As a person that has studied history (particular Blackamerican History) extensively, I continue to be amazed at how far mythical stories have traveled, have been crystalized as fact, and have gone on to become part of culture. When people find out the truth, they are hurt. This is why I am so doggedly opposed to propagating myths and fairy tales such as Alex Haley’s Roots. There is enough truth to go around. Not only is the work fiction (originally pushed as fact) but much of the material in the book is – shall we say – borrowed from a book by Harold Courlander entitled The African. Not only are people hurt, but racists use this as ammunition to try to discredit all Blackamerican History more below the fold
The myth of Kunta Kinte has grown as people celebrate ‘Kunta Kinte Day’ and a memorial was built in his honor in Annapolis. It is a money making bonanza. However, Jack White in this article says that it does not matter that Roots
Like every black person I know, I got caught up in the Roots frenzy. So I was shaken when one of my professors of African history told me that Haley’s soul-stirring account of tracing his ancestor Kunta Kinte back to his Gambian home village of Juffure was a fairy tale.
This is exactly what I am talking about, but he later tries to gloss over it.
Over the years, the strict factuality of Roots has been challenged persuasively in all sorts of ways, and I am not trying to reopen that controversy. Most people I’ve talked to seem to agree with Gates, who thinks the book should be regarded as a brilliant “work of the imagination.” Even Haley conceded that Roots was a blend of fiction and fact that he labeled a “faction.”
It doesn’t matter to me at all whether Haley was actually able to trace his roots back to Africa. His real achievement is that he made us proud and curious about our origins in Africa and in slavery, of which many us had been ashamed. It’s because of him that so many us began investigating our family trees, using the traditional tools of genealogical research, and more recently the astonishing power of DNA to learn where our forebears hailed from.
What about all of the great figures that came before Alex Haley (who was a very minor figure)? Haley alone tried to instill a sense of pride in a people that HATED themselves? Frauds ultimately do much more damage than good in the long run.