Recently Debra Eve at Later Bloomer posted a very interesting article about Alex Haley in which she mentions her experience watching the mini-series Roots. That blast from the past took me on a little trip down memory lane.
January 1977 was cold and miserable in Ohio. I had a tiny black & white TV on a plastic table and hardly any other furniture. I lived in a townhouse apartment. The floor downstairs was linoleum and I didn't have any rugs. During evenings in winter, I tended to curl up in bed (well there was no actual bed frame, it was really just a mattress on the floor) with a book instead of sitting in front of the TV because my feet got cold downstairs.
I had heard of the book, but hadn't read it. I wasn't sure I really wanted to commit to watching an entire week of television (due in part to the cold feet issue and in part to the fact that I wasn't a regular TV viewer other than the news and movies occasionally). Nevertheless, I decided to give the first episode a chance. I was bedazzled. Like much of America, I watched every second of the series. I don't recall if my feet got cold, but I do know I got goose-bumps a few times. The performances were amazing. The story was riveting.
As I sit here today, I have to confess I never read the book. Usually when I see a movie I like that is based on a book, I buy the book and I almost always like the book better than the movie. In the case of Roots, I didn't think anything could top the movie. It was for me a magical moment in time that could not be repeated, only cherished in the recesses of my memory.
Roots has become an American icon. The book's publication was a significant event in the history of American literature. The mini-series was a landmark in television history. Kunta Kinte was a real person, turned into a quasi-fictional character by a talented writer. The power of his story catapulted him into the top rank of the pantheon of Americas icons. Right where he belongs.
I think Alex Haley should be right up there, too.