This past week, I’ve had all of my stepsons visiting. We had a very busy week. Part of our activities this week was to get them watching Roots. I love this series and the book.
But, I also have some great disappointment today that I am pondering over. Yesterday, I went to the state archives and while there, I photocopied two articles by Gary B. Mills and Elizabeth Shown Mills about their work to assess the genealogy behind the Roots story. The two articles were
- Mills, Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills. “Roots and the New ‘Faction': A Legitimate Tool for CLIO?”, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January, 1981
- Mills, Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills. “The Genealogist’s Assessment of Alex Haley’s Roots“, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, March, 1984
After reading about their work to trace Haley’s genealogy compared to what is reported in the book, I feel disappointed in Roots as a book. I completely understand the great cultural significance of the story of Roots and what is symbolizes – what it *could* look like if we could trace our ancestry back to Africa as in the story of Kunta Kinte. Roots was an important and needed phenomenon that jump started a lot of people’s interest in understanding where they came from. I don’t believe that could ever be taken away from it.
But, once you start to look at the work of the MIlls’ and the work of others that have also done research in to Haley’s ancestry and work, it becomes fairly obvious rather quickly that there are historical inaccuracies and misinformation in Roots and that there are major limitations in some of Haley’s genealogy processes.
I hypothetically wonder if I were a Haley family member truly interested in applying the highest standards to genealogy research of the family tree, how would I reconcile the historical documentation w/ the book in a way that does not come across as disrespectful of Alex’s work? Even the Alex Haley Foundation’s website has the tree up as presented in Roots, but surely they have to know that this is not entirely supported by the genealogical evidence? What do you do about misinformation that gets represented to others that may be part of the tree?
A couple of years ago when we were living outside of Memphis we took the kids to the Alex Haley home in Henning, TN where he is buried. At that time, I learned of the controversy around Roots, but did not pursue learning too much more. However, I remain fascinated, so do plan to continue reading.
Here is a picture of his home and grave that I took when we visited in 2006.