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‘ROOTS’ STILL RUN DEEP 30 YEARS LATER: But are we living up to the ancestors’ legacy?

April 7, 2007 by  
Filed under Entertainment

     ( Make sure you check out the special 30th anniversary broadcast of “Roots” beginning this Sunday night at 8:00 on TV One.  “Roots” captivated the nation when it debuted on ABC in January of 1977. 

     Three decades later, this harrowing and inspirational saga of an African-American family’s proud struggle through slavery is just as moving — and challenging — as ever. 

     “Roots” reminds us that our ancestors who lived through the centuries long nightmare of slavery were men and women of courage, intelligence, strength and love. They came from a rich and proud culture in Africa and they created an equally rich and proud culture in the midst of their bondage in the “land of the free.”  They endured unspeakable terror, brutality and degradation and still maintained hope, dignity and love for one another. 

     Kunta Kinta, the proud West African patriarch of the central family in “Roots” (played by LeVar Burton and, later, by John Amos), tries repeatedly to escape — even after slave catchers chop off half of his foot.  Kunta’s daughter, Kizzy (Leslie Uggams), preserves her strength and pride even after she is sold away from her parents and brutally raped by her new master. 

     Kizzy’s son, Chicken George (Ben Vereen), who mistakenly believed the master is his friend, is sold off and is forced to spend 30 years abroad.  He returns with a militant attitude and gets his wife and adult children out of slavery.  George and his sons even defeat the Ku Klux Klan! 

     For me, the definitive moment in “Roots” occurs at the end of episode #2 when a cruel overseer tries to break Kunta Kinte’s spirit with a bullwhip.  “Your name is Toby! Say your name!” the overseer demands. 

     But Kunta will not deny his home, family, heritage and individuality by acknowledging the slave identity.  “What’s your name,” the overseer shouts.  “Kunta!” the African man answers.  The whip comes down again.  And again.  And again.  Finally, the pain becomes overwhelming for the proud young man. “Toby,” Kunta whispers.  But the scene doesn’t end there! 

     Fiddler (Louis Gossett, Jr.), the older slave who had been urging Kunta to stay out of trouble by accepting his slave name, cradles the young African in his arms and nurses his wounds. With defiant, angry tears rolling down his face, Fiddler tells the broken brother: “Don’t matter what that white man say. You know who you be!  You are Kunta Kinte!  From Africa!  And there’s goin’ be another day!”  

     We are living in that “other day” and that’s why “Roots” offers a challenge to us.  Our ancestors endured hell on Earth so that we could enjoy the opportunities they paid for with their blood.  How will we honor their sacrifice?  Those who came before us did strive and sacrifice so that young blacks could laugh at education and embrace the murderous and suicidal values of the streets.  They did not give their all so that wealthy, educated blacks could turn their backs on their impoverished brothers and sisters.  The innumerable black women, like Kizzy, did not suffer the degradation of white slave masters so that they could be degraded by black men who are misguided enough to think that pimps are worthy role models. 

     “Roots” reminds us that black folks accomplished extraordinary things even in the darkest of times.  Our potential for success and happiness today is limitless and we owe it to ourselves and our forebears to be the very best we can, to work hard in unity, love and accountability so that we can fulfill our dreams and the dreams of the millions who came before us.

     NOTE: TV One will air “Roots” in six parts from 8-10 PM Sunday, April 8 through Thursday, April 13.  Episodes will repeat each evening at 10 PM and the following day at noon.  The finale will airing on Sunday, April 15, at 8 and 10 PM.   Warner Home Video will release a 30th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of “Roots” (including a new bonus disc of special features) on May 22, 2007 for $59.98.

     By Cameron Turner

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