It's been 35 years since landmark 'Roots' exploded on TV

Richard G. Carter | 10/12/2012, 4:17 p.m.
"Slave days are over. My name ain't Kunta Kinte..."-Spike Lee, "Do the Right Thing" (1989)...
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

On the other hand, since it took ABC two years to jettison the goofy Dennis Miller from "Monday Night Football" after stupidly dumping the great Howard Cosell, we shouldn't be surprised. Be that as it may, I believe it is valuable to revisit this landmark TV program-as Oprah Winfrey is doing-prior to this year's Black History Month.

I was living and working in Cleveland when "Roots"-star-studded from top to bottom-came on the air that frigid January. Right from the start, the sight and sound of so many gifted Blacks actors warmed my heart. In all, the 62 principal cast members were a veritable directory of big movie and TV stars of the 1960s and '70s.

With apologies to those I don't have space to mention, Black names included LeVar Burton as the protagonist, Kunta Kinte, along with Ben Vereen, Louis Gossett Jr., Leslie Uggams, Richard Roundtree, Maya Angelou, Cicely Tyson, John Amos, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs and Simpson. Among notable white actors were Chuck Connors, Ralph Waite, Lloyd Bridges, George Hamilton, Ed Asner, Sandy Duncan and Brad Davis.

There is little doubt "Roots" was a special experience-for white people as well as Black. During its run, "Roots" was a daily topic of conversation at company coffee machines, water coolers and cafeterias, as well as business lunches all over America. I remember these back-and-forth discussions as if it was yesterday.

Regardless of the knowledge of history by adult whites, many were openly horrified at the hardships inflicted upon Blacks in this country during slavery. Indeed, my Black friends also found scenes of the brutality hard to take. The program proved to be a catharsis-and a wakeup call-for much of America.

But remembering "Roots" also means remembering tender moments. The touching scenes of Black family loyalty, pride and love are indelibly stamped on my brain, and I'll never forget the youthful Burton's insistence that his real name was Kunta Kinte.

Bottom line: While I am fortunate to own a DVD of the miniseries, here's hoping this towering achievement someday will be rerun on national television in its glorious entirety for the benefit of millions-some of whom would be experiencing it for the first time. If so, young Blacks and whites would be well served to stop, look and listen.