Oprah salutes 'Roots'
HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 1/13/2012, 4:42 p.m.
In 1977, 35 years ago, Jimmy Carter was the president, Elvis Presley died and Oprah Winfrey was a television reporter in Baltimore assigned to cover "Roots," the phenomenal miniseries based on Alex Haley's Pulitzer Prize-winning book that traced his family tree back to Africa, the first time such a feat had ever been accomplished.
On Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. on Winfrey's OWN, a tribute to the 35th anniversary of "Roots" will be aired as part of Dr. King's birthday celebration. Winfrey invited several members of the cast to her Montecito home, including Cicely Tyson, LeVar Burton, Ben Vereen, John Amos, Leslie Uggams and Louis Gossett Jr., to relive those moments when more than a million viewers experienced the saga of Haley's ancestors.
Two weeks ago, Bill Haley, Alex's son, visited New York City to participate in the salute, but he didn't attend that event. He was, however, in Manhattan for an interview. He sat with the show's producer and her crew for about two hours at the London Hotel, during which he was asked about his relationship with his father and other personal matters. "I'm not sure what part of the interview they are going to use, but I've been told it will be about eight minutes," said Haley.
In looks and comportment, Haley is the spitting image of his father, who died in 1992. "There's a lot about Dad that people don't know," he said, saving much of that material for a proposed biography of his father that I'm working on with attorney Greg Reed of Detroit.
I was surprised to learn that Haley had deep roots in Harlem, attended P.S. 157 and George Washington High School. Like his father, who spent 20 years in the Coast Guard, Haley was in the Army for 22 years. He has five children and presently resides in North Carolina.
Chief among the things he's prepared to dispute about his father is the tarnishing of his reputation as a result of the plagiarism charges brought against him. "The large sum of money paid to Harold Courlander [more than $600,000] wasn't paid by my father but by the publisher," he explained. Because of the plagiarism suits, some scholars, including Henry Louis Gates of Harvard, have chosen to exclude Alex Haley's work from their various publications.
"For Mr. Gates and others, everything has to be empirical," Haley said, referring to the substantiation of their research. "They leave no room for the intuitive or the spiritual way information is often acquired."
Haley had much to say about the auctioning of the Haley estate that was arranged by his uncle, George Haley, and that raised $100,000 toward relief of the debt. He stopped short of providing details about the money and what happened to it, though one is left with the impression that all didn't go well.
What did go well was chatting with Haley and hearing the undisclosed details of his father's death and his marital affairs. For that, dear friends, you'll have to wait for the biography, though there may be a few interesting disclosures on the tribute on OWN. Stay tuned.