Monday, January 29, 2007

'Roots' 30 Year Anniversary

Photo-(left) Alex Haley's Roots
Photo-(right) LeVar Burton as Kunta Kinte in the miniseries

Thirty years ago this week I like millions of other Americans was glued to the television watching a groundbreaking television show. I was a high school sophomore at the time and Roots was mandatory viewing in my history class. It was going to be mandatory viewing in my house whether it was a class assignment or not. ;)

The twelve-hour mini-series aired on ABC from January 23 to January 30, 1977 for eight consecutive nights. ABC executives initially feared that the historical saga about slavery based on Alex Haley's book Roots: The Saga Of An American Family would be a ratings disaster.

They were 'scurred' for nothing. Roots scored higher ratings than any previous entertainment program in history. It averaged a 44.9 rating and a 66 audience share for the length of its run. The seven episodes that followed the opener earned the top seven spots in the ratings for that Nielsen ratings week. The final night of Roots held the single-episode ratings record until it was bumped from the number one spot by the 1983 airing of the final episode of M*A*S*H on CBS and the 1980 airing of the 'Who Shot J.R'. episode of Dallas. The fianl night of Roots is still 30 years later the third highest rated show on network TV.

Historian and writer Roger Wilkins wrote in the New York Times on February 2, 1977 that the miniseries "may have been the most significant civil rights event since the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965."

It was a cultural watershed event. Roots had ALL Americans face the history of slavery up close, without the misinformation, stereotypes and myths.

It revived among all American ethnic groups interest in oral history and tracing their genealogy. It briefly made the name Kizzy (Leslie Uggams' character in the miniseries) one of the most popular African-American girls names in 1977-78.

It inspired millions of African-Americans to shed their fear and shame of our genealogical links to Africa and embrace them. That inspiration ignited by the miniseries is still alive today. African-American owned companies such as Washington D.C. based African Ancestry have compiled DNA databases that can tell you what part of Africa you're genetically linked to (or not).

Those lessons are sadly still needed in our time. On Martin Luther King Day you have a Republican state legislator in Virginia tell Blacks that they 'should get over slavery'. During that same weekend white college students on several college campuses were having racist 'ghetto parties' on a holiday designated to honor a man who is probably one of the greatest Americans we ever produced.

Maybe we should send sets of 'Roots' to the college libraries at Clemson, UConn Law School, Tarleton State and every other person who is woefully in denial about how slavery has impacted this nation.

TransGriot notes
The link to African Ancestry if you wish to contact them

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