Chicken George (played by Ben Vereen) was the grandson of Kunta Kinte and the great-great-grandfather of Alex Haley. In this scene, George learns that his father is his owner Tom Moore, who raped his mother, Kizzy.
After eight episodes, spanning over one hundred years and several generations, Alex Haley’s ancestors achieve freedom and travel via wagon train to Tennessee. Chicken George and Tom Harvey (played by Georg Stanford Brown) tell the story of Kunta Kinte and stress the importance to passing this story down across the generations. From a hilltop, Chicken George announces, “Here me old African, the flesh of your flesh has come to freedom. You is free at last.” Haley and the television producers wanted this history to be uplifting and this concluding scene makes good on the promise in the series title, Roots: The Triumph of an American Family.
Roots conclusion with Alex Haley
Roots ends with Alex Haley walking down a country road describing how, in 1921, the Haley’s welcomed a seventh generation descendent of Kunta Kinte. “That boy was me, Alex Haley, and I never forgot those stories which my Grandmother Cynthia had told me,” Haley says. “I became obsessed with a desire to know more about our family, more about its history. It was a search that would take me finally twelve years to complete. And those things that I learned I wrote in a book called, Roots.”
Alex Haley never published another book after Roots. He loved talking to people but found himself overwhelmed by the praise, criticism, and legal troubles Roots generated. “He made history talk,” Jesse Jackson said of Alex Haley at the author’s funeral in 1992. “He lit up the long night of slavery. He gave our grandparents personhood. He gave Roots to the rootless.” In this light, pointing out the flaws in Haley’s family history feels like telling your grandmother she is lying. Fortunately, Haley’s fabrications are only a small part of a much larger, more interesting, and more complicated story of the making of Roots. Making Roots tells that story.