It’s unfortunate that the value of "Roots" gets lost in its controversy. Of course some things weren’t true….the novel was itself marketed as historical FICTION. The fact remains that Alex Haley did, in fact, manage to trace his family heritage. Perhaps he got back as far as he says he did; perhaps not. The value of finding some identity can perhaps be only be understood by those of us to whom it is denied.
I grew up with an adoptive family who had no idea who their own grandparents were. Moreover, they could have cared less, and didn’t understand why I was interested in knowing more about my family origins and heritage. I was ridiculed outright by not only them, but other people.
I was twelve when I saw "Roots" on television, and read the book. That was the very first time another person understood my deep need to know. It was the first time I ever heard of genealogy, and that it was possible to trace one’s history. I promised myself that someday, somehow, I would do the same.
Because of Alex Haley, I found my parents. I have a family file with over fifty thousand names of direct and collateral-line ancestors. The first great-great-grandparents I found were Mastin Asbury and Lucinda Hinson of Alabama, and held my breath as I read the account of his wounding in the Battle of Chickamauga. Cadmus Parker, captured twice in battle, whose original regiment numbered less than a hundred men by April 1865. Daniel and Michou Jenny Anderson, who walked the Trail of Tears, (yes, I’m American Indian, another fact the adopters did know but determined out of sheer racism to hide), and whose son, my uncle, was a Captain in the Cherokee Mounted Rifles. Thomas Graves, a Jamestown Settler…..whose descendents include Alex Haley, the mentor I wish I could have met and thanked for giving me a missing part of my soul.
To the gentleman Waller, whose ancestors owned Toby Kinte: you’re my very distant cousin through my mother’s family. I can understand your ire over "Roots", but consider the millions of people, throughout the south, who may never have known about the Confederate heroes in their family trees had this book not piqued their curiosity about their family trees. "Roots" is another reason many of those men are not only known but honored by their descendents.
I’ll close by adding that I later reconciled with my adoptive father. His indifference in family history and ridicule of my search stopped when he attended a family reunion in the last years of his life. I took up the search for him, and he spoke with pride of his Revolutionary and Confederate ancestors to the end. I also found that we’re distantly related….a connection we’d not have had otherwise.
So I’m grateful to Alex Haley, and the questions posed by "Roots." "Where do I come from? And why should I bother finding out?"