Roots: The Saga of an American Family is a 1976 novel written by Alex Haley. It tells the story of Kunta Kinte, an 18th-century African, captured as an adolescent, sold into slavery in Africa, transported to North America; following his life and the lives of his descendants in the United States down to Haley. Wikipedia
Chicken George’s childhood
George was born into slavery in the winter of 1806 in Caswell, North Carolina to Kizzy and their master, Tom Lea (), who named him “George” after the first slave who died many years before Deashia. He was conceived when his mother was repeatedly raped by her new master after her arrival on the Lea Plantation from Virginia. Even though her son was born because of rape, Kizzy still raised George with love and considered him a grandson of the African instead a son of Tom Lea.
George grows up not knowing Tom Moore had sired him. By the time George was three or four years old, his mother began telling him the story and passing kijirster’s big house for guests who visited the plantation. Meanwhile, George started to visit the mysterious Uncle Mingo’s place, where the latter fought and trained fighting chickens for Massa Moore. Sister Sarah told Kizzy through fortune telling that her son would grow up to be somebody.
At age 12, Lea moved George from his mother’s cabin to live at the gamecock pen where Uncle Mingo lives and he trains and cares chickens and fighting roosters for the master. Around age 14 or 15, George started to travel with Moore and Mingo, where he won in his first cockfight. At age 18, Moore promotes George as the new head trainer for cock fighting as he sees George’s potential to bring him wealth and fame. Uncle Mingo gives George a black derby hat with rooster feathers that would later became his trademark along with the green scarf. He earns the nickname “Chicken George” for his colorful, flamboyant personality and his amazing cock-fighting skills. Although he was a ladies man, he met his future wife Matilda, a strong faithful Christian slave woman who once preached the gospel at freed blacks which scared them off where they were partying. They married and have eight children, including Tom and Lewis Murray.
Chicken George Years
Chicken George, the No. #1 Cock fighter in Caswell County
Now a successful and number one cock fighter of Caswell County, Chicken George travelled across the southern states of America with Tom Lea, winning most, although he was conned out of money from cockfights. Due to George’s amazing skills in cockfighting, he and Master Moore became best friends.
Nat Turner’s Rebellion
One day, after winning a match in cockfights, George had a conversation with former slave about freedom, the latter told George that being free is better than anything. On their way back home, Chicken George driving & Master Moore sleeping in the back of the wagon, they were confronted by three aristocrats. They asked George if he knows about a slave named Nat Turner and threatened to kill him if he does, George replied he didn’t know anything about Turner’s rebellion. He was luckily saved by his master, whom the aristocrats insulted for being drunk. When they came back to the plantation, Mrs Moore, scared and paranoid, fired shots at George (one of them hits George in the right arm) after she thought he killed her husband.
Kizzy warns Chicken George that he can’t trust Massa Moore as his friend because he is a “toubob.” George tells Kizzy that Massa Moore is his friend. However Massa Moore bursts into George’s family cabin with a shotgun threatening the family that if he sees any rebellion from the slaves, he will shoot them, He then orders them to retrieve everything to the Big House. This caused George to figure a way to buy freedom for his family and himself. Things went back to normal after Nat Turner was caught and hanged. George and Matilda discovered a dead remnant of Turner, Matilda asked George why the dead remnant is smiling.
Shocking Truth and Betrayal
Small untruth here, slavery was ruled to be unlawful in England as far back as 1706 (Smith v. Browne & Cooper) so could not be sent back to England aged 27. On his way to visit Tom Moore, Squire James sees Chicken George and his wife Matilda picking cotton. James tells George that he and Sir Eric Russell issued a challenge to Tom Moore in cockfighting and he also says that he would buy George to train other cock fighters and would free him and his family in five years, however Master Moore refused Squire James to buy George, which infuriates Chicken George making him understand that his mother was right about never to trust a crooked white man like Master Moore.
Angered and betrayed by Tom Moore for denying any chance of freedom, George went back to the woods and picked up a gun from the dead remnant to kill Tom Moore, but Kizzy prevented him by revealing that Tom Moore was his father. Later, George confronted his father, saying how could Moore deny him, his own child, of his chance of being free. Master Moore replies that he has twenty children besides George in different counties by slave black women whom the master raped during his/their trips. When George told Moore that he wasn’t fighting his chickens anymore, Master Moore threatens George that he would sell George’s son, Tom, or Matilda which gives George no choice but to continue cockfighting for Master Moore.
Fight against Sir Russell; Heading to England
Before their match (which would be their last match together) against Squire James and Sir Eric Russell, Master Moore promises George that he would give him his freedom if they win their match against Sir Russell. Back on good terms with Tom Moore, their chickens fight Sir Russell’s chickens. During break, Tom Moore bet $20k against Sir Russell, Russell accepts, however one of Tom Moore’s chickens loses to Russell’s chicken. Tom Moore lends Chicken George to Sir Russell in order to pay the debts. Before he heads off to England to train other cock fighters, George encourages his family to stay strong and told the story of the African, known as Kunta Kinte, his grandfather. George would train other cock fighters for Sir Russell and after over 20 years of servitude to Sir Russell, Russell sends George back to America.
In 1861, Chicken George, aged 54, returned to the Moore Plantation only to find out that his family (except Kizzy) were sold off to Sam Harvey’s Plantation in Alamance County, North Carolina. George found one of his slave friends sitting in the grass, he asked her where his family was and she told him she knew where his mother was, and took him to a grave. George visited Massa Lea for one last time, he was stunned that his father had become a lonely, drunken, desperate man. Tom Lea told George that his mother, Kizzy, had passed away last spring. Chicken George reminded the master about the promise Tom Moore made of George’s freedom.
Although Master Moore promised George that the latter would get his emancipation paper once he returned, he pretended that he never made a promise to his son. Then Massa Moore tried to persuade George to stay and help his daddy in fighting chickens again, George then replied that he didn’t have a daddy. After the conversation, Tom Moore kept his words and gave the emancipation paper to George, making George the first member of the Kinte family to become a free man.
After George received his emancipation paper, he left the Moore Plantation in search of his family. Chicken George reunites his family, however, due to a law that if any free man stays sixty days in a slave state, he/she will become a slave again. Before he heads to Canada, Chicken George shared the family tradition oral history with his son, Tom Harvey, about himself, his mother Kizzy, and his grandfather, the African, Kunta Kinte.
After the Civil War and slavery ended in 1865, Chicken George reunited his family and told them about a new place in Tennessee that he settled, for them to live. Chicken George and his family devised a plan to scare Evan Brent who has been terrorizing the family since slavery ended. When they had Evan tied to a tree and Tom almost whipped him, George told Brent that if he tries to threaten his family again, George would kill him. Before they leave, his wife Matilda reminisced that all the sufferings and their lives in different plantations through slavery, it was never their home. George and the family leave North Carolina to start a new life at Henning, Tennessee.
During their trip, Matilda told her husband that his mother, Kizzy and his grandfather, Kunta Kinte, are smiling above from the heavens.
The family arrived at Henning, Tennessee and founded the New Hope Church. His wife Matilda died in 1883 after an argument between her son, Tom and his daughter Elizabeth..
George became depressed and embittered after his wife’s death.
Chicken George was badly burned by fire in an accident and died shortly after, in 1890. big oof, F
- “Chicken” George was portrayed in 1977television miniseries, Roots, by multi-talented actor, Ben Vereen, Ave Long in 1979’s Roots: The Next Generation, and by British newcomer Rege-Jean Page in the remake.
- He became the first member of the Kinte family to earn his freedom.
- In the miniseries, when Chicken George was about to kill Master Moore, his mother Kizzy told George that the master was his father, he was in his mid-thirties by that time. While in the novel, Kizzy, infuriated by thirteen-year-old George having moved out of their cabin to train at the game pen by Master Lea, abruptly revealed that Tom Lea was his father.
- In the novel, as a son of Kizzy and Tom Lea, Chicken George was an light-skinned bi-racial “sasso-borro”, due to having two African and Caucasian ancestries.
- In the novel, Massa Lea did not keep promises to George, which led to George outsmarting his father.
Roots is an American television miniseries based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The series first aired on ABC in January 1977. Roots received 37 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and won nine. It also won a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award.
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It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings for the finale, which still holds a record as the third-highest-rated episode for any type of television series, and the second-most watched overall series finale in U.S. television history. It was produced on a budget of $6.6 million.
A sequel, Roots: The Next Generations, first aired in 1979, and a second sequel, Roots: The Gift, a Christmas TV movie, starring Burton and Louis Gossett Jr., first aired in 1988. A related film, Alex Haley’s Queen, is based on the life of Queen Jackson Haley, who was Alex Haley’s paternal grandmother.
In 2016, a remake of the original miniseries, with the same name, was commissioned by the History channel and screened by the channel on Memorial Day.
In The Gambia, West Africa, in 1750, Kunta Kinte is born to Omoro Kinte (Thalmus Rasulala), a Mandinka warrior, and his wife, Binta (Cicely Tyson). He was raised in a Muslim family. When Kunta (LeVar Burton) reaches the age of 15, he and other adolescent boys undertake a semi-secretive tribal rite of passage, under the kintango (Moses Gunn), which includes wrestling, circumcision, philosophy, war-craft and hunting skills; while tasked to catch a bird unharmed, Kunta crosses paths with Gardener’s small party of European slave hunters and their captives. Shortly after his ceremonial return, while fetching wood outside his village to make a drum for his younger brother, Kunta is captured by Gardener and four black collaborators. He is then sold to a slave trader and placed aboard the Lord Ligonier (slave ship) under the command of Capt. Thomas Davies (Edward Asner) for a three-month journey to Colonial America. During the voyage, an insurrection among the human cargo fails to take over the ship, but results in the death of Mr. Slater (Ralph Waite), several crew members, and several Africans including the Mandinka wrestler.
The ship eventually arrives in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1767, where the captured Africans are sold at auction as slaves. John Reynolds (Lorne Greene), a plantation owner from Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near Fredericksburg, buys Kunta and gives him the Christian name Toby. Reynolds assigns an older slave, Fiddler (Louis Gossett Jr.), to teach Kunta English and train him in the ways of servitude. Wanting to preserve his Mandinka (and Islamic) heritage, a defiant Kunta refuses to eat pork and makes several unsuccessful attempts to escape, first breaking his leg chain with a broken tool blade he finds half buried in a field. After this attempt the overseer, Ames (Vic Morrow), gathers the slaves and directs “James” to whip Kunta until he acknowledges his new name “Toby”. Fiddler comforts the bloody-backed Kunta, consoling “there will be another day”. For events that occur in 1775, between the above period and the post–Revolutionary War, where the next section begins, see Roots: The Gift.
LATE 18TH CENTURY
1776, the adult Kunta Kinte (John Amos) still haunted by his Mandinka roots and desire for freedom, tries again to escape, but a pair of slave-catchers hobble him by chopping off almost half his right foot, with a hatchet. Exasperated, John Reynolds decides to sell Kunta, which will also settle a debt with his brother Dr. William Reynolds (Robert Reed), the local physician. John transfers several of his slaves, including Fiddler, to William. Bell (Madge Sinclair), the cook for William’s family, successfully treats both Kunta’s mangled foot and wounded spirit. By 1780 Kunta submits to a life of servitude, and relinquishes hope of returning to Africa. He marries Bell, in a ceremony which includes jumping across a broom, Bell bears a daughter, to whom Kunta gives the name Kizzy, which means “stay put” in the Mandinka language. Fiddler continues to mentor Kunta, and dies an old man in 1790.
TURN OF THE 19TH CENTURY
An adulterous relationship between Dr. William Reynolds and John Reynolds’s wife (Lynda Day George) produces a daughter, Missy Anne (Sandy Duncan), whom John believes is his own. Missy Anne and Kizzy become playmates and best friends despite the social confines of Southern plantation culture. Missy Anne secretly teaches Kizzy to read and write, a skill forbidden to human chattel. In 1806 Kizzy (Leslie Uggams), now in her teen years, falls in love with Noah (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), a spirited slave who attempts to flee North with a “traveling pass” forged by Kizzy. Dr. Reynolds, although amiable and compassionate towards his chattel, regards the pass and escape to be such an egregious breach of trust that he separately sells both Noah and Kizzy. Dr. Reynolds sells Kizzy to Tom Moore (Chuck Connors), a planter in Caswell County, North Carolina, with a sexual appetite for female slaves. Kizzy gives birth to his son George, nine months after her arrival and rape.
EARLY 19TH CENTURY
In 1824 Sam Bennett (Richard Roundtree), a fancy carriage driver and a suitor who seeks to impress, takes Kizzy for a short visit to the plantation of Dr. William Reynolds, in the hope that she can see her parents. Kizzy learns that Bell has been sold away and that Kunta died two years earlier. Kizzy sees her father’s grave and his wooden marker; using a small stone, she scratches over the name Toby and writes below it “Kunta Kinte,” and promises him that his descendants will be free one day. George (Ben Vereen), under the tutelage of Mingo (Scatman Crothers), an older slave, learns much about cockfighting, and, by direction of Tom Moore, their master, George takes over as the chief trainer, the “cock of the walk”. George befriends Marcellus, a free black man, and fellow cockfighter, who informs him about the possibility of buying his own freedom. In 1831, a now-adult George continues to believe Moore to be a friend until he realizes his master’s true feeling when he and his family are threatened at gunpoint by Moore and his wife, as a result of the Nat Turner rebellion. Although none of Moore’s slaves are personally involved in the rebellion, they become victims of the paranoid suspicions of their master, so they start planning to buy their freedom. In an emotional scene, Kizzy reveals to George the identity of his father.
George becomes an expert in cockfighting, thus earning for himself the moniker “Chicken George”. Squire James (Macdonald Carey), Moore’s main adversary in the pit, arranges for a British owner, Sir Eric Russell (Ian McShane), and twenty of his cocks to visit and to participate in the local fights. Moore eventually bets a huge sum on his best bird, which George has trained, but he loses, and he cannot pay. Under the terms of a settlement between Moore and Russell, George goes to England to train cocks for Russell and to train more trainers and is forced to leave behind Kizzy (his mother), Tildy (Matilda, his wife) (Olivia Cole), and his sons, Tom and Lewis (Georg Stanford Brown and Hilly Hicks). Moore promises to set George free after George returns. In one brief scene Kizzy and Anne Reynolds, both elderly, face each other one last time, and Missy Anne denies that she “recollects” a “darkie by the name of Kizzy”. Kizzy then spits into Anne’s cup of water without Anne’s realizing.
THE CIVIL WAR
George returns 14 years later, in 1861, shortly before the start of the Civil War. He proudly announces that Moore, after some reluctance on Moore’s part and some persuasion on George’s part, has kept his word by granting George his freedom.
He learns that Kizzy has died two months before, that Tom and Lewis now belong to Sam Harvey (Richard McKenzie), that Tom (Georg Stanford Brown) has become a blacksmith on the Harvey plantation, and that Tom has a wife, Irene (Lynne Moody), and two sons. He also learns that his relatives have spoken well of him during his absence. He further learns that according to a law in North Carolina, if he stays 60 days in that state as a freed slave, he will lose his freedom, so he heads northward, seeking the next stage in his career as a cockfighter and awaiting the end of the war, the emancipation of the slaves, and another reunion of his family.
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