Alex Haley Tells The Story Of His Search For Roots is a 2-LP recording of a two-hour lecture Haley gave at the University of Pennsylvania in 1977. “On this album, I try to share my adventure of the past 12 years. It began as only a personal family search. It grew into a published book—ROOTS—the results that are hard for me to comprehend.” ~ Alex Haley.
“There’s an expression called ‘the peak experience’. It is that which emotionally nothing in your life ever can transcend. And I know I have had mine that first day in the back country in black West Africa. When we got up within sight of the village of Juffure the children who had inevitably been playing outside African villages, gave the word and the people came locking out of their huts. It’s a rather small village, only about seventy people. And villages in the back country are very much today as they were two hundred years ago, circular mud huts with conical thatched roofs. And from a distance I could see this small man with a pillbox hat and an off-white robe, and even from a distance there was an aura of ‘somebodiness’ about him. I just knew that was the man we had come to see. And when we got closer the interpreters left our party and went straight to him. And I had stepped unwittingly into a sequence of emotional events that always I feel awkward trying to describe, simply because I never ever verbally could convey, the power, the physical power of emotional occurrences.” ~ Alex Haley. Excerpted from Black History, Oral History and Genealogy.
Alex Haley Tells The Story Of His Search For Roots
(Album Back Cover Transcript)
My family’s seven generations that my Grandma and great aunts told me about, during my boyhood, have been grasped as the symbol history of all black Americans. Kunta Kinte and his Bell; their Kizzy, her “Chicken George” and his Matilda; their Tom and his Irene (who were the parents of my Grandma) have become, almost overnight, as indelibly a part of the American story as Daniel Boone or Harriet Beecher Stowe. The two-century drama of their lives is already being taught in hundreds of universities, colleges and high schools—replacing the “Uncle Tom” and “Black Sambo” images of U.S. slavery and the Reconstruction eras; and replacing as well the “Tarzan” and “Jungle Jim” images of the peoples of the African continent, physically the second largest on earth.
Part of the reason for all this is that ROOTS has touched deep within the psyche of a yet wider audience—ALL Americans whose ancestors came from somewhere across an ocean, and the native Americans as well.
Moreover, ROOTS is being translated into most of the major languages spoken elsewhere. Sometimes I dare to ask myself: is it possible that a miracle is being spread among us, which could reach about the world with a positive effect? I think privately of how my Grandma used to express, “The Lord might not come just when you expect Him to, but He will always be on time.”
The more I reflect upon how ROOTS came to be, the more I feel that the universal human story is symbolized in this album’s journey to find a family’s past. ROOTS’ source was true oral history. Wrinkling, greying old ladies sat in their rocking chairs on my Grandma’s front porch in Henning, Tennessee, recalling family stories passed down from generations before themselves. I sat behind my Grandma’s chair, listening.
None of us knew that we were engaging in something as old, and as universal, as the history of ALL mankind—for everyone on earth today traces back ancestrally to some time, and to some place, where no writing existed—and then all of human knowledge was relayed from the memories and the mouths of older people to the ears of younger people.
As for my own role in ROOTS, I simply feel that I have been privileged to function as a conduit—a mission that I was set upon in a way that I tell about in this album. In 1967, 30-odd years after I first heard the family story, it was again told to me in Kansas City by our surviving “Cousin Georgia,” who was 87 years of age. The story was like echoes from my boyhood and, finishing, Cousin Georgia exclaimed to me, “Now, get on outa here, boy, an’ do what you got to do!”
My emotions of that moment I think you may better understand if you look at Cousin Georgia for yourself, as she is pictured in this album. To me she personifies all of humankind’s precious elders, whose loins, whose efforts, whose prayers have produced the generations of us who are left to carry on.
Let me share further why I can only feel that ROOTS was meant to become part of our world today. In this album you will hear me tell of the journey that I made to the village of Juffure, in the back country of The Gambia, West Africa—where a miracle took place. From the memory and the mouth of a venerable GRIOT, I heard a centuries-old chronicle identify that village’s loss of a specific young man … dovetailing with my Grandma’s stories passed down from an African who had been enslaved in Colonial Virginia, who had always insisted that his real name was “Kinte”—my great-great-great-great grandfather!
On my return to the U.S., I got the heartbreaking news that Cousin Georgia had passed away. Later, studying the hospital death report—including the specific time—I calculated; with a jolt I realized that in Kansas City, Cousin Georgia had died literally on the day that I had walked into Juffure Village.
Please understand that to me it can only seem that as her generation’s last survivor, Cousin Georgia’s mission had been to see me into our ancestral village—whereupon she went on to join Grandma and all the others…
May I tell you why I feel that all of those who pass away from us represent our universal human continuity? In ROOTS’ Juffure Village, when small Kunta’s Grandma Yaisa died, Kunta was so grief-stricken that his father Omoro drew him aside. “It is permissible to be sad, for you loved your grandmother,” said Omoro, “but there is something you must know. There are three peoples in every village. There are, first, those who, like your grandmother, have gone on to spend the rest of time among the ancestors. There are, secondly, those like you and me, who are privileged to be walking around and talking in our village at this time. And, lastly, there are those who are waiting to be born into the village—”
New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Omaha, Plains, and Henning are villages alike in the sense of which Omoro spoke. I believe that wherever we are, whomever we are, ROOTS speaks to us of the human ebb and flow that is as ceaseless as the tides. And in this album that is in your hands, I am trying in the most personal way I know to share my search for the symbolic past of all of us who are privileged to descend from all of those Kunta Kintes. ~ Alex Haley.
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|• Coordinator: Adam Somers||• Design: Bill Naegels, Chris Whorf, Ron Coro||• Edited By, Mixed By: Rudy Hill|
|• Executive Producer: Ron Goldstein||• Photography By [Cover]: Mario Casilli||• Producer: Louis C. Blau|
|• Recorded By: Lee Herschberg||• Research [Associate]: George Sims||• Research [Gambian Advisor]: Ebou Manga|
(Alex Haley Tells The Story Of His Search For Roots is presented under the Creative Commons License. It was originally produced by Louis C. Blau in 1977. ℗ 1977 Warner Bros. Records Inc. An Alex Haley Production. All Rights Reserved.)