Sunday, April 15, 2007

Jackie Robinson and ROOTS

Today marks the 60th anniversary of a true American icon breaking the color barrier. That man, that American, was Jackie Robinson. The MLB celebrated this historic moment today across the nation in ball parks. I can't believe I was in 9th grade, sitting in my Social Studies class back in Nebraska when I first heard of Jackie Robinson. How in the world had I, a HUGE sports buff and history buff gone so long without ever hearing of this individual. In my opinion, he not only changed the fabric of sports, but of the American culture. All week long, ESPN has had specials on Jackie. I'm sure you can catch one of the specials for the next few weeks on any of the ESPN stations, and I highly recommend it. Also, check out more information on Jackie Robinson at Not only was Jackie part of African-American history, and not only sports history, but part of American History and a great pioneer for civil rights.

Another anniversary is being celebrated this week as well, the 30th anniversay of Alex Haley's ROOTS. Back in 1977, over 85% of American households tuned in to watch this epic and powerful mini-series on ABC. I was in elementary school at the time and I remember watching this show well. What immediately pulled me into it was hearing that O.J. Simpson, one of my childhood heroes, had a part in it. So many stars at that time, both black and white, were in this star-studded tv movie. I remember how I felt when Kunta Kinte was captured and then treated by his captors. Ripped away from his family. His struggle to stay true to his people and refusing the slave name of Toby. The image that most sticks in my mind was John Amos' character as an adult 'Toby' getting half of his foot chopped off. I could not believe what I was seeing. Then Kizzy came. She was a strong and enduring woman. I remember crying when she was ripped away from her parents. Then to Chicken George and how he fought to earn his freedom. I remember seeing Chuck Connors as the slave owner Tom Moore and how much I hated him. A few years later, he was on a TV commercial for some trucks and I hated him then. It was only later that I realized he was just an actor and was a good guy in The Rifleman. But, it goes to show the impact this show had on me. I could not believe a group of people, a group of people in America, could be so cruel to another group of people in America. I think for my generation, this movie had more impact on us and race relations than any other single event. It truly was a defining moment in TV history.

This week, TV ONE has been broadcasting the entire mini-series. It has been hosted by several of the stars including Louis Gossett, Jr., Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, and LeVar Burton. This weekend, I watched roughly 8 hours of the mini-series. I have not seen it since its original airing 30 years ago. I was gripped to the set, remembering how I felt seeing this as a youth. I cried again at Kizzy being ripped from her parents. I cried when Chicken George was reunited with Tom, his son. Just as when I was a kid, I felt hatred toward Tom Moore and Lloyd Bridges and the other racists. And at the same time, I was so moved by the closeness of these characters with their families despite all that they endured. It is such a powerful and moving mini-series that I wish every person has the opportunity to see once in their life. I know when my children are older, I will watch this with them. If you have not seen this lately, I encourage you to watch it again this week. You will be moved.

I know there has been some controversy surrounding Alex Haley and ROOTS, but, this should in no way deter the impact this movie has had on our culture. If you want to find out more about Alex Haley and ROOTS, check out the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation Inc.. As an aside, I have also read that because of ROOTS there was a huge upsurge in the interest of genealogy, another one of my interests.


HardyGirl said...

Hi Scott,

I remember watching Roots as a homework assignment in school. My brother has the videos and I've seen it a few times. I remember the discussions w/ my mom and my teacher in school. Since I am black, my dad insisted I learned plenty about Black history. I had comics books, board games, and had to watch specials like Roots, Sounder and Roll Of Thunder Hear My Cry.

Did you know there was another chapter of Roots? It was called Roots The Gift and it was a Xmas special. Shaun Cassidy played an abolitionist planning a mass escape through the Underground Railroad on Xmas Eve. The first scene they show is Kunta being beaten b/c he wouldn't accept the name Toby and then it went on from there.

Thanks for acknowledeging this great eye opening mini-series.

Scott said...

I do remember 'ROOTS: The Gift', however, I don't remember seeing it. I don't think there will be another mini-series like ROOTs or have the same impact. Every time there is a mini-series on, I immediately think 'ROOTS' and use it as the standard bearer.

I think part of what hit me about the series too is about four houses up from us was a black family. The son was a few years older than me, but he was part of our us. We had a great street to grow up on with about 20 kids. We never thought of him as anything but one of us. This show came out and I remember how shocked we were that this was how our society was at one time.

I do look forward to when I can watch this with my kids and talk about this. Definitely a series that had an impact on a generation.