Today In African History (April 16) – Alex Haley Finds His “Roots” In Juffure, Gambia

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UNITED STATES - JANUARY 23: ROOTS - 1/23/1977 - ALEX HALEY (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

On this day in 1977, Alex Haley, the black American author of “Roots”, made his first visit to Juffure, Gambia since the publication of the story that has made both him and the village world‐famous.

This is where, he contends, his ancestor of seven generations ago was captured into slavery in 1767.

Mr. Haley was given a triumphant welcome.

The dusty paths leading to Juffure were crowded with residents from miles around, clapping and dancing as Mr. Haley, dressed in a tan safari suit and perspiring profusely under a black umbrella, moved slowly through the engulfing throng.

Mr. Haley’s visit comes at a time of mounting controversy over his phenomenally popular bestseller. It was spurred by an article in The Sunday Times of London that asserted that “Roots” contained numerous historical inaccuracies and that the author’s genealogical research, on the African side, was open to question.

The article has angered and dampened the spirit of the Haley party, which is devoting time and thought to preparing a rebuttal.

The party that cruised 20 miles up the Gambian River in the luxurious presidental yacht Mansa Kila Ba—Mandinka for “the government’s big messenger”—contained 50 people, most of them cameramen and photographers. That amounts to more than half the population of Juffure.

The group stopped first at James Island, the site of the tiny fortress that was contested between the British and the French in the scramble for trade two centuries ago. Photographers, including an American film crew and a Senegalese television team, scampered over the ruins like mountain goats to catch shots of Mr. Haley picking up rocks and looking meditative. It was a re‐enactment of his visit there in 1967.

One purpose of the trip is to collect footage for a Warner Brothers production, a possible scene in a sequel to the television series of “Roots.”

During the half‐mile walk to Juffure, photographers from People magazine, Ebony and other publications moved backward so that they could record Mr. Haley’s every movement, and the click of camera shutters rivaled the beating of the drums.

Credit: The New York Times

OTHER EVENTS OF INTEREST ON THIS DAY

1457: BC Battle of Megiddo: Egyptian forces of Thutmose III defeat a large Canaanite coalition under King of Kadesh. First battle recorded with a reliable account.
1966: Rhodesian PM Ian Smith breaks diplomatic relations with Britain.
1986: To dispel rumours he’s dead, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi appears on TV.
1992: The Katina P runs aground off of Maputo, Mozambique. 60,000 tons of crude oil spill into the ocean.
2013: 16 people are killed after a gold mine collapses in Kyekyewere, Ghana.

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