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.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Dr. Joseph N. Jackson

If you follow me on Instagram, then you are already familiar with this name. You may not, however, be familiar with his legacy. Dr. Jackson is many things: an inventor, businessman, scientist, and humanitarian. He’s the Co-founder of the Black Inventions Museum, Inc. and still invents today. But before we get into Joseph’s life, we must establish some additional facts.

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Jackson didn’t invent the remote itself. He improved on earlier inventions, making the TV remote what we know it to be today. Nikola Tesla created one of the world’s first wireless remote controls, which he unveiled at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1898. However, Tesla‘s boat remote was a flop. Another remote version was developed called “Lazy Bones,” and was connected to the television by a wire. The wireless remote control, called the “Flashmatic,”  was developed in 1955 by Eugene Polley.


Joseph was born in Harvey Jefferson Parish, Louisiana the fourth of eight children. At 17 he worked as an oil field tool maintenance help and police. He also went to school while he worked learning how to repair televisions and later owned his own repair shop for seven years.

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In 1961, Joseph received his GED and went to television repair school at night. He also owned and operated a radio and television service shop part-time in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg where he was stationed.

I found it fun to discover that he was stationed in Fayetteville near Fort Bragg because it was the same place my husband was stationed when he was in the military as an engineer and equipment operator. Also, like hubby, Joseph was honorably discharged from the Army. Great men think alike 😉

After being honorably discharged in February 1968, Joseph re-enlisted in June 1970, working as an engineer equipment technician in Korea. Joseph graduated from the Army Recruiting and Career Counselor School in 1971 and transferred to California in 1973. He was an Army Recruiter and Career Counselor until his retirement in July 1978.

Before his retirement, Joseph also completed his degree in Business Administration at Columbia College and holds a Doctorate in Applied Science and Technology from Glendale University.

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As an inventor, Joseph invented what led to the precursor of the V-Chip, the technology that is used in the television industry to block out violent programs and the creation of the TV Remote Control. Joseph still invents today and has founded Protelcon, Inc., in 1993 to market and distribute, the TeleCommander, the first empowerment television accessory designed to give parents control over the viewing content of children.

Dr. Jackson has had numerous appearances on local television, and several articles published in the “Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, The Los Angeles Sentinel, The Wave” and other local newspapers. He also appeared in “Jet Magazine,” on January 19, 1978. He is a member of The Black Business Association of Los Angeles, The Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce, and served on the Advisory Board at Cal State University of Long Beach School of Engineering.

Dr. Jackson now serves as Patent Consultant to many potential inventors throughout the country.


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Tall Tales Book Shop Copyright©2018. Yecheilyah Ysrayl

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Movie Night Friday is Back

One day, a couple weeks ago after posting the Underground Trailer, some ladies and me were talking and joking in the comments about movies. I mentioned that I should do movie reviews. But, I realized I was doing a version of this already. It was two years ago in a PBS Blog segment called “Movie Night Friday”.

If you’ve really been exploring this blog, you may have noticed the Movie Night Friday page in the sidebar. I have decided (while watching Lean on Me the other day for the 1,000th time) that I’d like to start this back up again. This is my second attempt at re-starting this feature so I am really going to try sticking to it. I am not sure why I am making more work for myself.

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The purpose of Movie Night Friday is simple:

To help you to get to know more about me through the kinds of movies / TV shows I watch.

There is little that I do just for the sake of doing it. That said, the movies / TV shows that I watch I do so for a reason as I stopped watching TV for pure entertainment a long time ago. I will start this segment up again next week. I will also now include TV shows.

Pop Quiz: What movie does this line come from?

“No matter how hard it gets we haven’t finished yeeet…don’t leave me with regrets cause we haven’t finished yet. Oh, no no no no nooo.” Lol.

The Dog EC Hired to Help Host Movie Night Friday.
The Dog EC Hired to Help Host Movie Night Friday.

Ya’ll like my sidekick? He says he will help me keep up with Movie Night Fridays.

Step y’all movie game up! Lol. Enjoy your weekend, we’ll see you next week.

7 Thoughts on the New Roots

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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?

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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.

Book Trailers

I love book trailers, though lots of people don’t. They do not feel that they add value to the marketing of the book and that it is a waste of time. I do not agree. While Book Trailers may not appear to contribute a whole lot to the process, they do provide visual stimulation for potential readers in understanding what your book is about. Making them is also a lot of fun! Which is primarily why I make them because I enjoy doing so. A Book Trailer is, in short,  a visual representation of a book. In a world dominated by technology, more and more people learn best by way of media: moving pictures and music for instance. The same way people read more e-books than paperback, in the same way more and more people are drawn in by movies and TV shows.

Low Quality

It is not just the Book Trailer itself that makes people skeptical of Book Trailers, it is the quality. The reason Book Trailers are not very popular is because the production of most of these videos is not very good: cheap graphics, still frames, simple fonts, and cheesy music. And this is the part where I tell you not to buy book trailers. I just told you they are fun to watch and good to have so why not pay* for them? Because you don’t have to. If you’re going to pay for a collection of still frames behind cheesy music you may as well learn to make your own.

*The only time Book Trailers should be bought is if the quality is on point. I’ve seen some of what people have claimed as some of the best Book Trailers and so far I’m not impressed.

Using Your Skills

One thing I’ve noticed immediately about the Self-Publishing business is how to invest in my own talents and skills first before seeking assistance that’s going to cost me lots of money. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll always need professional help somewhere, but you are a professional at something yourself too. You may not know it yet but there is something that you do very well and yet you pay someone else to do it for you.

One thing I am passionate about aside from writing is photography and video production. Now, I don’t know much about photography, but I developed an interest in taking pictures in High School when I was on the yearbook team. It was my job to go around the school snapping pictures of assemblies, basketball games, meetings, and interviews. Because I was the only person on the team, I received valuable one on one instruction from my English teacher who ran the program. She taught me how to transfer these pictures to a computer where they will be organized on the template that will become the yearbook. As I look back, I was in the infancy stages of understanding how to put a book together and also how to produce a video.

I am not very knowledgeable concerning the technicalities of photography, but video production is another topic. I’ve worked with a number of video software programs to include: Video Explosion, Pinnacle, I Movie, Power Director, and I am in the process of learning Final Cut Pro. What I like about each program is that they basically have the exact same foundation. The concept of how to build a video from the ground up, even if you’re just using Windows Movie Maker, is the same. Hollywood movies even use the same basic format! There is more they can do of course and the technicalities require more brain power, but the basic make-up of how to put clips together, add background music and text is essentially the same. It is fascinating to watch movies and see the text come across the screen because I know exactly how they did it. On a much lower level of course, but I have a basic understanding of how it is done.

Book Trailers can be done in so many creative ways. Here is one that is very simple but that caught and kept my attention:

What this trailer achieved is making me want to read the book which is what the Trailer is all about. While this isn’t my style of production, the voice and constant moving of text keeps us captivated to the end.

I started experimenting with video production seven years ago and for this reason I’ve never paid for a Book Trailer. Instead, I’ve done my own research and utilized my own skills to produce the best quality videos possible.

My style of production is the Movie Trailer. I produce Book Trailers that are as close to that movie trailer feel as is possible without going too far. Did I say too far? Yes, you can go too far. If it’s produced to look too much like a movie with actors and all, as is some book trailers produced by Hollywood directors, it can draw away from the audience desire to read the book. Take this trailer here for instance. It’s OK, but I think it’s too much. I don’t want to read a book; I want to see the movie:

I’m not sure if there is a movie for this book but the point is this trailer is to promote the book. We must keep in mind that Book Trailers are designed to draw attention to the book, not the possible movie to the book which is why this fall I will be launching a video series to help you to learn to make your own Book Trailers. You will learn how to acquire royalty free photos, instrumentals people actually want to listen to, and even video footage that does not transgress copyright laws for your next bestseller.

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These videos will not be available on this blog so please make sure you are Subscribed to My Newsletter to receive this valuable private instruction free of cost and to also receive notice of when this series will begin.

In the meantime, below is a video I put together for my Stella Trilogy Presentation in Atlanta this past February. You’ll be amazed at how easily you can put this together.

Underground

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The season premiere of Underground aired this pasted Wednesday, March 9, 2016. The TV series stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge and is about a group of slaves planning to escape a large plantation and will be helped by an abolitionist couple along the way. Underground is short for the Underground railroad, a system of secret routes and safe houses used to help slaves to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. Below is a synopsis of the show:

“Early in the premiere of WGN America’s slave-revolt drama Underground, a captured runaway named Noah (Aldis Hodge) is shoved into a decrepit shed on a plantation in rural Georgia. The year is 1857; the Civil War is still four long years away. The camera whips around 360 degrees from Noah’s point of view, catching glimpses of sick, malnourished black men and women, all of them shivering in makeshift bunks and slumped against unforgiving walls. And though he does not say a word, the sequence immediately establishes Noah as the show’s determined protagonist. At the risk of sounding crass given the historical atrocity the show unflinchingly deals with, it feels like the moment when this slave resolves to be something of a superhero.”

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I started looking into this show about a month before its premiere, watching interviews of the actors and the making of the show itself. I also follow Smollett on Twitter and she’s been very excited about it. My opinion of the show? So far so good. The premiere has a nice set up or rather introduction into how the show will play itself out. We can already see who the people are who will help the slaves to escape, those who will possibly create safe houses for them for instance, and those, both black and white, who will be their stumbling block. I love the determination of Noah to recruit others in their attempt to escape the plantation, that he has a plan and that, as he says it, escaping is not just about running but will require the slaves to work together in a strategic way. In short, I am so far enjoying the coming together of the crew and I look forward to the rest of the series.

Diversify Your TV / Movie Selections

I know we all have our favorites but it is time to upgrade. In a couple weeks we’ll be moving on into another year. As such, I would like to propose an upgrade in entertainment. Last month I wrote a post called “Before The Weeks Ends” about diversifying our bookshelves. In this post, I spoke about how dedication to only certain kinds of books can limit our perspective in life. I proposed instead a diversity in reading selections. Don’t just read Romance but have a few “How-To” sprinkled in there. Don’t just read Erotica only but throw in some African American Literature every now and again. Have something that you can go to for a little fun but also something that will educate you and give you insight beyond the norm. That said, this same logic can be applied to TV. What you put out and also what you take in is reflective in your life. Meaning that if I put positive energy out there I expect positive energy to come back to me. But if Flavor of Love, which projects a negative image of my people, is the only thing I’m giving my energy to, how can I ever expect to grow beyond that way of thought?

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We can sit back and convince ourselves that these are just shows but it would be naïve to think it has no effect on our minds. While were on the subject (*climbs soap box*) why are some of these shows even out there in the first place? Why did Flavor of Love even exist? What was its purpose? Yes,  I watched the TV show back in the day and as I look back, what did it produce for me? What did it teach the teenage me? Did it teach me how to love? Did it teach me how to take care of a man? Did it teach me how to interact with the world? Own a business? What did Flavor of Love teach me as a young woman who needed to be guided?

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And why do black people support these kinds of shows anyway? The ones that take the worst of your people and highlight it to the entire world and is popular only because you watch it. Even though they do nothing for your growth as an individuals. There is nothing profound or mentally stimulating about these shows. There is nothing that will give you an understanding of life in these shows. These shows do nothing but highlight the activity of wild women that no man would ever commit to. These shows produce all this negative energy and then we wonder why we can’t get along with our men. Why we can’t stop using profanity. Why we can’t get along with other women. It’s because of what we’re feeding our minds. In your subconscious you’re imitating the women you watch every week and mimicking their ways.

*Gets down from soapbox*

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you what to watch and what not to watch. I am not your judge and we’re all adults here. What I will say is this: use a little wisdom in your selection. Like I said  I published a post on diversifying our bookshelves and I think this same logic can be applied to every aspect of our lives. Diversify your movie  and TV selections as well.  Don’t just sit back and watch the same shows over and over again. Throw some documentaries in there, some historical films, or tune into something that is new. It may be boring at first but so is everything that is different to your way of life. You never know, it just may give you insight into something you may not have known before. We cannot possibly think that what we read or watch or make permanent parts of our lives have no bearing on our lives. It takes more than just talking about growth to actually grow as individuals. It takes some form of change, not just for black people but all people. It begins with what we give our attention to because what we give always come back. Everything around you has an effect on you in some way. Choose wisely.