Alex Haley was a very good and intelligent man. His served his country in the Coast Guard and was considered to be a ground breaking writer. His most famous work Roots was proven to be a fraud. At first there were just allegations of plagiarism. It would later be found out that several claims to his African history were not complete truths or fabrications. History does no good when you try to invent one for yourself or a people.
Alex Haley wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning book Roots: The Saga of an American Family in 1976. It was about his supposed family history from the ancestral homeland of Gambia to the present. It focused on a African named Kunte Kinte who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the late 1800’s. The book was very popular and led to a television miniseries. His got the idea from oral history that was passed down from relatives from when they first were brought to the United States as slaves. He claimed to have researched it for ten years. Haley did research on the slave trade as it related to Africa to the United States. I found it interesting that he appeared to play down the role that other Africans played in slavery of their own people. He took a trip to Gambia and claimed to trace Kinte to the very village that he came from.
How Alex Haley claimed this was a true story of his family. Neither of these statements turned out to be true. Large amounts of ideas and even the name Kunta Kinte came from a book called The African written by Harold Courlander in 1967. Mr. Courlander actually sued Alex Haley in 1978 over the book and movie that was clearly not Haley’s. The defense Mr. Haley used is that any similarities were purely coincidental and unintentional. A Columbia University Professor named Michael Woods was called as a plagiarism expert. According to him, “The evidence of copying from The African in both the novel and the television dramatization of Roots is clear and irrefutable”. Haley claimed he never read the african, but a teacher of african literature at skidmore college named Joe Bruchac signed an afadavit that he gave Haley a copy of Roots in 1970, which was well before roots was published. Therefore haley got caught in a lie. After five weeks the case was settled out of court. Haley issued a half hearted apology and paid $650,000. Being caught in a clear lie surely made Haley decide to settle.
In later years Haley claimed he never read the african, but a teacher of african literature at skidmore college signed an afadavit that he gave Haley a copy of Roots in 1970, which was well before roots was published. Therefore haley got caught in a lie.
Judge Ward, who presided over the trial, later called the book a “hoax” by Alex Haley on the public at large. Ironically Haley’s This fabrication of history may not have just been in Roots. The nation of Islam accused Haley of trying to rewrite parts of hitory for his book Malcolm X. I have not researched that issue, so I am not sure who is right on that one, but the claim has been made. It does not help that Haley was also caught in a lie about Roots.
One thing that is really bad about the whole situation is that many blacks in America have found this book to be a look at their history. Now the ideas of the book and certain events did occur by all means, but this cultural awakening was based on lying and stealing. Roots is also credited with bringing to the light of white people the horrors of the slave trade. I think most reasonable people already knew how bad the slave trade was. A history and heritage are important, but if you do not know yours then you should not try to invent one, or leave out parts you do not like. Haley chose to leave out the Africans involved in selling their own people into slavery. Most history books also do this. This is part of the whole liberal agenda currently taking over the United States like a cancer. I believe Alex Haley was a great speaker and did a good service by roots. I believe he did a horrible disservice by claiming the story and characters as his own. It was later claimed that most likely Haley had no idea of the village that his family had came from. He would have been much better served by writing it and saying it was based on actual events, but not claiming it as his family. He achieved so much praise because he put a face on slavery. Here it was someone who you could see who traced all of his roots. This turned out to be a lie. Haley did work towards equality for all people. For that I do respect him. It is up to each reader of this review to make up their own mind.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley 1976
The African by Harold Courlander 1967
African Americans: A Concise History (3rd Edition) 2008 by Stanley Harrold, William C. Hine, and Darlene Clark Hine.
The Village voice “Uncovering Roots” by Philip Nobile 2-23-1993
National Genealogical Society Quarterly “The Genealogists Assessment of Alex Haley’s Roots” by Gary and Elizabeth Mills. March 1984