ROOTS: THE NEXT GENERATION
"Roots: The Next Generation" begins where Roots,
by Alex Haley ended. The year is 1882, and under the emancipation proclamation, slavery
has been abolished. But the saying "the more things change the more they stay the
same" is apropos in the years that followed the end of slavery. "The Next
Generation" can be viewed as a series of snapshots of life in America over about a
The first period of the story starts 12 years after the end of Roots,
where we revisit Henning, Tennessee (the town where Kunta Kintes descendents had
come to settle). Here we follow the lives of two families. Tom Harvey, the son of Chicken
George, the grandson of Kizzy, and the great grandson of Kunta Kinte, is now the family
leader. But although they are free, the family is exposed to the inequities that existed
under the Jim Crow laws.
Confederate Col. Warner, a former plantation owner, serves as an
example of the dichotomy that existed between the lives of the blacks vs. those of the
whites. As a strong example of the symbolic interweaving of the two races in the south,
Warner is forced to deal with the fact that one of his sons has decided to marry a black
woman. Warner tells his son that he has disowned him because of this marriage. But it is
impossible for the old south to shut the doors to the new age that is dawning. Once this
point is conveyed, the Warner family fades from the story which continues with a focus on
The theme of hope and betterment is prevalent throughout the story. Tom
Harvey begins to exemplify this theme by being a strong proponent for education. Harvey
knows that education can improve the lives of his children as well as the black community
in which he lives. The struggle of black against white is also seen throughout the years
of this story. The KKK are portrayed as well as Nazism in World War II. Yet as we follow
the lives of the offspring of Kunta Kinte, we see that there is some hope of improvement.
One of Harveys daughters marries a man who becomes successful in the lumber
business. They in turn have a daughter who marries a poor sharecroppers son named
Simon Haley. Haley also believes that education holds the key to his future and works hard
to upgrade his lot. Haley enlists in World War I because of his strong belief in helping
the betterment of society. The poor treatment of black troops is exemplified during this
part of the story. Haley survives the war and returns to marry Bertha. They soon give
birth to Alexander Murray Palmer Haley.
Alex grows to carry the family torch and eagerly learns the stories of
their ancestral tree that leads back to Africa. As a young man, Alex is drawn to writing
and involves himself with the civil rights issues that were at the forefront of American
history in the 1950s and 1960s. Ultimately, Alex begins a twelve year quest to
document his own family story. At the high-point of his life, he has found his way back to
Africa and there he finds his own family roots. "You old African!" Alex cries to
a man he believes is related to him, "I found you, Kunta Kinte! I found you!"
The family that had been broken apart, and forced into slavery, so many years ago, had
finally been re-united with Haleys return to his ancestral homeland.
This story is enthralling as our moods shift from joy to sorrow and
back again. When we finally reach the end of this tale, we have spent so much time
learning about the struggle of one family, that we too have experienced, in a vicarious
way, the meaning of the search for our family roots.