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class="auto-The book was rapidly followed by a television mini-series that garnered nine Emmys,  a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. The series finale held the record as the third-highest-rated US television program as of 2009. African Americans realized they had a proud heritage and traced their own roots. Whites who had rarely given a thought to the plight of Black people and what they suffered as a race under slavery had a deeper understanding of the situation.


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The Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center
Almost every adult in the United States has either read the book or seen the mini-series. In case you recently arrived from another planet or were too young to read or watch TV back in 1979, the story revolves around Kunta Kinte, a young African boy who is captured and sold into slavery. The story tells of his plight and followers him and  his descendants right down to Alex himself.

Both the book and the mini-series, which followed the book's story line very well, offer a wealth of understanding of the customs and beliefsyoung Kunta Kinte brought with him from his home in West Africa and the culture that evolved when Africans from very different cultures were thrown together in the cauldron of slavery and were forced to forge a common ethnicity, African American. If you are one of these not familiar with Roots, I suggest you head for the library, bookstore, Netflix or equivalent and make an acquaintance with Kunta Kinte and his family.

Alex Haley's grandparents home
My next suggestion evolves a bit of travel-after all, this is a travel ezine. Head for the little town of Henning, Tennessee and visit the place where Roots, the book, first took root in the fertile soil of a young boy's mind, The Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center, operating under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

The heart of this piece of literary history is Alex Haley's boyhood home. Actually the home of his maternal grandparents, William and Cynthia Palmer.

It is the only museum dedicated to a single African American. It's also a museum with an international flair. The international interest is because Roots has been translated into 37 different languages inspiring visitors from around the world. Paula Boger, museum executive director, told us, "We get visitors from all over the world. Just last week, we had five visitors from England. They were here because they are fans of Alex Haley and if visitors can find us in this little place coming from England and Germany and Australia, I always challenge our local people to find us."

A picture of Alex Haley as a baby in the home's music room
For those who like Alex Haley are trying to search for their own roots, the museum offers a free genealogy sessions several Saturdays a month. Director Boger is very enthused about this function of the interpretive center. She explained, "That's what Alex was all about . Trying to inspire others to do the same thing he did and go in search of their own family roots."

The interpretive center is inspiring in the way it explains Alex's life and how he came to write Roots.

There is a film that acquaints those unfamiliar with Roots with the story. The place is a treasure trove for any reader and even more so for those who write.

Beverly and Magnolia in the Interpretive Center

One plaque is a statement by Alex about sitting on the front porch and listening to his grandmother and her friends, "people with names like Great Aunt Liz, Great Aunt Jill, Great Aunt Penny and others. My earliest memoriesare of these buddies who would filter out to the front porch and take seats in the cane-bottomed rocking chairs. They would begin rocking back and forth. When they all got going it was like so many metatrons….and they would talk each evening about the self-same thing; a long narrative history of the family. They would speak about people, place and things. When they were talking about people the farthest-back person they talked about was someone called The African."

The music room in the home
By now I was itching to move on to the house and see this fountain of inspiration.  Our guide, Beverly Johnson, is also a descendant of Kinta Kunta (through Chicken George for those who read the book). We were also privileged to meet Beverly's mother, Magnolia, who was one of those who as a child sat on that porch and listened to "the old ladies" talk of "the African." What a thrill!

The house is decorated as it was in the early 1900. Alex's grandfather died in 1926 and his grandmother in 1949.  it was 1986 when Alex and his brothers repurchased the home who then sold it to the state of Tennessee. They tried to rearrange it based on Alex and he brother's memories of the way the home was furnished.

Alex Haley's grave
Alex's mother moved there shortly after Alex was born while his father, Simon,worked on his graduate degree in Ithaca, NY. After Simon finished his studies, he returned to Henning. Alex's grandfather died when Alex was five and after that, his father had to help run the Palmer Lumberyard. Even after his father began teaching at different Southern Black Colleges. he spend summers at his grandmother's.

As I strolled though the home, listening to Beverly explain the reasons for some of the furnishings, it was like looking into Alex's past. Seeing where one of the greatest books of the 20th century first came to life in the mind of a small boy.

Considering the impact this home had on his life, it is only fitting that Alex chose to be buried on the front lawn.

For more info:

http://www.alexhaleymuseum.org/


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