One Year: 1977

Season 1: Episode 6

Roots: The Saga of Alex Haley

The author who changed America—and ignited a controversy about fact and fiction.


Episode Notes

Alex Haley’s Roots displayed the brutal realities of slavery to more than 100 million Americans. The book and mini-series also made a bold claim: that Haley was the first Black American to trace his lineage all the way back to Africa, and to a specific ancestor captured into slavery. What would it mean, for Haley and America, if he hadn’t found what he said he’d found?

One Year is produced by Josh Levin, Evan Chung, and Madeline Ducharme. Mixing by Merritt Jacob.

Sources for This Episode


Ball, Erica L. and Kellie Carter Jackson, eds. 2017. Reconsidering Roots: Race, Politics, and Memory, Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Delmont, Matthew F. Making Roots: A Nation Captivated,, University of California Press, 2016.

Haley, Alex. Roots: The Saga of an American Family, Doubleday, 1976.

Norrell, Robert J. Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation, St. Martin’s Press, 2015.


Adalian, Josef. “Roots Is Still One of the Biggest TV Success Stories Ever,” Vulture, May 26, 2016.

Anderson, Jervis. “Alex Haley’s ‘Roots,’ ” New Yorker, Feb. 6, 1977.

Baldwin, James. “How One Black Man Came to Be an American: A Review of ‘Roots,’ ” New York Times, Sept. 26, 1976.

Delmont, Matthew F. “Why America Forgot About ‘Roots,’ ” New York Times, May 27, 2016.

Dunn, Stephane. “Why the Roots Remake Is So Important,” the Atlantic, May 29, 2016.

Haley, Alex. “My Furthest-Back Person—’The African,’ ” New York Times Magazine, July 16, 1972.

Hunter-Gault, Charlayne. “‘Roots’ Getting a Grip on People Everywhere,” New York Times, Jan. 28, 1977.

Kirkhorn, Michael. “A Saga of Slavery That Made the Actors Weep,” New York Times, June 27, 1976.

McFadden, Robert D. “Some Points of ‘Roots’ Questioned; Haley Stands by Book as a Symbol,” New York Times, April 10, 1977.

Nobile, Philip. “Uncovering Roots,” Village Voice, Feb. 23, 1993.

Onion, Rebecca. “How Do Descendants of Slaves Find Their Ancestors?”, Slate, Sept. 2, 2016.

Ottaway, Mark. “Tangled Roots,” Sunday Times, April 10, 1977.

Shenker, Israel. “Some Historians Dismiss Report Of Factual Mistakes in ‘Roots,’ ” New York Times, April 10, 1977.

“Sticking Pins Into a Best-Seller,” Times of London, April 12, 1977.

Trescott, Jacqueline. “Alex Haley: The Author, Astride Fame’s Moment …,” Washington Post, Jan. 28, 1977.

Trescott, Jacqueline. “The Making and Viewing of ‘Roots’: Charged With Emotion and Awareness,” Washington Post, Jan. 13, 1977.

Why ‘Roots’ Hit Home,” Time, Feb. 14, 1977.

Academic Articles

Hur, Kenneth K. and John P. Robinson, “The Social Impact of ‘Roots,’Journalism Quarterly 55 (March 1978), No. 1, 19-83.

Wright, Donald R. “Uprooting Kunta Kinte: On the Perils of Relying on Encyclopedic Informants,” History in Africa 8 (1981), 205-217.

Archival Material 

Alex Haley Papers, MS-1888. Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

Mary Hartman, QUBE, and LeVar Burton on Roots

Willa Paskin and Matthew Dessem on what TV was like in 1977, plus an extended interview with LeVar Burton about his experience making Roots.


About the Show

The people and struggles that changed America—one year at a time. In each episode, host Josh Levin explores a story you may have forgotten, or one you’ve never heard of before. What were the moments that transformed politics, culture, science, religion, and more? And how does the nation’s past shape our present?

The first season of One Year focuses on 1977, a year when gay rights hung in the balance, Roots dominated the airwaves, and Jesus appeared on a tortilla.

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