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This program was made possible by a grant from Pepsi Cola Company. And that was the night when for the first time I felt that it was granted sort of, that I had the right that I would be able to in effect to become Kuntakinti. And that part is in the book. And if you read roots, if you remember when you get to the part how it was written as a matter of fact, if I'm not mistaken, I think the lead line in that section is Kuntak wondered if he was going made. And that really was me at that time. I wondered if I was losing my mind.
Because of the new interest in genealogies spurred on by Alex Haley and Roots, we now know that President Jimmy Carter's first American forebearer arrived in Virginia 341 years ago in 1635. Just 16 years after the first blacks had arrived in Jamestown, Virginia as free men and women. Like many penniless Englishmen, Thomas Carter Sr. sold himself into bondage to pay his passage to the colonies and suffered as a slave for five years. Alex Haley has indeed placed a historical parameter for all Americans to use as a point of historical reference. The ad said it took 200 years to unfold, 12 years of research to discover, two years to create
and eight nights to make television history. PJ Bednarsky, TV critic of the journal Harold in Dayton, Ohio, explains it another way, quote, For eight straight nights and 12 hours, 130 million Americans were riveted to the set to watch the sorry is chapter in American history. Roots was not happy days were Charlie's angels, which are produced with enough plasticity and universal appeal that no viewer has truly ever become offended, nor truly moved, amused, or touched end of quote. Speaking of plasticity, many of us thought it poetic justice that John Amos got kicked out as the father of the plastic Amos and Andy situation comedy, called Good Times, and reappeared as Kuhn Tukinti, the new father of the black revolution and a real M.A.N. But Roots didn't succeed in becoming the most watch program in the history of television because it only appealed to blacks, although it showed that the majority of blacks endured terrible dehumanization, the fact that they overcame shattered hopes and deferred dreams without
succumbing to a mess psychosis is the most triumphant story of America's bicentennial. Why did so many whites watch Roots? Because Roots appealed to a broad audience on human and universal terms. Even before Roots got on the air, Time Magazine's television critic warned that it was simply a high-brow mandingo with no positive white characters. I thought I was watching the wrong show when I saw in the very first segment the ship's captain, a white man whose morality and Christian ethic would not permit him to accept the insidious and evil nature of slavery, symbolically he struggled against the institution of slavery, as did all people of Goodwill. But like most whites got waylayed by the awesome power of this institutionalized oppression, the scene with the captain, the good guy, his slimy first mate, the evil one, and the so-called belly warmer or his tentation, showed a human being who could not sustain his capacity to successfully hold out against an evil system in this case, racism and slavery.
But this insight came from the very soul of Alex Haley during his 12-year search for his Roots, Black Roots, White Roots, the very Roots of American history. We talked to Haley before, but as you will, if you don't already know, he's one of the best storytellers around. So we updated our previous talk with this visit with Alex Haley. We, uh, that is to say my parents and I lived in the home of my grandmother in this little town called Henning, Tennessee. This was my maternal grandmother. And she would invite every summer, various women members of the family who were about her age range, late four to his early fifties. And they would sit on the front porch in the evening about a dusk deepening to early night and they would tell this family narrative. I didn't know that that's what it was. I was always with them because I was very, very close to my grandmother. They would sit there and they would talk about what in its straight form went back across
families before us and families before them and before those to a person whom they called the African. Now, first of all, the very first thing was that my grandmother and the others, her sisters, always would speak of how they had been born in Alamance County in North Carolina, which to me for years was just a name. And then the other families had been slaves before them and so forth. Anyway, pardon me. When they got back to this African, they would always tell how he was brought on a ship to this country to Annapolis, bought off that ship by a man named John Waller who took the African to plantation in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. There, this African over a period of time met and made it with a slave woman whose name was Bell. They had a daughter named Kizzi. It was said by a grandmother and the others that as this girl grew up, when she got to be four or five or so and could begin to understand such things, that she now, this African rather,
began to point out to her about the plantation various natural objects, a tree, a rock, the sky, anything. And every time he'd point out any object, he would tell her the name for that thing in his native tongue. The little girl, like in a childhood, they hearing an Asian tongue spoken learned strange phonetic sounds, and she came to know that certain sounds meant certain things. The most important, much, much later, was that there was a river, in fact it's the metapony river, that ran near this plantation and it was said that every time this African there in Virginia would point to this river, he would say to his little daughter, can be Bolongo, and she came to know this sound and to know that it meant river, can be Bolongo, meant that to her father. There were numerous other sounds, key sounds predominated. Another thing about this African, it made him characteristic of all those Africans who
are the ancestors of all we black people, were that every one of them, when brought to this country and sold off a slave ship, were given an anglicized name. And for all practical purposes, that was the first step in the psychic, the humanization of the individual or collectively other people, the removal from the individual of the name with which he has a heard sense of self-identity, the same as it is with us. And it seems that this African was given by his master, the name Toby, but every time they said other slaves would address him as Toby, he strenuously would rebuff and reject him and tell him his name was Kinte, another key sound. So the daughter came to know, he said his real African name was Kinte. Then there was another thing about this African, again characteristic of all of them in the backgrounds of all of us, and that was every single one of them had been torn from some
place where they spoke whatever was their native tongue and brought to this place and expected and required to speak as quickly as possible, a strange new tongue to them, English. And as this process happened, the word here phrase there, this African, once he acquired some repertoire, began to tell his daughter now little stories, anecdotes, vignettes about himself out of his past, it would appear as a matter of fact he had a passion about trying to communicate to her a sense of his past. Among the stories he told her was how he had been captured. He said he had been not far from his village, chopping wood to make a drum when he had been surprised, set upon overwhelmed by four men, thus had been kidnapped and dislavery. Well in the essence, those are the key points of the story which of course had much more detail.
Now the girl Kizzy was sold away when she was sixteen, with now a considerable amount of knowledge about her father in her head. She was sold to a man named Tom Lee. He had a much smaller plantation in Casual County, North Carolina. On this plantation within her first year, the girl Kizzy gave birth to a child, a boy. He was given the name George. His father, or Lisa Sire, was the new master, Tom Lee. And that was not an uncommon situation in the Annabelle himself. As this boy George grew up and began to ask his mother about his father, the mother rather than tell him who his true father was, told him and said about her father. And so the boy began to know at an early age and with pride of his grandfather, this African who said his name was Quinte, who called a river, can't be longer, who called a guitar cove, another sound, who said he was chopping wood to make a drum when he was captured.
Well the boy grew up, pardon me, he became a game cock fighter. He was nicknamed Chicken George in his middle teens. When he was about nineteen, he met this slave lady, he later would marry her name Matilda. Matilda gave birth to eight children and it was Chicken George the father who said into motion what later was to become a rigid family tradition. At every time a new infant was born, he would gather the family within the slave cabin in a rather formal manner. And with the infant sitting on his lap, he always had a sense of drama, this Chicken George, with the infant sitting on his lap, he would speak ostensibly to the infant but actually to his older audience telling the story that had come down. And for that eight children, it was something most unusual in the knowledge of slave children that was direct knowledge of this African great grandfather. Then those children grew up, took mate's head children. The fourth of them, Tom, became a slave blacksmith.
He was sold away in his later teens to a man named Murray who had a tobacco plantation in Elements County, North Carolina. And on that plantation, Tom eventually met and made it with a slave lady named Irene. She was half black, half Cherokee Indian. And they also would have eight children and now Tom carried on the tradition. That eight children heard now about a great great grandfather, the same African who said his name was Kinte and so forth and said he was chopping wood when captured. His fate would have it toned the youngest of that second set of eight children. Hearing about this African great great grandfather was a little girl named Cynthia and fate further would have it that Cynthia was to become my maternal grandmother. And that story had come down the generations in the manner that I have described. My grandmother seemed to be the chief carrier of it. It seems every generation had one person who for some reason became its chief carrier.
And she pumped that story into me as if it were plasma. It was by all odds the most precious thing in her life, the story of the family which had come down and around which the whole family coalesced. And a psychological sense. What has it done for you as a person? Obviously often I'm asked that and so I've asked myself that a lot. And really Tony isn't so much a sense of anything subjective in the sense of just me. Not in the sense that I'm relating just to me. But what it has done very definitely is almost my whole concept of the book is such that it stardols me when somebody says you traced you or family. Because the way I think about it is that in fact it is the saga of a people. The reason for that is that every black person, no matter whom he or she may be, it is merely a matter for all of us filling the blanks, ancestrally, which person who lived in which
village, captured in which way, put into which slave she had brought across the same ocean, into which succession of plantations on up to the Civil War, their emancipation, and from that day to this day struggle for freedom in its various facets. So what it has given me really is against that context and particularly since the book has been published, the response of people to it has been so just staggering, no less than that, that I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility that somehow I have been, I hate to say it because it sounds so funny, but I really feel I have been almost elected by obviously a force beyond me or us or whatever, that I have been sort of a conduit through which has been told the history of a people in the time that it's needed. Let me tell you something.
The other night I was up at Abyssinian Baptist Church, night before last. The place Tony was so packed that it literally was a problem for me and Lynn and Jeffers to get through the people to get up to the pulpit of that area. They were giving a testimonial to me for roots. I set up there and it may sound moral and I don't care. I set up there and the place was blurry because it was just weeped to me. The whole spectacle of people having come from, there were buses of people who come from New Jersey, there were people from Harlem, there were people from around, you know drawn by the lure of the magnet, of roots, our roots, my roots and such. There were many books, Lynn and them had gotten books from double day and I'm sitting there signing books as rapidly as I can and things were happening. Friends have told me subsequent George Sims, my researcher was sort of peripheral so he's
watching this and that and he told me about a thing. He said he watched the lady, an old lady come in there and he said what first caught his attention was when she went up where they were selling the books and she went to the bosom like old people were brought out crumpled bills, you've seen that syndrome and she counted out $70 and bought seven books, they had them at a reduced thing and then he said what he happened to notice that hit him so much, he happened to notice the lady's feet and he said that lady needed shoes. But she had bought these seven books and I picked the thing up, I remember the lady when she came to me, I remember when she put the first book down and I'm sitting there with my head down kind of signing and I saw book roots in two hands and what struck me was I looked at the fingers and I have seen those fingers hundreds of times, the fingers of an old black lady finally serrated, they've been in so many wash tubs, the knuckles a little knobby, so forth and I just something hit my head, these hands have not usually been
buying books and that lady came there and she was almost a glow and she asked if I would sign these seven books and what it turned out she wanted one for each of her six children and one for herself and her husband, I would guess this lady was late 60s and I tell you the truth, I had the feeling I wanted to spring up and embrace her, I didn't know what to do so I just signed the books and so forth. There was a young blind man that came on the subway from Brooklyn with $10 in his cane to buy book things like that and you can't have things like that happen without one knowing you did not alone bring this into being, this thing, no way did you bring it into being and you cannot have things like that happen without feeling a real, true, genuine sense of humility, of responsibility and of being a conduit through which has been brought something that a people badly needed.
Tell me the details of the actual ship, the name of the ship that Kuna Kenti came on, the conditions and how many whites were on it, how many slaves and the cargo. Yeah, she was the Lord Ligonier built in 1765 and this country sailed from here with a skeletal crew of 16, her captain Thomas Davies to Graves in England. She carried a cargo of ROM. She sold them ROM or they did and bought with the proceeds the Slaving Hard, where the chains shackled and so forth. This was a maiden voyage see and they bought the food stuff you need for a Slaving voyage. They put on a full crew total 36. The Lord Ligonier at the end of ten months had a cargo of 3,265 elephants teeth as they call live with tusks, 3700 pounds of beeswax, 800 pounds of raw cotton, 42 ounces of gold and 140 Africans and she set sail with that cargo July 5th, 1767.
Sail directly to Annapolis arrived the morning of September 29th, 1767, a journey of two months, three weeks, two days. And when she arrived at Annapolis, I went there and I found the records of her incoming and tax records. You can find them back to the time of Christ, generally in researching. And she had declared for taxes, they had been very honest apparently, everything they had declared leaving Africa with the exception that the original 140 Africans had become 98 who had lived, which was about average for the slave ship. An interesting little side point, Tony, is that on slave ships, as a rule, percentage-wise, more whites died than slaves. This ship would illustrate that she had left England with a full crew of 36 and she arrived in Annapolis with 18 alive as opposed to 98 living out of the 140 slaves. And there in Annapolis, those 98 were sold at auction at Meg's Wharf, the following
Wednesday after her arrival and that was where the boy 17, Kutakinti, was sold to John Waller of Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Next week on Black Journal, a matter of legitimacy. Find out why this is the season it took nine years to produce and the 12 good reasons for it. A response to our first interview with Alex Haley went like this. Bernie Harrison wrote in the Washington Star. He, Alex Haley, taped a moving, extraordinary interview for Black Journal. It's really not so much an interview as a monologue. Post Tony Brown simply got Haley started and wisely got out of the way. It just poured out, end of quote. Benjamin Hooks, FCC commissioner and new head of the NAACP, wrote in his syndicated column, quote, and a candid interview with Tony Brown, Haley revealed the agony he suffered before finally completing the book, which took him 12 years of tough and patient research to write.
I believe Alex Haley was touched by God that day. I suffered with Haley as he talked on that TV show, end of quote. And Mike Drew of the Milwaukee Journal wrote in his review, quote, an important look at an important and impressive man, end of quote. This is what took place. Haley was in personal and creative agony, worried about his personal debts and his lack of emotional grasp of Kutakinti, both descended upon him in a period of either temporary insanity or perhaps a psychic experience. It started in San Francisco. Haley found it impossible to capture on paper the agony, the pain, the despair that Kutakinti had felt in the whole of that slave ship. Haley flew to Africa and book passage on the African star sailing out of the West African port of Manrovia, Liberia. On board, he made an unusual arrangement with the captain. It worked out that after dinner every evening, I would go down into the second hole of the ship. I would go down and ship holes with their deep, dark, cavernous, cold and I would, I was
in a place where they had cargo of bales of raw rubber out of Liberia. And I found a big timber. It's maybe as wide as this table and long as from here to backdrop, a longer than that twice that long, doneage they call it. They stored between cargo to keep it from shifting and I would take off my clothing down to my underwear anyway and lie on my back on this rough plank. And I would, as I say, dark, pitch dark, cold and I would make myself stay there and stay in that particular posture as well, uncomfortably, it wasn't freezing but uncomfortably cold. I'd make myself stay there until in the morning, I could hear footsteps on the steel deck up over here and then I'd come out and I'd go on my statement and I'm like, what I was trying to do was psych myself into becoming Kuntakinti for the purpose of working. I had researched to a fairly well, I have read more stuff about slave ships.
I guess that anybody who ever kept them a slave, I know I have done that. But anyway, I've done thorough, thorough research on slave ships and the maritime industry and the whole, everything which would relate to. Now the thing was to get Kuntak to become the embodiment as the recipient of his situation on that ship. Tell it from his point of view, through his five senses and the things started to get me in such a trauma, Tony, that about the fourth evening, instead of going from dinner to the whole, I really didn't want to go down there. I knew it was a nice try, but I felt it was still ridiculous. It was utter luxury by the way they were coming over. There was no way I could recreate the way the slaves actually came. And for some reason, instead of going down the whole, I had just sort of drifted out back onto the fan tail of the stern of the ship, it curves and all.
And it was just night, dark. And I still then put one foot up on the bottom rail, the hands on the top rail, kind of looking back over the wake. And it seemed to me that as I did that, all my troubles began to roll in on me. I mean, it was just like endless. It was like being caught in a tide with your feet tethered or something, that the trauma of what I was trying to do, the hopelessness it seemed of what I was trying to do. The impossibility, I should say, of actually achieving what I was trying to do in the sense of, to be, feel like him. And then apart from that, the troubles I was having in other ways, the debts I owed, I owed everybody I could, they would lend me $10 I owed at that point. I don't know how much, but I suppose I've played around with, I guess I must have owed somewhere the neighborhood of $40,000, $50,000, just to all sorts of people, banks to buddies to whomever else.
If I had known you then, I would have showed you, I can tell you that. And my deadline thing, that I was two, three years beyond when I declared I'd have the book finished. And it got so complicated that I began to have a feeling that, a feeling suddenly came to me, or rather gradually came to me, that there was a cure for all of this, the whole thing. And one thing to do is raise my other foot, step through that rail and drop in the sea. And the funny thing was, it didn't alarm me in the slightest, you know, I felt almost euphoric, triumphant, yeah, that'll fix them all, everybody, no more problems, no more debts, no more editors, no more nothing, you know. And I was that close to doing that thing, I was no more frightened than anything. And then I had this strange sensation that I heard voices, and they came, it seemed they came a little closer, they hadn't been all that far away to start, but they were
speaking very conversationally, and there was no trauma at all about this whole thing. And then I knew just as calmly who they were, they were Kuntakinti, they were his mother, Kuntakinti, they were Kizzy, his daughter, they were chicken George, they were my grandmother and Tom Lee, and all these people who were my ancestors, I knew exactly who they were. And they were saying things very calmly like, no, you don't do that, you must finish it. And so forth, it was just a sort of a little fabric of voices. And that thing, man, I'm telling you, I'm sending that, and I'm trying to grip the rail, and then it was, I remember with a physical effort, I just thrust myself backward and scuttled like a crab away from that rail, and I went over the hatch covers. I don't know if you know much about ships and sea, but the hatches are right smack in the middle of the ship.
And I went over the hatches because I wanted to keep away from the rails on either port or starboard side, and finally made my way back into my state room and just went into paroxysm of tears, I bet you I cried three hours till I was drained. And whereas I had normally got down into that hole, maybe about eight o'clock at night, this night it would have been at least midnight when I went back down at just week listless, got down in that hole, and that was the night when for the first time I felt that it was granted sort of, that I had the right, that I would be able to in effect to become Guntakinti. The preceding program was made possible by a grant from Pepsi Cola company.
Thank you.
Black Journal
Episode Number
No. 712
A Visit With Alex Haley
Producing Organization
WNET (Television station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
Library of Congress (Washington, District of Columbia)
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Episode Description
An interview with Alex Haley about his book "Roots."
Series Description
Black Journal began as a monthly series produced for, about, and – to a large extent – by black Americans, which used the magazine format to report on relevant issues to black Americans. Starting with the October 5, 1971 broadcast, the show switched to a half-hour weekly format that focused on one issue per week, with a brief segment on black news called “Grapevine.” Beginning in 1973, the series changed back into a hour long show and experimented with various formats, including a call-in portion. From its initial broadcast on June 12, 1968 through November 7, 1972, Black Journal was produced under the National Educational Television name. Starting on November 14, 1972, the series was produced solely by WNET/13. Only the episodes produced under the NET name are included in the NET Collection. For the first part of Black Journal, episodes are numbered sequential spanning broadcast seasons. After the 1971-72 season, which ended with episode #68, the series started using season specific episode numbers, beginning with #301. The 1972-73 season spans #301 - 332, and then the 1973-74 season starts with #401. This new numbering pattern continues through the end of the series.
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Guest: Haley, Alex
Host: Brown, Tony
Producing Organization: WNET (Television station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Library of Congress
Identifier: cpb-aacip-9d98ff480e2 (Filename)
Format: 2 inch videotape
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Chicago: “Black Journal; No. 712; A Visit With Alex Haley,” 1977-04-24, Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2024,
MLA: “Black Journal; No. 712; A Visit With Alex Haley.” 1977-04-24. Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 21, 2024. <>.
APA: Black Journal; No. 712; A Visit With Alex Haley. Boston, MA: Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from