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Fear knocked, Faith answered, and no one was there! —Christian Proverb

Recently, I purchased the 1977 television miniseries collection of “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” based on the celebrated book by Alex Haley, and watched all of the episodes back-to-back. Still very compelling, it was like watching ‘Roots’ for the first time.   Today, Root’s artistic excellence still attests to the power of motion pictures and television.

Yet, the haunting fact still remains that most of Hollywood has neither been very fair nor fully considerate of African American life, and other people of color, since its beginning. And, in many respects, continues to this day.

However, so great was this undertaking and its historic impact, it is tempting to feel, at least for the moment, that perhaps ‘Roots’ makes up for all the times that we Africans Americans have been patently ignored, cruelly maligned or simply dismissed by Hollywood’s movie moguls and the choices they made. But, of course, we can’t.

The pain is too deep and the need to see our life stories reflected back to us is too great, which is a basic human need that cannot be denied. Still, we never stopped going to the movies.

Perhaps this is what lies at the heart of the outrage recently expressed by many of our country’s finest African American citizens. Who felt the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) “Oscar snubs”[1] yet again. While other fair-minded Americans deemed the 2015 annual event would be the “whitest Oscars since 1998”[2].

Having received few nominations out of many possibilities, ‘Selma’ for best picture and ‘Glory’ for best song, naturally many of us were disappointed and rightly wondered if Hollywood will ever “fix its diversity problem?”[3]. Well, at least ‘Glory’ won for best song.

‘Roots’ is on Y’all

In the 70s, still there were very few opportunities to see good productions of African American life on television or in the movies. And so, while we joke about it now, whenever a Black person was on television, we would call our friends. Thus, with the first episode of Roots about to be shown on television, we celebrated like many other folks. We threw a Roots Watching party! With food, wine, and our very own reviews, ‘Roots’ proved a memorable event.

Of course, no one could ever have imagined how great this historic production would be, not even its producers. Well, the story of Roots, our story, was lauded worldwide eventually. The local ratings went off the charts, so to speak, and the Roots Miniseries would ultimately receive countless nominations and awards. Naturally, David L. Wolper and the Network executives, who would later admit to being very apprehensive about Roots’ social impact, were not only relived but very, very happy indeed.

The Real Purpose of the Arts

Thus, a big thanks to David Wolper, Stan Margulies, Brandon Stoddard and all the gifted actors who had the moral courage to create ‘Roots’ for television. And, of course, the soaring music of Gerald Fried and Quincy Jones that drove the ‘Roots’ saga continues to inspire us all.

Yet, while Roots reportedly changed the world and the many perceptions about what the African American slaves actually went through, its greatest gift was to African American life itself; which ultimately uplifted us all. Thus forever illustrating the real purpose of the arts, which is to edify the human spirit!

And so, while David Wolper and the others hold a special place in our hearts, Kunta Kinte and Alex Haley would ultimately become our national heroes.

The Importance of Soul Memory

Human memory is very unreliable. Thus, if most of us even try to remember exactly what we wore a week ago, unless it was a uniform, we would have a hard time trying. Yet, there is another kind of memory, I’ve found, that is more real than all the material facts we can muster. This is what I’ve come to think of as soul memory.

Soul memory: It’s that kind of knowing deep within us that resonates with a familiarity way beyond our physical world. Yet, we always seem to know that we know.

For me it has always been through my love of music and dance. Sadly, I did not have the live stories, an African name, or a few key words handed down to me, as did Mr. Haley. But, since my early years, I did have my soul memories.

One Saturday afternoon while setting outside after watching King Solomon’s Mines, images of the proud African dancers featured in this Hollywood film came to mind, and I got up and danced. Soon the neighborhood kids gathered around cheering me on. After that, my playmates would ask me to do the African dance…soul memories, of course!

Seems some cynics went all Sherlock Homes on Alex Haley and his precious stories, which took him some twelve years to research and write in a way that fit human logic. Sadly, those skeptics who sought to validate Mr. Haley’s each and every word, likely missed the message of Kunta Kinte entirely.

Yet, I’ve learned another thing about soul memory, seems those who are open to the truth will know the truth and thus be freed of a lot of bitter illusions.

Hence, why the world and African Americans, in particular, continues to embrace the Haley family’s Kunta Kinte experience as part of their own life experience, and thus have found peace and a greater sense of belonging.

This, of course, is exactly what the “the African” [4] known as Kunta Kinte struggled so hard to preserve as the slavers brutally tried to expunge his native memories. Memories of his Ancestral homeland so that, one day, we all will remember. So that we all can be proud!

See here [5] for a wonderful Alex Haley interview by Tom Brokaw, and other commentaries such as ‘Roots One Year Later’ and Remembering Roots’.

Kunta Kinte and the Roots Legacy

Since the gift of ‘Roots’ entered our world, the African American community has evolved significantly.  From more proudly wearing African cloths and African influenced hairstyles, to exploring and honoring its intrinsic African heritage.

Thus, the Black Family Reunion is probably ‘Roots’ greatest legacy. Which has become an African American tradition that usually includes a proud review of family history.

Yet, the Kunta Kinte and Roots legacy continues. Today, we can be more  proud than ever, as African Americans now control much of their own music and some their own television networks. More Blacks are on national television, creating their own films or television programs, have created their own awards events, run their own businesses, and are leading politicians. And, of course, we now have the first African American president and his lovely family in the White House.

And so, thanks in great part to Alex Haley’s Roots, in many ways we have evolved rather quickly. Yet the world is changing even faster, or so it seems. Still, we are not yet finished, as we must do our part to help others along the way.

Beyond Roots 

Today, there is still much fear in the world both nationally and internationally. Thus a good self-image is always our first line of defense. Nationally, ending police abuse is the new civil rights movement. While globally, seems radical extremists are calling for inclusion and respect, but are going in the wrong direction!

And so, with the same courage and dedication of those who have gone before us, we continue moving forward, stopping only to reach out to those lingering behind.

Thus, lest we not forget the fierce courage of Kunta Kinte, the quiet courage of Alex Haley, and the moral courage of ‘Roots’ producers David L. Wolper, Stan Margulies and ABC executive, Brandon Stoddard, thus we move on and in the right direction!

© Delores L. Adams and The Aunt Jemimah Post 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

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[1] ‘Spike Lee Blasts ‘Selma’ Oscar Snubs’ by Marlow Stern: www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/15/spike-lee-blasts-selma-oscar-snubs-you-know-what-f-ck-em.html

[2] ‘This Will Be The Whitest Oscars Since 1998’ by Lauren Duca: www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/15/whitest-oscars_n_6466052.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment&ir=Entertainment

[3] ‘Can Hollywood Fix Its Diversity Problem?’ by Julie Walker: www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/02/can_hollywood_fix_its_diversity_problem.1.html

[4] My Furthest Back Person—’The African’ by Alex Haley, July 16, 1972: http://www.alex-haley.com/alex_haley_my_furthest_back_person_the_african.htm

[5] In 1976, Alex Haley spoke with Tom Brokaw; see other videos: ‘Roots: One Year Later’, ‘Remembering Roots’ and others: http://www.alex-haley.com/alex_haley_video_interviews.htm

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