The Inspiration of Alex Haley’s Roots

My one and only classic 1976 original version of Roots: The Saga of an American Family
 
It took Alex Haley 12 years to finish Roots: The Saga of an American Family, known widely as simply, Roots. The book shot straight to the top of the bestseller charts, and the twelve-hour mini-series (Jan. 1977) was watched by 130 million people. They translated the book into 37 languages; it won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, and sales soared to over 5.5 million.
 
This was not without controversy. No success story is. Haley had to settle a plagiarism suit out of court—that part of his story was copied from a 1967 novel, The African (The Guardian). It was also said there was no documented evidence that the alleged elder he spoke to in the Gambia had been accurate in his account of Kinte. Critics said that if Haley had written Roots as a fiction novel, there would not have been a cause for alarm. “Most of us feel it’s highly unlikely that Alex actually found the village whence his ancestors sprang”, Henry Louis Gates Jr said in 1998, calling Roots “a work of the imagination.” (But if you listen to Haley here, his story is very detailed. It is also consistent with many of his other interviews and speeches about the story of how Roots came about. This is hard to do if you are lying). 
 
Roots is now part of history and the original 1977 TV series awakened a new generation of young Blacks to the horrors of enslavement when movies and television shows about slavery were few and far in-between (both in books and film). While it may seem an over-saturated topic now, in 1977 this was groundbreaking.
 

Enslaved persons had little knowledge of what Haley referred to as “family continuity.” They were sold so much that as adults they came to know little about their family lineage, where they came from and who they were. Roots was therefore something special because Blacks had come out of the Black Power movement of the 60s, had just seen the deaths of Medgar Evers, Martin King, and Malcolm X. Roots was not just the story of one man’s family but the family of all Black people who had been taken captive and robbed of their family tree and any connection to it. It would become a history lesson, a recommended educational film that Black parents will watch with their children with just as much seriousness as their parents forced them to watch The Ten Commandments. Some would even name their children Kunta Kinte.

After Roots, Octavia Butler used time travel to explore slavery in Kindred (1979), Alice Walker used an African subplot (Nettie’s life in Africa) in The Color Purple (1982) which also went on to win a Pulitzer and National Book Award, and Toni Morrison made a fugitive slave her protagonist in Beloved (1987). Beloved was voted the most influential African-American novel of the 20th century in a poll of PBS viewers. But as Frances Smith Foster has pointed out, “in terms of actual audience and effect on politics and policies, Roots has been the most influential such story in the modern era.”

As I listened to the entire 2hours of the clip linked above, I wondered why I was doing this when I had (seemingly) much more important stuff to do. That is until I came to the final hour and fifty something minutes. Here, Haley speaks about how the father’s name the babies at eight days old. In the villages, the people would not see much of the father for seven days because he was spending time with the baby to come up with a good meaningful and significant name. On the eighth day the people would gather at the family’s home. The mother would come out once hearing the signal and sit on the stool and hold the eight-day-old baby. The father would walk over, lift the infant, and whisper the name into the infant’s ear three times.

He would do this so that the infant would be the first one to know who he/she was. This resembles, to me, the ancient practice of circumcision of the male child, and naming of the child, in ancient Israelite culture (Gen 17:12) which I believe is also Black culture. For example, the Ashanti Empire was a powerful Akan empire and kingdom in what is now modern-day Ghana. Ashan was the name of a city in southern Israel. The word Ashan in Hebrew means “smoke” “smoke city” or “burning city” so that Ashanti means “the people of Ashan or the people of the smoke city”. This was a reference to the city of Ashan after the Israelites took it over during the conquest of Canaan (1 Ch 4:32, 1 Ch 6:59). The Ashanti people had many Hebrew customs and traditions as part of their way of life. For eight days after the birth of a child, it is only on the eighth day that the child receives his/her personal name.

It was here that I had discovered the purpose of my listening to this piece in its entirety. I believe this to be such a powerfully subtle telling of who we, so-called Blacks in America, truly are. For the customs of the Hebrews is something that can still be found among many African cultures such as the Ashan. 

Roots is a powerful example of why we shouldn’t give up on whatever we are striving toward. It inspires me as a writer and as a person of the fruits of patience and of perseverance. While Roots has had (and continues to have) much success, remember that it took Haley 12 years to complete (one whole year from Kunta’s birth to capture… which could be a book by itself). 

Think about that the next time you worry about that book taking too long to finish.

Twelve. Whole. Years.

There is Movement in Stillness: Nourish Your Root System

At the start of this month, my family and I took a three-city road trip. We picked up my mom-in-law from Memphis, visited some family in Louisiana, and headed down to Houston to see more family. Then, we headed back down to Memphis to close the weekend. We had a great time laughing and eating greasy chicken and enjoying each other’s company, old school style. I did not take many pictures; I did not post many pictures. I just wanted to refresh without social media’s input. I wanted to bask in my mother-in-law’s laughter and joke around with Dad. I wanted to hold babies and scold children. I got to talk to a horse too. I don’t think he was in the mood for conversation, though. It was hot, and my little cousins were annoying him in the way children do. We exchanged a few looks, murmured a few words, and each went about our way.

I still checked in on my social media, but I held back from posting myself. But then something happened as it often does when I step back. I didn’t want to come back! Even after we returned home, I decided to take a few more days off to sit back and reflect on myself. Often when I do this, I notice something pretty amazing: there is movement in stillness. Sometimes when we are doing nothing, we feel like nothing gets done, but actually, everything is getting done! As soon as we relinquish the need to control every outcome, things can move along as they were naturally intended to without us getting in the way. It’s like standing in a room with your eyes closed and not doing anything as the objects in the room start to move and position themselves around you. It is magical the way things line up when we embrace the quiet. Here are a few things that unfolded when I removed myself:

  • I received confirmation to move forward with the project I have been working on in the background for almost two years now. I will talk more about FAPA: From Aspiring to Published Author in a separate post.

 

  • I started work on a new collection of poetry I am calling My Soul is a Witness. I will talk more about this in a  separate post

 

  • I have been trying to get into audiobooks for a while now. I tried once with Renaissance but the narrator couldn’t go through with the project due to family issues. I put Even Salt Looks Like Sugar up on ACX and opened it to auditions. I also forgot about it. Over my break, however, I received three new auditions from narrators who read my sample script for Even Salt Looks Like Sugar, culminating in a total of six auditions. Yep, you heard me right, SIX!

 

  • I am Soul, received two new reviews. Those of you who are Indie Authors know how exciting that is as reviews are often hard to come by.

 

  • Even Salt Looks Like Sugar received one new review with the invitation to possibly do a signing or reading for the organization Sagacious Women of Business this fall.

 

  • The poetry contest got more submissions and email subscribes.

Nourish Your Root System

The part of the plant that grows below the ground are called roots. The main function of the root is to anchor the plant in the soil, to absorb the water and minerals from the soil and prevent soil erosion. There are different roots and root systems. There are tap roots that grow down into the ground and fibrous roots that grow out in all directions underground and looks like a bush. The difference is that tap roots are deeply rooted and fibrous roots are scattered and not that deep. Most weeds are under the fibrous system. It’s easier to uproot and transplant plants under the fibrous system than it is to uproot plants under the tap root system.

If much of the root system is destroyed, a portion of the leaves and branches will die. And if we repeatedly remove the leaves from a tree, some of its roots will die because it connects the leaves on the trees to the tree’s roots. The fruits on a tree are also directly connected to the tree’s roots. The growth of a tree’s roots requires a nourishing of the entire tree itself and when done properly, a strong tree is not easily uprooted by strong storms.

  • What is unseen (roots) must be healthier, stronger than what is seen (branches / leaves)

Work is not just about the physical act of doing something or what we see on the surface. It is not just about posting to social media every day, or blogging twice a week. What is unseen (our hearts, intent, character) directly affects what we see (how we interact, speak, what we produce). The root system of any tree needs to be as wide if not wider than the branches. Meaning what is below (unseen) must match (or even outmatch) what is above or what we see on the surface and if it doesn’t, the tree will fall over and die with the first bad storm.

The most significant work is the work we do on ourselves behind closed doors (unseen), how we nourish our root system. This “Soul Work,” as many deem it, is necessary for business growth and personal growth because how we feel about ourselves directly affect everything around us. It affects who we commit to in relationships and friendships, how we run our businesses, how we establish or do not create boundaries, and how we treat and interact with others. It is not about some pseudo-revolutionary Self-Care Social Media Movement. It is not about putting ourselves on pedestals and becoming a lover of self in the arrogant and cocky sense. Self-care is about recognizing and acknowledging that nourishing the root system of our lives will determine the quality of the fruit we will eventually produce. This nourishment could mean:

  • Praying
  • Fasting from food
  • Fasting from Social Media
  • Stepping back, taking breaks from work
  • Meditating, reading, thinking
  • Crying when we need to
  • Talking when we need to
  • Being silent when we need to
  • Writing (non-business related)

What are some ways you nourish your root system? What keeps you grounded? Comment below!


Don’t forget to preorder

Keep Yourself Full in ebook below!

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About.

 

Keep Yourself Full is a spiritual handbook that focuses on our return to self-love. It is a reminder that self-care nourishes the quality of our lives and makes us fit to be of service to others. Through my testimony, I give examples of how we self-abuse and how that differs from self-love, why it is essential not to take things so personally, why we must establish and enforce healthy boundaries, and how assumptions kill relationships. We learn that by investing in our well-being spiritually, physically, mentally, and professionally, we can be of service fully to others. It cannot be ignored that we treat others how we feel about ourselves. When we realize that what we do to others, we are equally doing to ourselves, we can use this awareness to heal. By treating ourselves better, we treat others better. Keep Yourself Full is about keeping ourselves filled with love and all that is good so that we are overflowing with enough to share with everyone else.

CLICK HERE TO PREORDER.


poetry contest
3rd Annual Poetry Contest: Time is seriously flying by. August will be here before you know it! If you have not already, be sure to enter this year’s contest BEFORE August 1st!

Click here or the hyperlink above to learn how to enter

On Sacred Ground

Photo Credit: Dorné Marting, Unsplash

We planted songs

In cotton fields

Backs bent down

On our toes, our heels

Our voices prayed

When we could not

We planted songs on sacred ground.

Hope sprang from the callus on our thumbs

Watched as Massa sold our sons

Packed up freedom in the Mississippi dirt

Moved up North where pain wasn’t hurt

Silly us, couldn’t let it be

Thought strange fruit only grew on Southern Trees

Traded our crowns

In for concrete

Stopped growing our food

To buy our meat

Insects we traded for rats

Gave up the land

For the projects

Community tight, though enslaved we were

Gave up the land

To call him sir

He was after all, “The Man”

Suited and booted

like nobody can

But all that glitter, ain’t gold

Just because you don’t see chains

Don’t mean you ain’t sold

Stay true to yourself

Your history, your roots

Let no one come along

And steal your truth

Pay attention to what’s real

What’s sound

And keep your feet rooted

On sacred ground.

Remember, you can listen to some of my poems on Soundcloud:

https://soundcloud.com/user-573689310/on-sacred-ground


Reminder: Don’t forget about the poetry contest! Get those poems into yecheilyah@yecheilyahysrayl.com before next week, Wednesday  July 19th for a chance to win books and Amazon Gift-cards. There is a $5 Entry fee payable to Literary Korner Publishing Here but you can waive the fee when you sign up for my email list Here.

7 Thoughts on the New Roots

Roots2016PromotionalPoster

When I first heard they were remaking Roots, I was skeptical. I thought, “Some movies do not need to be remade.” I admit, I was looking on the physical and thinking, “Maybe it won’t be as powerful as the first.” But after watching it I must say it remains one of the most powerful series on TV, followed by Underground.  But first, here’s a little History:

What is Roots?

Roots: The Saga of an American Family is a book published by Alex Haley in 1976 with a miniseries of the book that first premiered on television in 1977. During this post-civil rights era the show is about the ancestors of Alex Haley, particularly Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped from his life in Africa and sold as a slave on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The Show was put out in a series of eight episodes to try and get it out the way as the networks didn’t think it would do well. However, the show proved them wrong, airing over the course of eight days and helping to galvanize a nation. See, to understand why Roots the remake is important in this day and time is to understand the history behind it and what it did to America. The TV series led to a renewed interest in genealogy from blacks who, due to slavery, felt robbed of their identity and cultural heritage:

If you weren’t there—if you’ve only known television in its post-Big Three networks era—it’s hard to understand the impact of the original Roots. Based on Alex Haley’s book of “faction,” the ABC miniseries’ 12 hours (with commercials) were spread across eight consecutive nights in January 1977, an unprecedented programming move that consolidated the show’s status as an event. The subsequent audience ratings were also unprecedented: 85% of television households, or 130 to 140 million Americans (more than half the U.S. population) saw at least part of the series; an estimated 100 million viewers tuned in for the two-hour finale on Sunday, January 30. – http://www.biography.com/news/alex-haley-roots-tv-show

1. Our Culture

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In the remake, it well represented the ancient culture of the African American. For centuries they have taught us we were animals running around naked with large hoops in our ears and swinging from trees. Taught that we were just Africans. While no TV show has gone as deep as to proclaim the unadulterated truth concerning our roots (not even Roots), I enjoyed the pieces of it sprinkled in the opening village scenes in the beginning because its an accurate portrayal of some of our culture. I loved that they showed the ancient garments, the head wraps and the midwives. Even the spreading of the palms to the heavens to pray. This is what we did and how we did it.

2. Stripped

By the time Kunta was on the slave ships he’s naked. Now we’ve seen this before in other shows, but what does it mean? This is highly significant of being stripped of your entire way of life. Gone is the beautiful blue garb, gone is the honor and the esteem, gone is the culture, and gone is the name that defines who you are.

3. Names

I don’t want y’all to sleep on the name part. Kizzy told Chicken George, “Your name is who you are. My daddy took beatings to protect his name”. Very powerful. People like to take names for granted. Often we look at them and they don’t hold any real significance but names are very important. Take away a persons name and you strip their entire identity. Your name is your character, and your persona. Your name is who you are. When we were stripped of our name, we were stripped of everything.
“People say what’s in a name? There’s a whole lot in a name. The African gets respect because he has an identity and cultural roots.” – Malcolm X

4. Biblical Insight

One of my most favorite scenes is when Chicken George introduced his mother Kizzy to his future wife and father-in-law and she said to him: “Massa don’t want you teaching about Exodus. About how the children of Israel walked across the red sea to freedom. He tore that right out the book.” Very powerful scene. Why? Because it’s the whole reason we weren’t allowed to read and write. Massa just didn’t say you couldn’t read because he thought you were an animal, an inhumane being. That’s only part of it. He didn’t want you to read because he didn’t want you to read the bible. Now why is that? Because the bible is black history.

5. Whites Persecuted

Another powerful thing this show portrayed is the persecution of Europeans who help blacks. This is also something they showed in the TV series Underground and I think its something that African Americans cannot sleep on. There are, and have always been, those of other nationalities who were wiling to help blacks to their deaths. Blacks were not the only ones lynched and maimed and murdered but also those who helped them.

6. Less is More

I didn’t like that they cut the series in half. I think it was too short. I also found it funny initially that Kunta’s character wasn’t switched out like in the first one so he looked the same throughout the series. However, I noticed that instead of going verbatim to the original they filled in those parts of the story that were missing from the first part. This was smart I think of the directors because this version has its own original feel. I thought this new Roots wasn’t going to be good compared to the first one but in truth they each are separate shows. While they tell the same story, the new Roots has a modern feel to it. Lawrence Fishburne, T.I. and Mekhi Phifer make their appearance and Kunta is a beast!

7. Now or Then?

Roots-mini-series-TV-show-on-ABC-AE-remake

I don’t think the new roots can compare to the original. To me, the 1977 version will always stand as a classic. I also do not think the original could speak to today’s youth like the new one can, which makes it an original of its own.

We have to consider that 2016 is not 1977. It’s a different world and the new roots is a fresh way of introducing to new generations the legacy of Roots.