Roots (1977 miniseries)  

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Roots is an American television miniseries based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The series first aired on ABC in January 1977. Roots received 37 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and won nine. It also won a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award.



Colonial times

In The Gambia, West Africa, in 1750, Kunta Kinte is born to Omoro Kinte (Thalmus Rasulala), a Mandinka warrior, and his wife, Binta (Cicely Tyson). He is raised in a Muslim family. When Kunta (LeVar Burton) reaches the age of 15, he and other adolescent boys undergo a semi-secretive tribal rite of passage, under the kintango (Moses Gunn), which includes wrestling, circumcision, philosophy, war-craft and hunting skills; while tasked to catch a bird unharmed, Kunta crosses paths with Gardener's small party of European slave hunters and their captives.

Shortly after his ceremonial return, while fetching wood outside his village to make a drum for his younger brother, Kunta is captured by Gardener and four black collaborators. He is then sold to a slave trader and placed aboard the slave ship Lord Ligonier under the command of Capt. Thomas Davies (Edward Asner) for a three-month journey to Colonial America. During the voyage, Kunta bonds with a Mandinka wrestler who was part of his manhood training, as well as a Mandinka girl named Fanta whom he met shortly before his kidnapping. An insurrection among the human cargo fails to take over the ship, but results in the death of the cruel overseer Mr. Slater (Ralph Waite), several crew members, and several Africans including the wrestler.

The ship eventually arrives in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1767, where the captured Africans are sold at auction as slaves. John Reynolds (Lorne Greene), a plantation owner from Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near Fredericksburg, buys Kunta and gives him the Christian name Toby. Reynolds assigns an older slave, Fiddler (Louis Gossett Jr.), to teach Kunta English and train him in the ways of servitude. Although Kunta gradually warms up to Fiddler, he wants to preserve his Mandinka (and Islamic) heritage, and he defiantly refuses to eat pork.

Kunta makes several unsuccessful attempts to escape, first breaking his leg chain with a broken tool blade he finds half buried in a field. After this attempt the overseer, Ames (Vic Morrow), gathers the slaves and directs "James" to whip Kunta until he acknowledges his new name "Toby". Fiddler comforts the bloody-backed Kunta and uses his Mandinka name for the first time, assuring him "there will be another day". For events that occur in 1775, between the above period and the post–Revolutionary War, where the next section begins, see Roots: The Gift.

Late 18th century

In 1776, the adult Kunta Kinte (John Amos), still haunted by his Mandinka roots and desire for freedom, tries again to escape. He makes it to a nearby plantation where his boyhood friend Fanta is enslaved, though he discovers after spending the night with her that she has turned away from her African name and heritage in the name of survival. A pair of slave-catchers track him there and hobble him by chopping off almost half his right foot with a hatchet. Exasperated, John Reynolds decides to sell Kunta, which will also settle a debt with his brother Dr. William Reynolds (Robert Reed), the local physician. John transfers several of his slaves, including Fiddler, to William.

Bell (Madge Sinclair), the cook for William's family, successfully treats both Kunta's mangled foot and wounded spirit. A trusted member of the Reynolds household, she arranges for Kunta to become Dr. Reynolds’ driver. Eventually Kunta submits to a life of servitude, though he never entirely renounces Africa (declaring to Bell, “I ain’t never gonna be no Christian man…I ain’t never gonna eat no pig meat”), nor his hope of returning there. He marries Bell, in a ceremony which includes jumping across a broom, though his talk of Africa frustrates her. Bell bears a daughter in 1790, to whom Kunta gives the name Kizzy, which means "stay put" in the Mandinka language. Fiddler continues to mentor Kunta, and dies an old man shortly after Kizzy’s birth.

Turn of the 19th century

An adulterous relationship between Dr. William Reynolds and John Reynolds' wife (Lynda Day George) produces a daughter, Missy Anne (Sandy Duncan), whom John believes is his own. Missy Anne and Kizzy become playmates and best friends despite the social confines of Southern plantation culture. Missy Anne secretly teaches Kizzy to read and write, a skill forbidden to human chattel. In 1806, Kizzy (Leslie Uggams), now in her teen years, falls in love with Noah (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), a spirited slave who attempts to flee North with a "traveling pass" forged by Kizzy from a pass given to her by Missy Anne.

Dr. Reynolds, although amiable and compassionate towards his chattel, regards the pass and escape to be such an egregious breach of trust that he separately sells both Noah and Kizzy, much to the horror of Bell and Kunta. Missy Anne, who had offered Kizzy a place as her companion and maid, instead renounces their friendship and watches dispassionately as Kizzy is dragged away. Dr. Reynolds sells Kizzy to Tom Moore (Chuck Connors), a planter in Caswell County, North Carolina, with a sexual appetite for young female slaves. Moore violently rapes Kizzy the night of her arrival. Kizzy becomes pregnant from the assault and gives birth to their son, George, nine months after her arrival.

Early 19th century

In 1824, an adult Kizzy is wooed by Sam Bennett (Richard Roundtree), a fancy carriage driver whose master is visiting the Moores. Seeking to impress Kizzy, he takes her for a short visit to her former home on Dr. Reynolds’ plantation, in the hope that she can see her parents. Kizzy learns that Bell has been sold away and that Kunta died two years earlier. Kizzy sees her father's grave and his wooden marker; using a small stone, she scratches over the name Toby and writes below it "Kunta Kinte," and promises him that his descendants will be free one day.

The cheerful and confident George (Ben Vereen), under the tutelage of an older slave named Mingo (Scatman Crothers), learns much about cockfighting. By direction of Moore, George takes over as the chief trainer, the "cock of the walk". George befriends Marcellus, a free black man, and fellow cockfighter, who informs him about the possibility of buying his own freedom. At the same time, he believes Moore to be a close friend. However, in 1831 (not 1841 as erroneously listed in the TV captions), George realizes his master's true feelings when he and his family are threatened at gunpoint by Moore and his wife, as a result of the Nat Turner rebellion. Although none of Moore's slaves are personally involved in the rebellion, they become victims of the paranoid suspicions of their master, so they start planning to buy their freedom—though Moore tells George he will never allow it. In an emotional scene, Kizzy finally tells George that Moore is his father.

George becomes an expert in cockfighting, thus earning for himself the moniker "Chicken George". Squire James (Macdonald Carey), Moore's main adversary in the pit, arranges for a British owner, Sir Eric Russell (Ian McShane), and twenty of his cocks to visit and to participate in the local fights. Moore eventually bets a huge sum on his best bird, which George has trained, but he loses, and he cannot pay.

Under the terms of a settlement between Moore and Russell, George goes to England to train cocks for Russell and to train more trainers and is forced to leave behind Kizzy (his mother), Tildy (Matilda, his wife) (Olivia Cole), and his sons, Tom and Lewis (Georg Stanford Brown and Hilly Hicks). Moore promises to set George free on the latter's return and to keep the family together in his absence. However, a now-broke Moore then sells all of his remaining slaves except Kizzy.

In one brief scene, Kizzy and Anne Reynolds, both elderly, meet by chance one last time. Missy Anne denies that she "recollects" a "darkie by the name of Kizzy". Kizzy then spits into Anne's cup of water without Anne's realizing.

The Civil War

George returns in 1861, shortly before the start of the Civil War. He proudly announces that Moore, after some reluctance on Moore's part and some persuasion on George's part, has kept his word by granting George his freedom. He learns that Kizzy has died two months before, and that Tildy, Tom and Lewis now belong to Sam Harvey (Richard McKenzie). Tom (Georg Stanford Brown) has become a blacksmith on the Harvey plantation and has a wife, Irene (Lynne Moody), and two sons.

George is welcomed warmly and learns that his relatives have spoken well of him during his absence. He further learns that according to a law in North Carolina, if he stays 60 days in that state as a freed slave, he will lose his freedom, so he heads northward, seeking the next stage in his career as a cockfighter and awaiting the end of the war, the emancipation of the slaves, and another reunion of his family.

While the war continues to its inevitable end, a hungry and destitute young white couple from South Carolina, George and Martha Johnson (Brad Davis and Lane Binkley), arrive and ask for help, and the slave family take them in. George Johnson is given a job as overseer of the plantation, but has no experience with slaves and balks at the expectation that he mistreat them. Martha soon gives birth, but the child is stillborn. The white couple stays on with Tom and his wife, becoming a part of their community. Tom Harvey meets harassment at the hands of two brothers, Evan and Jemmy Brent (Lloyd Bridges and Doug McClure).

Eventually, a month before the surrender by the South, Jemmy deserts the Confederate Army during the final desperate days of the war, and he shows up at Tom's blacksmith shop. Tom reluctantly runs an errand for him but, on returning, he finds Jemmy trying to rape Irene, and in the resulting fight Tom drowns him in the quenching tub. Later Evan, now an officer in the Confederate cavalry, arrives at the shop, demands to know about Jemmy, gets no answer, and angrily tells Tom that he has not yet finished with him.

After the war several local white men, led by Evan Brent and wearing white hoods (made from fabric sacks from Evan's store) begin to harass and terrorize Tom, his family, and other members of his community. Tom emerges as the leader among his group, while tensions arise between the white Johnsons and Tom's brother Lewis. As the local blacksmith, Tom devises a horseshoeing method to identify the horses involved in the raids by the hooded men. But when Tom reports his suspicions and his evidence to the sheriff (John Quade), who is in sympathy with Evan and knows every member of the white mob, the sheriff tips off Evan.

Meanwhile, the former owner of the farm, Sam Harvey, is forced to surrender all of his property to Senator Arthur Justin (Burl Ives), a local politician intent on acquiring as much land as possible. Under the terms of the surrender, his former slaves are allowed to stay on as sharecroppers, with eventual rights to own a part of the land. However, because no written deed has been filed, the senator deems the agreement void and imposes heavy debts on the black farmers as a legal pretext to keep them from leaving the county. He gives oversight of the farm to Evan, who reinstates George Johnson as overseer, believing whites should not farm alongside blacks otherwise.

Evan's mob leads another raid against Tom, during which Tom is whipped savagely. George Johnson intervenes and is forced to whip Tom, to his own horror and disgust, in order to save his friend's life. Lewis emotionally reconciles with the Johnsons as the family treats Tom's injuries, unsure of their future.


On the night Tom was whipped, George unexpectedly returns, raises the spirits of his relatives and friends, and begins to plot their next step. He reports that he has bought some land in Tennessee. Using some cunning and deception of their own, the black farmers make preparations for their move away. The group eventually lures Evan and his gang to the farm and overpowers them, jubilantly departing for Tennessee as they watch helplessly. In the last scene George and his group arrive on his land in Henning, Lauderdale County, Tennessee, to start their new life.

George retells part of the story from Kunta Kinte in Africa to himself in Tennessee. Then Alex Haley briefly narrates a montage of photographs of family members connecting Tom's daughter, Cynthia, a great-great-granddaughter of Kunta Kinte, to Haley himself. For the continuation of the story from the late 19th century into the 20th century, see Roots: The Next Generations.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Roots (1977 miniseries)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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