One of the most important books and television series ever to appear, Roots, galvanized the nation, and created an extraordinary political, racial, social and cultural dialogue that hadn’t been seen since the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book sold over one million copies in the first year, and the miniseries was watched by an astonishing 130 million people. It also won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Roots opened up the minds of Americans of all colors and faiths to one of the darkest and most painful parts of America’s past.
Over the years, both Roots and Alex Haley have attracted controversy, which comes with the territory for trailblazing, iconic books, particularly on the topic of race. Some of the criticism results from whether Roots is fact or fiction and whether Alex Haley confused these two issues, a subject he addresses directly in the book. There is also the fact that Haley was sued for plagiarism when it was discovered that several dozen paragraphs in Roots were taken directly from a novel, The African, by Harold Courlander, who ultimately received a substantial financial settlement at the end of the case.
But none of the controversy affects the basic issue. Roots fostered a remarkable dialogue about not just the past, but the then present day 1970s and how America had fared since the days portrayed in Roots. Vanguard Press feels that it is important to publish Roots: The 30th Anniversary Edition to remind the generation that originally read it that there are issues that still need to be discussed and debated, and to introduce to a new and younger generation, a book that will help them understand, perhaps for the first time, the reality of what took place during the time of Roots.
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"Early in the spring of 1750, in the village of Juffure, four days upriver from the coast of The Gambia, West Africa, a man-child was born to Omoro and Binta Kinte."
So begins Roots, one of the most important and influential books of our time. When originally published thirty years ago, it galvanized the nation and created an extraordinary political, racial, social, and cultural dialogue that had not been seen in this country since the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Roots has lost none of its emotional power and drama, and its message for today's and future generations is even more vital and relevant than it was thirty years ago.
When he was a boy in Henning, Tennessee, Alex Haley's grandmother used to tell him stories about their family-stories that went back to her grandparents, and their grandparents, down through the generations all the way to a man she called "the African." She said he had lived across the ocean near what he called the "Kamby Bolongo" and had been out in the forest one day chopping wood to make a drum when he was set upon by four men, beaten, chained and dragged aboard a slave ship bound for Colonial America.
Still vividly remembering the stories after he grew up and became a writer, Haley began to search for documentation that might authenticate the narrative. It took ten years and a half a million miles of travel across continents to find it, but finally, in an astonishing feat of genealogical detective work, he discovered not only the name of "the African"-Kunta Kinte-but the precise location of Juffure, the very village in The Gambia, West Africa, from which he was abducted in 1767 at the age of sixteen and taken on the Lord Ligonier to Maryland and sold to a Virginia planter.
Haley has talked in Juffure with his own African sixth cousins. On September 29, 1967, he stood on the dock in Annapolis where his great-great-great-great-grandfather was taken ashore on September 29, 1767. Now he has written the monumental two-century drama of Kunta Kinte and the six generations who came after him-slaves and freedmen, farmers and blacksmiths, lumber mill workers and Pullman porters, lawyers and architects-and one author.
But Haley has done more than recapture the history of his own family. As the first black American writer to trace his origins back to their roots, he has told the story of 39 million Americans of African descent. He has rediscovered for an entire people a rich cultural heritage that slavery took away from them, along with their names and their identities. Roots speaks, finally, not just to blacks, or to whites, but to all peoples and all races everywhere, for the story it tells is one of the most eloquent testimonials ever written to the indomitability of the human spirit.About the Author:
Alex Haley taught himself to write during a twenty year career in the U.S. Coast Guard. After retiring, he worked as a freelance magazine writer. His first book was The Autobiography of Malcom X, on which he was collaborator and editor. Roots: The Saga of An American Family was his second book, for which he was awarded special recognition from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award committees. He also wrote A Different Kind of Christmas, and Queen, a sequel to Roots. Haley died in 1992.
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