Roots Study Guide

Roots: The Saga of an American Family was published in 1976 after Alex Haley spent 12 years researching his family's origins. Haley grew up hearing oral traditions passed down through his family, describing the experiences of his maternal ancestors as African-American slaves and freemen in the United States. When the novel was released it was critically acclaimed: it won the 1977 National Book Award as well as a special Pulitzer Prize the same year. At the same time it spurred national interest among African-Americans in discovering their past, both as slaves in America and as Africans before being sold into slavery. Haley followed Roots with notes and research for a sequel, focused on family history on his father's side of the family, but died before completion. David Stevens finished the novel, and it was published as Queen: The Story of an American Family.

Following the publication of Roots, controversy broke out concerning allegations of plagiarism and falsification. Haley billed the novel as an historically-accurate account of his family history, but a court case determined that he plagiarized certain portions of his book from Harold Courlander's 1967 book The African. Historians and scholars also doubted the authenticity of Haley's genealogical claims, and said that many historical records that Haley presented as true in Roots could not be verified. For these reasons, Roots is regarded more as a work of fiction than fact today. Its primary legacy has been its spurring interest in genealogy in the United States, especially among African-Americans whose heritages, obscured by centuries of slavery, are often difficult to determine.