Remembering “Roots”

Remembering “Roots”


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The phenomenon began a few months earlier, with the publication of “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” Released in the fall of 1976—during America’s Bicentennial—it was an overnight commercial and critical success. The book would spend more than four months on The New York Times bestseller list, sell more than 6 million copies, be translated into more than 35 languages and earn Alex Haley both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

Born in 1921 and raised in Ithaca, New York, and Henning, Tennessee, Haley was the son of a homemaker mother and an academic father who taught at universities throughout the South. He spent the summers of his youth at the side of his grandmother, Cynthia Palmer, absorbing stories of his maternal bloodline, including snippets of a presumed-lost African language that had been passed down through the generations. Palmer traced her ancestors to the mid-18th century arrival of the “furthest-back” person in America, an African called “Toby” by his slave owners.

A talented, though indifferent, student, 18-year-old Haley bypassed college, and on the eve of World War II enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he would serve for the next 20 years. He turned to writing, eventually rising to become the Coast Guard’s chief journalist. After leaving the service, Haley began a successful freelance career, contributing pieces to Reader’s Digest, TIME magazine and even interviewing musician Miles Davis for the first issue of Playboy. An interview with Malcolm X led to an offer to ghost write the controversial civil rights leader’s memoirs, which Haley finished just weeks before Malcolm’s assassination. Published in 1965, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” put Haley on the map, selling more than 6 million copies to date.

The inspiration for “Roots” came to Haley in an unlikely place. While visiting London’s British Museum in 1964, he was struck by the story of the Rosetta Stone, the multi-lingual slab that helped researchers crack the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics, opening a new window on a “lost” world. Curious to see if the African phrases passed down by his family could be used similarly to unlock his own family history, Haley set out a decade-long journey across America and Europe, visiting nearly 50 libraries and archives.

In an era when most African Americans assumed it was impossible to track down proof of their ancestor’s origins, which had been swept away by more than a century of slavery and racial persecution, Haley’s doggedness led to remarkable results. Work with a linguist revealed the family language to be Mandinka, spoken by the West African Mandingo people of the Gambia. Slave ship records placed the 1767 arrival of a ship called the Lord Ligonier in Annapolis, Maryland. Haley pieced together historical records to connect his lineage to a slave named Toby, who Haley believed was his ancestor who had arrived on that ship. Furthermore, a visit to the Gambian town of Juffure resulted in a meeting with the local “griot,” a traditional storyteller responsible for preserving the history of local families—a role not unlike that played by Haley’s grandmother, Cynthia. According to Haley, his research indicated that he was the great-great-great-great grandson of Kunta Kinte (who he speculated was given the slave name Toby after his arrival in Maryland), one of nearly 1.5 million Africans from the Senegambian region who had been swept up in the transatlantic African slave trade.

The resulting novel followed Kinte’s capture, his horrific journey to America on the “Middle Passage,” his refusal to accept his enslavement, his daughter Kizzy’s brutal separation from her family, grandson Chicken George’s attempts to buy his family’s freedom, and the post-emancipation hostilities that led Haley’s great-grandfather to settle in Henning, Tennessee. In the years following its release, Haley faced criticism from journalists and historians who questioned his historical methodology, in particular his depiction of Juffure, which was not the bucolic village portrayed in the book, but rather a vibrant port and bustling hub of the slave trade in which competing African tribesmen captured and sold men, women and children into bondage. Bristling at the challenges to his work, which also included charges of plagiarism, Haley defended “Roots,” which had been marketed as an historically accurate novel, but which Haley (somewhat confusingly) now began referring to as “faction.”

The controversy did little damage to book sales and plans were already underway for a television adaptation. Network executives, however, proved to be more than a little skittish. Concerned that a predominately white television audience would turn away from the violent depiction of slavery in Haley’s book, they cast high-profile white actors in beefed-up versions of characters in the novel (which had been told solely from the point of view of blacks). Bucking convention, the network also scheduled the miniseries to air on consecutive nights instead of weekly installments, hoping to minimize their financial risk in case audiences simply tuned out (or southern affiliates refused to air the show at all).

Their fears proved to be utterly unfounded. When the series premiered on Sunday, January 23, 1977, more than 28 million viewers watched the first episode. Word of mouth, positive reviews (and a massive winter storm along the East Coast) led to an increased daily uptick in viewership as the saga unfolded. The January 30 finale captivated more than 100 million Americans (more than half the country and nearly 85 percent of all television households), breaking all previous ratings records. It remains the third-most watched single episode of all time, trailing only the final episode of “M.A.S.H.” and the iconic “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of “Dallas.” For the first time, the story of black Americans—and the remarkable talent of black actors—was prominently featured on network television. The show featured a vast array of African American talent, from newcomer LeVar Burton (still a teenager when he was cast as young Kunta Kinte) to O.J. Simpson and Maya Angelou in small roles. When “Roots” was re-aired the following year, it again captured the audience’s attention, as did a 1979 sequel that followed Haley’s descendants into the 20th century.

The cultural impact of “Roots” was immediate. Critics and journalists lauded the series’ frank depiction of slavery, and the resulting (albeit difficult) conversations between black and white Americans about a previously taboo subject matter. Civil rights leader and historian Roger Wilkins wrote in The New York Times that the program’s importance was comparable to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma-to-Montgomery March of 1965, and credited the show with upending centuries of racial stereotypes.

The mere word “roots,” previously associated with plant life, took on a new meaning as millions of Americans became inspired to search for their own ancestors. Today’s multi-billion dollar genealogy industry, which runs the gamut from TV shows to websites and companies offering up DNA-backed genetic “maps,” may not have existed without “Roots.” Almost overnight, the tracing of bloodlines, once seen as the privilege of the rich, was suddenly in vogue. And Americans took advantage of many of the tools Haley had used; libraries across the country noted a significant uptick in visitors across all racial and ethnic lines and inquiries for genealogical records at the National Archives increased by a staggering 300 percent.

America’s educational system saw an immediate impact, as well. The nation’s first collegiate African American studies program had been created at San Francisco State University just a decade earlier, in 1968, and it had been less than a year since locally-commemorated black history weeks had been expanded into today’s Black History Month. But in the aftermath of the television broadcast, more than 250 colleges and universities began offering courses on “Roots” and the history of slavery. And, like so many cultural events today, “Roots” inspired a baby-naming boom, with an increase in newborns receiving ethnic and African-inspired names.

Today, nearly 40 years after “Roots” swept the nation, its impact is still keenly felt. Its legacy encompasses everything from an annual Maryland festival honoring the memory of Kunta Kinte, to call-outs in hit rap songs and the opening scene of the Broadway musical “The Lion King.” In the aftermath of the tumultuous 60s and in the shadow of the civil rights movement, it changed the way many Americans looked at themselves—and each other—forever. It started a conversation, which in these still-fractious times, may be as necessary and critical as ever.


Remembering the Roots of the National Review

Aloise Buckley Heath once reminisced that, when her brother set out to establish National Review in the mid-1950s, “Our most deeply buried fear was that Gerald L.K. Smith was the only other conservative in America.” Fifty years later, William F. Buckley Jr.’s “weekly journal of opinion” (now bi-weekly) reaches more than a quarter-million readers, including the President of the United States, and is recognized as the intellectual fountainhead of modern conservatism. That magazine, whose rudder he captained for so many decades, has been deprived of his guidance. Last Tuesday, William F. Buckley Jr. relinquished ownership of National Review. We should hasten to add, Buckley (thankfully) is not retiring from public life and will continue to produce his regular column. But his beloved magazine will now be guided by hands other than his own.

The move does not come out of the blue. Buckley retired as NR’s Editor-in-Chief in 1990, assuming the title Editor-at-Large, and strictly curtailed his public speaking schedule at the turn of the millenium. However, his transfer of leadership marks a heartsick moment for conservatives, whose melancholy is heightened by the accompanying press release’s terse acknowledgement that, “Mr. Buckley, 78, cited concerns about his own mortality as the primary reason for his divestiture.” More than anyone else, William F. Buckley Jr. has come to embody conservatism itself. He made the term “conservative” respectable, realigned the Republican Party (permanently, one hopes) to the Right and set in motion a movement that saw two of its members elected President of the United States.

His prospects were not always so sunny.

He began his efforts during the high tide of Liberalism, the triumph of which was then, like the ultimate withering of Marx’s colossal State, considered inevitable. It already held all academia under its sway, as Buckley noted in his first book, God and Man at Yale. The intelligentsia believed the Great Depression – and the isolationist, nativist ravings of the Old Right – discredited every alternative Liberalism was in full victory march. In this struggle, Buckley wrote in NR’s first editorial, his magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.”

Then, WFB proceeded to create an intellectually respectable conservatism de novo. After the publishing of his first book, he founded National Review (with Willie Schlamm) to present a regular rebuttal to the nation’s academic and political culture. He recruited a roster that included James Burnham, Whittaker Chambers, Ralph de Toledano and Frank Meyer. Buckley’s evident wit, patrician mannerisms and expansive vocabulary defied caricature. Clearly, neither the sharp-tongued young sophisticate nor his peers could be dismissed ad hominem. Assembling this group proved easier than holding together thinkers with such widely divergent views, a task Buckley accomplished by focusing all parties on the overriding objective of defeating Communism – and leavening disputes with his abundant personal charm. This tactic would be writ large as Cold War conservatism united libertarians, neo-conservatives, traditionalists and social conservatives under its big tent.

Thus united, NR’s staff opened fire on the prevailing academic and political culture. Buckley flatly stated that university professors had a duty to defend the precepts of freedom, to deny that all philosophies were equally true, or equally plausible. (Liberalism claims to honor the intellect by pursuing every wind of doctrine, Buckley wrote, but conservatism pays the mind its highest tribute: that it has come to a few conclusions.) He believed the size and scope of government must be hemmed in as a necessary prerequisite to reviving the engines of capitalism left cooling under Eisenhower’s big government conservatism. He wrote that totalitarianism could be rolled back, not merely contained. And he dared to reveal that milieu of the Eastern Liberal Establishment regularly made martyrs out of scoundrels like Alger Hiss, Owen Lattimore and Harry Dexter White. Later, when the fifth column invaded the legal establishment, Buckley would call for the disbarment of William Kunstler. In National Review, and then in his syndicated newspaper column, he punctured the shibboleths of the Left with his rapier-like insights (which, despite their polemical nature, remain some of the most eloquent prose of their time). He also penned a full-length philosophical account of the Left’s pathologies and the Right’s responses, Up from Liberalism, which remains a classic. And the tide began to turn.


Remembering Our Roots, Reimagining Our Work: Social Work Practice in the 21st Century

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social work is one of the fastest growing careers in the United States. Rooted in the concept of social justice, social work continues to be a relevant and meaningful profession for those interested in community building and social change. Social justice requires that micro and macro systems are transformed and work in concert with one another to examine and confront the political, economic, social, and cultural processes that underlie systems of oppression/privilege as well as provides resources and necessary services within communities. Social work has a rich history in micro and macro practice that addresses individual and community needs as well as confronts their root causes by challenging systems, institutions, and policies that keep oppression/privilege intact. In the words of Epple (2006), "systemic change requires both Gandhi and Mother Teresa." In addition to the micro and macro components of social work, there is a rich history of community-based practice in the field dating back to the late 19th century, when settlement houses were founded and the settlement house movement played an essential and prominent role in community building and organizing for social and political change.

The origins of Social Welfare, Glicken (2011) states, are found in the English Poor Laws first passed in 1601. Glicken (2011) continues to state that one of the biggest changes in the poor laws of 1834 was the distinction made between the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor -- a theme still prominent in contemporary political debate. This ideology was also prevalent in North America -- even before the American Revolution, services to the poor, children, and mentally ill had been established in North America using many of the poor laws established in England to define who deserved to receive services and the scope of those services. Glicken (2011) writes that following the Civil War, "scientific charity" was an attempt to use concepts common to business and industry to deal with larger, serious social problems that were gaining recognition and many clients receiving help from scientific charities preferred the more interpersonal approaches available via self-help groups. The distinction between large-scale efforts to resolve social problems versus a more individualized set the stage for the formation of macro and micro practice and the understanding that environment and policy impact individuals and that both policy change and direct service are essential in the Social Work profession.

The Settlement House movement, which began in Britain in 1884, took hold in North America in 1886 with the Neighborhood Guild in New York City and then the Hull House, made famous by Jane Adams and Ellen Gates Starr, in Chicago. Glicken (2011) writes that settlement houses focused on addressing the root causes of social problems such as poverty as well as building community, providing an interpersonal and relational approach, and expanding jobs to combat poverty. Tannenbaum and Reisch (2001) state that settlement houses also did things such as conduct research, help with the development of the juvenile court system, create pension programs for widows, promote legislation prohibiting child labor, and introduce public health reforms and the concept of social insurance. Settlement houses such as the Hull House were both a nexus for social service delivery (daycare centers, homeless shelters, public kitchens and baths) and political activism and political advocacy -- specifically advocating for social legislation to combat poverty. The settlement house movement continued to grow and by 1887, there were 74 settlements in the U.S. with 40 percent being in Boston, Chicago, and New York, the leading industrial cities, but with most small cities having at least one settlement house. In "From Charitable Volunteers to Architects of Social Welfare: A Brief History of Social Work," Tannenbaum and Reisch (2001) state,

By 1910, there were more than 400 settlements, including those founded by African Americans to provide services denied by segregated agencies. Settlement activities soon expanded beyond specific neighborhoods and led to the creation of national organizations like the Women's Trade Union League, the National Consumers' League, the Urban League, and the national Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Settlement leaders were instrumental in establishing the Federal Children's Bureau in 1912, headed by Julia Lathrop from Hull House. Settlement leaders also played key roles in the major social movements of the period, including women's suffrage, peace, labor, civil rights, and temperance.

Although settlement houses provided communities with structures that engendered community organizing, political activism, and social movement building, the movement, especially early on, replicated segregation and oppression concurrent in dominant culture, institutions, and systems by excluding people of color. It is important in the reimagining process of social work practice that community-based organizing facilitates processes that engender self-determination, participation, and power-holding among all communities and stakeholders without replicating the same power imbalances that underlie dominant systems, institutions, and culture.

Settlement houses are essential for community-based practice. Although currently they are not the most utilized structure for community building in the field, cities such as Detroit are seeing a resurgence of settlement house style-organizing and community-based work. Dr. Larry Gant and Community Scholars Program students in the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor implement a settlement house model approach for learning and practicing community work. Classes in social work and art/design meet weekly in Southwest Detroit at the Boulevard House. This center is provided in partnership between Peoples' Community Services of Metropolitan Detroit, El Museo Del Norte, and the UM School of Social Work.

Detroit is currently under Emergency Management. New forms of governance between residents, organizations and municipalities are underway. Decades-long social and fiscal structures and infrastructures supporting social and community programs have been all but eliminated. However, residents' needs for housing, education, health and basic services are greater than before. This context requires different ways of community work. Settlement houses and community centers historically have provided a viable alternative approach to formally structured systems of care. While not a complete response, settlement houses provide a third way forward between formal systems of community well-being requiring infrastructures that will not likely return in the foreseeable future and total absence and abrogation of programs that keep people, families and communities healthy, safe, and vibrant. As social work practice evolves and grows, it is important to remember its historical bedrock and re-imagine how to create community-based practices in the 21st century.


HBC Family Roots and Remembering

The HBC is the oldest commercial enterprise in what we now know as Canada. For much of its history, it was also a family enterprise, the survival of which depended on the labour, ingenuity, mobility and kin ties of Indigenous peoples, HBC employees, and their families. The HBC was also an imperial enterprise that facilitated the British Crown’s efforts to claim Indigenous homelands and expand its imperial reach across this continent. In direct and less obvious ways the wealth, political power and family networks that were vital to the HBC’s success supported the development of the settler colonial state that became Canada.

The work of scholars, genealogists, and public memory institutions continues to broaden our understandings of the full extent of these connections. I’m most often a historian of nineteenth century HBC families and the ways they are remembered through family stories, local history and museums. Until I started my dissertation research I didn’t fully appreciate the extent to which landscapes are involved in the work of remembering. The natural world and non-human beings were fundamental to how HBC families experienced daily life and mobility across Indigenous, settler, and imperial spaces on both sides of the Atlantic.

Red pine towering over Firhall, Angus Cameron’s estate in Nairn (Photo by author, April 2017)

For example, the transatlantic movement of seeds by HBC families is one way to think through and sit with the deep histories of colonialism that continue to shape our surroundings. Historian Susie Fisher has shown how plants and seeds were the focal point of a complex interweaving of myth, memory, and place-making for nineteenth-century Russian Mennonite immigrants to Manitoba, and connections between distant imperial places were also deliberately manifested in the landscape by many people who traversed Britain’s empire in the nineteenth century. HBC families were no exception.

In the 1840s, retired HBC Chief Factor Angus Cameron purchased a stately home in Nairn, a small coastal town in northwestern Scotland. Cameron spent much of his adult life working for the HBC in the area around Lake Timiskaming and his three children were born at Fort Témiscamingue to an Indigenous woman whose identity has been obscured by the patriarchal orientation of both the HBC’s written records and family historical narratives. When Cameron and his children arrived in Nairn, he planted his riverside estate with red pine seeds from the shores of Lake Timiskaming.[1] His children no doubt drew comfort from the familiar sight and scent when strolling across the manicured estate of their new home, which came to be known locally as Firhall. The importation of seeds allowed fur trade families like the Camerons to create familiar spaces that also exposed Britons to colonial landscapes and became part of local stories about HBC families.

Glencoe Lochan, Scotland. Photo by David White on Unsplash

Similarly, after a long career with the HBC, Governor Donald Smith, the future Lord Strathcona, purchased a large estate in Scotland’s Glencoe valley in the 1890s. Smith was accompanied by his wife Isabella Sophia Hardisty (1825-1913), whose Cree, English, and Orcadian relations had longstanding ties to the HBC. In an effort to ease his wife’s homesickness, Smith hired labourers to plant a tract of forest around a lochan, or small loch, using tree species from her homeland. At great expense, the shores of the lochan were deliberately and extensively landscaped to resemble the area now known as Banff, Alberta.[2] Today, the estate is home to a luxury boutique hotel and the lochan is the focal point of hiking trails that educate visitors about this history through an interpretive plaque.

This exchange of plant life was not one-sided. Isabella Hardisty Smith, who longed for the plant life of North America while living at her grand Scottish estate, also used British seeds while living at fur trade posts. As a young mother at an HBC post in Labrador, Hardisty Smith wrote to her mother, “I spend a great deal of my time in the garden, where we have sown all the English seeds as well as all Maria’s Orkney ones. We hope with care to have a fine show of flowers this year.”[3] The everyday experience of gardening and harvesting plants allowed women to claim space, wherever they were. The exchange of seeds bound people and landscapes together across distances of time and space.

Lady Strathcona, Isabella Sophia Hardisty Smith (1825-1913) From B. Wilson, The Life of Lord Strathcona (London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1915), 272

Isabella Hardisty Smith’s experiences speak to a certain rootlessness. Yet, by planting roots wherever she was living she gathered together the branches of her geographically wide-ranging family ties. At HBC posts she nurtured seeds both from England, which was where her father was born, and from Orkney, the home of her mother’s paternal kin. In the Highlands she strolled familiar scenes created with North American seeds. Through the roots they planted, HBC families created hybrid natural spaces that mirrored their own lived experiences. Those roots are still engaged in the work of remembering the nineteenth-century families who were central to the HBC’s survival. These roots, and the families who planted them, are also bound up with the intertwined histories of the HBC and colonialism in Canada.

The HBC recently announced that its flagship store is closing. The building has been an iconic landmark in the heart of Winnipeg, a city whose history is tied in many ways to the HBC. After the announcement, Dr. Niigaan Sinclair wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press that “the HBC’s legacy of exploitation, violence and theft is permanent”.[4] The roots of this history run deep, connecting people and places on both sides of the Atlantic. The transatlantic lives of non-human beings, whether they are growing in soil or preserved in museum collections as scientific specimens, are just one of the many ways that the indelible impact of the HBC is still visible in the world around us.

Cover image: View of Lake Témiscamingue from the garden of the HBC fort, 1887. Library and Archives Canada, 3227553


Current Issue

Good history books are a gift that keeps on giving. Baylor University scholar Thomas Kidd published The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America in 2007. But this landmark contribution to a much-studied period will long shape our understanding of the dynamic revival that spawned the modern evangelical movement.

Regarding that thorny question of evangelical origins, Kidd does not go so far as his colleague David Bebbington, who has argued for a "sharp discontinuity" between the transatlantic revival and earlier Protestant expressions. Rather, Kidd describes the American evangelical tradition as a "new elaboration" of the Reformation." In fact, he identifies three "chief tributaries" that fed into the burgeoning movement: Continental Pietism, Scots-Irish Presbyterianism, and Anglo-American Puritanism. But the "new elaboration" concerns "dramatically increased emphases on seasons of revival, or outpourings of the Holy Spirit, and on converted sinners experiencing God's love personally." This elaboration led to no small controversy in the 1740s.

But Kidd argues that the Old Light/New Light dichotomy oversimplifies what were actually fluid responses to the awakening. In place of this dualistic framework, Kidd suggests a three-part division. As a result, Kidd's narrative elevates radical evangelicals who overturned social conventions. They worried moderate evangelicals who defended the revivals and incurred the wrath of anti-revivalists who justified their opposition by citing radical enthusiasm.

While many historians have been occupied by the debates between Charles Chauncy, an Old Light, and Jonathan Edwards, a New Light, Kidd's attention to the radicals reveals their significant contributions .

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.


Remembering our roots in women’s history

As young women, we started our careers in government during the sexual revolution, the time period between the 1960s and the 1980s marked by sexual liberation.

The social movement challenged traditional codes of behavior – it energized a generation of women to question gender roles and pursue new opportunities.

All of this was happening alongside monumental victories in civil rights. Our country and our region were engaging in a progressive dialogue concerning race, gender, and their intersection. It was this energy and climate that would propel women like us forward, into leadership positions, and put us on a path to hold the elected offices we have today.

But before that, more than 100 years prior to the sexual revolution, our country, and specifically our region was the epicenter of a movement focused on suffrage efforts for women and people of color. Rochester was home to heroes of this movement boasting historical revolutionaries such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.

City Councilwoman Carolee Conklin (Photo: Provided)

The tireless work of countless people to advance female, minority and under-represented populations have made it so that our region is blessed to enjoy diverse representation throughout all levels of government: a United States senator, a senior member of Congress, New York State’s Lieutenant Governor, and locally our county and city are led by female executives. The Rochester City Council, the governing body on which we sit, has a female president and a majority membership of women. In addition, women are represented in our towns and villages as supervisors and board members alike.

Our city and our region have been the genesis of transformational dialogue and action that moved the needle forward on many progressive issues. Even today, the City of Rochester is among the leading municipalities in the country with regard to effective policy relating to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression we are a city born in progress and equality.

We are a city that remembers our roots and celebrates them we honor those who have come before us. The month of March is Women’s History Month, and we will honor the work of the suffragist who occupied 17 Madison Street by dedicating a room in City Hall as The Susan B. Anthony Room.

The soon-to-be Susan B. Anthony Room is located behind City Council Chambers in City Hall. This room is the office of Council member Carolee Conklin, and it contains two historic portraits of Ms. Anthony. We know that Susan B. Anthony would be pleased to see how far women have come, but we also know that even amid the praise she would encourage us all to, “go on with the work.”

Loretta Scott is president of the City Council and Carolee Conklin is City Council finance chairwoman.


Memory (n.)

late 13c., "recollection (of someone or something) remembrance, awareness or consciousness (of someone or something)," also "fame, renown, reputation" from Anglo-French memorie (Old French memoire , 11c., "mind, memory, remembrance memorial, record") and directly from Latin memoria "memory, remembrance, faculty of remembering," abstract noun from memor "mindful, remembering," from PIE root *(s)mer- (1) "to remember."

Sense of "commemoration" (of someone or something) is from c. 1300. Meaning "faculty of remembering the mental capacity of retaining unconscious traces of conscious impressions or states, and of recalling these to consciousness in relation to the past," is late 14c. in English. Meaning "length of time included in the consciousness or observation of an individual" is from 1520s.

Meaning "that which is remembered anything fixed in or recalled to the mind" is by 1817, though the correctness of this use was disputed in 19c. The word was extended, with more or less of figurativeness, in 19c. to analogous physical processes. Computer sense, "device which stores information," is from 1946. Related: Memories .


Remembering the Roots of the National Review

Aloise Buckley Heath once reminisced that, when her brother set out to establish National Review in the mid-1950s, “Our most deeply buried fear was that Gerald L.K. Smith was the only other conservative in America.” Fifty years later, William F. Buckley Jr.’s “weekly journal of opinion” (now bi-weekly) reaches more than a quarter-million readers, including the President of the United States, and is recognized as the intellectual fountainhead of modern conservatism. That magazine, whose rudder he captained for so many decades, has been deprived of his guidance. Last Tuesday, William F. Buckley Jr. relinquished ownership of National Review. We should hasten to add, Buckley (thankfully) is not retiring from public life and will continue to produce his regular column. But his beloved magazine will now be guided by hands other than his own.

The move does not come out of the blue. Buckley retired as NR’s Editor-in-Chief in 1990, assuming the title Editor-at-Large, and strictly curtailed his public speaking schedule at the turn of the millenium. However, his transfer of leadership marks a heartsick moment for conservatives, whose melancholy is heightened by the accompanying press release’s terse acknowledgement that, “Mr. Buckley, 78, cited concerns about his own mortality as the primary reason for his divestiture.” More than anyone else, William F. Buckley Jr. has come to embody conservatism itself. He made the term “conservative” respectable, realigned the Republican Party (permanently, one hopes) to the Right and set in motion a movement that saw two of its members elected President of the United States.

His prospects were not always so sunny.

He began his efforts during the high tide of Liberalism, the triumph of which was then, like the ultimate withering of Marx’s colossal State, considered inevitable. It already held all academia under its sway, as Buckley noted in his first book, God and Man at Yale. The intelligentsia believed the Great Depression – and the isolationist, nativist ravings of the Old Right – discredited every alternative Liberalism was in full victory march. In this struggle, Buckley wrote in NR’s first editorial, his magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.”

Then, WFB proceeded to create an intellectually respectable conservatism de novo. After the publishing of his first book, he founded National Review (with Willie Schlamm) to present a regular rebuttal to the nation’s academic and political culture. He recruited a roster that included James Burnham, Whittaker Chambers, Ralph de Toledano and Frank Meyer. Buckley’s evident wit, patrician mannerisms and expansive vocabulary defied caricature. Clearly, neither the sharp-tongued young sophisticate nor his peers could be dismissed ad hominem. Assembling this group proved easier than holding together thinkers with such widely divergent views, a task Buckley accomplished by focusing all parties on the overriding objective of defeating Communism – and leavening disputes with his abundant personal charm. This tactic would be writ large as Cold War conservatism united libertarians, neo-conservatives, traditionalists and social conservatives under its big tent.

Thus united, NR’s staff opened fire on the prevailing academic and political culture. Buckley flatly stated that university professors had a duty to defend the precepts of freedom, to deny that all philosophies were equally true, or equally plausible. (Liberalism claims to honor the intellect by pursuing every wind of doctrine, Buckley wrote, but conservatism pays the mind its highest tribute: that it has come to a few conclusions.) He believed the size and scope of government must be hemmed in as a necessary prerequisite to reviving the engines of capitalism left cooling under Eisenhower’s big government conservatism. He wrote that totalitarianism could be rolled back, not merely contained. And he dared to reveal that milieu of the Eastern Liberal Establishment regularly made martyrs out of scoundrels like Alger Hiss, Owen Lattimore and Harry Dexter White. Later, when the fifth column invaded the legal establishment, Buckley would call for the disbarment of William Kunstler. In National Review, and then in his syndicated newspaper column, he punctured the shibboleths of the Left with his rapier-like insights (which, despite their polemical nature, remain some of the most eloquent prose of their time). He also penned a full-length philosophical account of the Left’s pathologies and the Right’s responses, Up from Liberalism, which remains a classic. And the tide began to turn.


Remembering Alex Haley: ‘Roots,’ Kunta Kinte & Genealogy

Today is the 22 nd anniversary of the death of Alex Haley (1921-1992), the author who wrote the popular African American novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The publication of Haley’s novel in 1976, and the subsequent ABC television miniseries based on his book that aired in January 1977, spurred tremendous interest in genealogy in the United States.

Photo: cover of the first edition of Alex Haley’s novel “Roots.” Credit: Wikipedia.

Haley’s award-winning novel was a fictionalized account of his own African American family history, tracing his roots all the way back to an African ancestor, Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped in the Gambia in the 1760s, shipped across the Atlantic and sold into slavery in Maryland. Haley spent ten years researching his black genealogy, relying on both oral history and documentation to support his claim that he was a seventh-generation descendant of Kunta Kinte.

Both the book and the television miniseries were enormously popular and successful. The novel was translated into 37 languages and has sold millions of copies around the world. Haley was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for his book in 1977. The eight-part TV miniseries fascinated the American public and was watched by a then-record 130 million viewers.

Genealogy Research Suddenly Skyrockets!

After reading Roots and watching the television miniseries, Americans—both black and white—wanted to find out more about their own family roots. Requests to the National Archives for genealogical material quadrupled the week after the TV show ended. The number of genealogical societies in the U.S. skyrocketed. Libraries and government offices received a steady stream of requests to review books, official records, and microfilm collections.

In the spring of 1977 this newspaper article reported on the growing popularity of genealogy.

Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), 19 April 1977, page 14

The increasing trend toward genealogical research apparently started three or four years ago, picked up stimulation in the Bicentennial year [1976] and was spurred again by Alex Haley’s “Roots” and the tremendously successful ABC television series based on his book.

That series, the most-watched ever on television, led thousands of blacks and whites alike to a search for their own roots. The National Archives reported that its mail requests quadrupled in the week after the series.

A decade later, newspaper articles such as this one were still crediting Haley for the public’s interest in genealogy.

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 13 October 1986, page 2

Ten days before he died, Haley gave a talk at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. A local newspaper, the Afro-American Gazette from nearby Grand Rapids, published this remembrance after his death.

Afro-American Gazette (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 1 March 1992, page 1

The news article begins this way:

Alex Haley was a man of vision—a man who knew [that], as individuals and a nation, [we] must know where we have been in order to know where we are going.

And when he died…he left that vision behind as a legacy to a world starving for truth, starving for direction, starving for peace and understanding.

Alex Haley’s Obituary

This obituary, published the day after Haley died, said he “inspired people of all races to search for their ancestors” and stated:

Mr. Haley’s warmhearted and rich descriptions of his ancestors’ lives set off a wave of interest in genealogy, lasting long after the book faded from best-seller lists.

To find out more about Alex Haley’s life and influence—and to begin your own search for your family roots—dig into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, a collection of more than 6,500 newspapers featuring the largest obituary archive online. Also, search our African American newspaper collection to trace your black family history.


Roots Quotes

&ldquoAll that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.&rdquo
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

&ldquoFor me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.&rdquo
― Herman Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte


Watch the video: Roots and Culture


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