, National Genealogical Society Quarterly Journal (72), March 1984, pp 35-49