‘Roots’ Author’s Nephew to Share Family Stories on Germanna Forum | Local News

By CLINT SCHEMMER Culpeper Star–Exhibitor

When Marylander Chris Haley drives south to visit family in the Carolinas and Georgia, he finds himself thinking of other relatives as he transits through Virginia on Interstate 95.

He remembers his uncle Alex and the story he told about their ancestor, Kunta Kinte, a man abducted in GambiaAfrica, taken to Annapolis, Md., and enslaved Spotsylvania County. Haley shared those memories in an interview on Friday.

On Tuesday, in a virtual chat hosted by Germanna Community College, he will tell more about his uncle, whose novel ‘Roots’ and resulting TV miniseries inspired millions to seek out their own story. family and to discuss difficult aspects of American history, including slavery. .

The free conversation on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. is open to everyone; registration to germanna.edu is required. Also on the panel will be Charles L. Chavis Jr., director of African and African-American studies at George Mason University. Scott Ackerman, history professor at Germanna, will moderate.

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“‘Roots’ was a revelation, which people have been talking about ever since,” Haley said on Friday. “Before that, this story was put aside. That’s why what my uncle did was so amazing.

Alex Haley, who also wrote “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, was credited by The New York Times in 2021 for “teaching America about race”.

His nephew, Chris, is director of research at the Maryland State Archives for the “Legacy of Slavery in Maryland » project. He was a teenager when “Roots” hit the airwaves in 1977, but his impression of him is still fresh. Like millions, Haley lay awake for eight nights watching the ABC drama about seven generations of a single African-American family — her own.

“For me, watching it was an out-of-body experience. … It was based on my ancestry,” Haley recalls. “It was like watching a movie version of some aspect of your life.

“The next day, everywhere, ‘Roots’ was the chatter of people. It became huge, all of a sudden,” he said.

Born and raised in Washington, DC, Haley now lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

He said “Roots” changed people’s perception that having enslaved parents or being mixed race was a shame.

“Accept your heritage,” Haley said. “Don’t let yourself be undermined. Use it as a stepping stone to the direction you want to go, to hold yourself accountable. “Roots” sparked a real shift in that way of thinking.

“‘Roots’ showed that you can be proud of your past, simply by surviving it and seeking joy in everyday life with your friends, your children, your community and your brotherhood.”

At its heart, his uncle’s book was a family story about a boy trying to become a man, trying to make his father and grandparents proud, he said.

“Everyone can relate to this, regardless of what you were born into or the challenges you face,” he said.

“‘Roots’ promoted the idea that the way you share that story is to talk about it, to tell your spouse or your young child about your story, to talk about who your father or grandparents were, so that it can be transmitted,” he said. .

He urged speaking with family members and asking for letters or photos that include them. “Talk about this person and what they meant to you,” he said. “That’s how this person stays alive.”

“‘Roots’ ended up helping everyone think it was worth it, so people know who came before them, regardless of your ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation or whatever,” said Haley said. “It’s a universal story of people who have fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles and cousins.”

After performing on Broadway and Universal Studios in Orlando, Haley sought to learn historical research methods and landed at the Maryland State Archives. Haley and her team spent years creating the Maryland Slavery Databaseopening windows to the past for thousands of people.

Haley is aware that some have speculated that Kunta Kinte was a fictional character, but he is confident the story is real, centering on his ancestor’s life in Africa and Spotsylvania County. Waller Plantation.

Alex Haley and LeVar Burton, the actor who played Kinte in “Roots,” have previously visited the plantation and its cemetery. Judge Spotsylvania A. Nelson Waller, who dined there with the author in 1977, had watched the miniseries and said of its story: “It’s all part of the story, just like the battle of nature or World War II.

About 20 years ago, Chris Haley visited the plantation with two researchers, exploring what they believed to be the Waller family slave cemetery where Kinte is buried.

Several years ago, a member of the Waller family contacted him to inquire about holding a Haley and Waller family reunion, he said. The idea was going nowhere.

“It wasn’t for me to decide,” he said. Haley had deferred the proposal to her father and uncle George, the family patriarchs and Alex’s children. His father died 10 years ago, George in 2015.

Haley and her family post regularly on Facebook Alex Haley Family page.

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Lola R. McClure