Remaking Alex Haley’s Fake Roots

Why the Racism-Industrial-Complex refuses to let the lie die.

In May, the History Channel will air its remake of Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of An American Family.

Unsurprisingly, the advertising for the broadcast fails to mention that Roots is a fake, and a fake of the first order.

First of all, the book upon which the successful mini-series was based was actually authored by Murray Fisher, Alex Haley’s editor from Playboy magazine.

Secondly, Roots wasn’t just ghost-written; it was plagiarized: In 1978, Judge Robert Ward concluded that Haley had stolen the idea for Roots from Harry Courlander, the white man who authored The African. Courlander charged Haley with having “copied [from his book] language, thoughts, attitudes, incidents, situations, plot and character.”

In spite of having initially denied it, Haley ultimately acknowledged that he lifted from The African verbatim at least 81 passages.

He settled with Courlander out of court by agreeing to pay him the equivalent of 2 million dollars in today’s terms ($650,000).

Finally, when, years later, Judge Ward told BBC that Haley “had perpetrated a hoax on the public,” he doubtless wasn’t just referring to his plagiarism.

Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills are professional genealogists who have shown that, far from substantiating the claims that Haley makes regarding his genealogy, “plantation records, wills,” and “census records” undermine those claims.   The Mills assert that the evidence “contradict[s] each and every pre-Civil War statement of Afro-American lineage in _Roots_” (emphases original)!

The American slave “Toby” whom Haley identifies as his African ancestor, Kunta Kinte, had been in America for years before the ship that allegedly carried him from Africa arrived in North America.  And it is “inarguable” that “the 182 pages and thirty-nine chapters in which the Virginia lives of Haley’s ‘ancestors’ are chronicled have no basis in fact.  Neither of the two relationships that are crucial to his pedigree (the identity of Kizzy as daughter of [Kunta] Kinte alias Toby, and the relationship of Bell as wife of Kinte and mother of Kizzy) can be established by even the weakest genealogical evidence.”

Nor is there any support for Haley’s account of his post-bellum ancestry. Yet what’s true of Haley’s account of his antebellum _post-_Civil War ancestry any better supported than his antebellum genealogy.  The Mills write that “the total absence of documentation for any alleged event, individual, or relationship” instills doubt about “the very essence of family life portrayed in Roots.” 

Black commentator Stanley Crouch refers to Haley as a “ruthless hustler,” “one of the biggest damn liars this country has ever seen.” Such is the magnitude of Haley’s “hoax” that serves as a textbook illustration of “how history and tragic fact can be pillaged by an individual willing to exploit whatever the naïve might consider sacred.” 

Even black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a friend of Haley’s, spiked Haley from the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature of which he is the editor. Gates admitted that “it’s highly unlikely that Alex actually found the village from whence his ancestors sprang.”

Black scholar Thomas Sowell remarks that Roots consists of “some crucially false pictures” regarding slavery which “continue to dominate thinking today.” For instance, West Africa, the place from which Kunta Kinte is supposed to have been taken, had been “a center of slave trading before the first white man arrived there [.]” 

Sowell also reminds us that “slavery continues in parts of it to this very moment.” 

So, why then is the History Channel remaking a story that long ago was exposed as a fake? Statements from the network’s president, Paul Buccieri, and Levar Burton, the actor who portrayed Kunta Kinte in the original Roots and the producer of this latest version, give us some insight.

Buccieri states that Roots is “a powerful story that remains as important today as it did when the original…first premiered.”  Burton says that the 1977 miniseries “started an important conversation in America.”  This “new retelling” promises to “start the dialogue again, at a time when it is needed more than ever.”

There we have it.  It doesn’t matter that Haley was a fraud. Roots should be remade in order to reinforce the politically lucrative fiction of omnipresent White Racism and perpetual Black Victimhood. 

Burton is either self-delusional or deceptive when he uses the words “conversation” and “dialogue” in the same breath as Roots, for the latter is part of the _monologue—_or, more accurately, the _diatribe_—to which the agents of the Racism-Industrial-Complex (RIC) have been subjecting the rest of us from before the first airing of Roots.

The essence of the diatribe is simple enough:

White people are evil and black people are virtuous.  In fact, white people are guilty of the worst of evils: “_racism._”

And even when blacks act wickedly, it is ultimately white people who are responsible for their degeneracy, for had whites not enslaved and oppressed blacks for centuries, the latter (presumably) wouldn’t behave badly.

Buccieri’s and Burton’s suggestion to the contrary aside, anyone in America today knows that there’s been one remake of Roots after the other since the 1970’s: Every time a television program is broadcast or a film is released in which whites are depicted as oppressors and blacks as the oppressed—something that occurs all too frequently—Roots is remade.  After all, it is this theme of white-on-black oppression that RIC agents like Burton value most. It is this theme that figures most crucially in that “conversation” on race that Burton credits Roots with having provoked.

Yet if Burton and Buccieri and those who are constantly telling us that “we” need an honest dialogue on race really wanted this, then more people would know that:

For centuries, Africans (Muslims) enslaved Europeans (Christians)

The first slaves in America were white.

The first legal slave master in America, Anthony Johnson, was black.

Johnson owned black and white servants.

There were blacks in America before slavery.

Prior to the War Between the States there were some 4,000 black slave masters in the South. 

Slavery, to say nothing of a whole lot worse than slavery, persists to the present day in black Africa.

Slavery was a global institution until white Christians, especially white English Christians, spearheaded a moral revolt against it.  The British Empire, while at its apex, deployed its military and economic might to bear upon Africa, the Middle East, and Asia to abolish this perennial practice—while along being met with considerable resistance by Africans, Arabs, and Asians who profited from it.

We shouldn’t expect for the History Channel to include any of these facts in its next piece of fiction.