It was one of the most memorable television events of the 1970s: a twelve hour mini-series that traced the story of author Alex Haley’s Roots back to an African ancestor. In one of many gripping episodes, an African Muslim, “Kunte Kinte” (played by LeVar Burton, minus the iconic Star Trek visor), was kidnapped by evil white slavers, carried to the African shore, and dispatched to America never to see his homeland again. It made for a powerful drama (now available on DVD) that brilliantly illustrated the evil of slavery. This is the version of history I was taught in school.
A few weeks ago, I noted a remarkable article by Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game.” Dr. Gates explained that exploration of the African interior by Europeans was an eighteenth century endeavor. He further reported research that 90% of Africans shipped to the New World were in fact first enslaved by their fellow Africans and then sold to European slave traders. More here. Alex Haley’s work, though powerful and illustrative of the evil of slavery, left something to be desired in precise historical accuracy.
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