Roots Summary and Analysis of Chapters 111-120

In 1860, Tom brings news to Irene and the rest of the family that at work he overheard white customers saying that President Lincoln had been elected. Soon southern states start to secede and in April of 1861 the war begins. Soon all of the men 18-35 of the South have enlisted. Tom and Irene have a second daughter, Ellen, in addition to their first, Maria.

In 1862 Sheriff Cates, the man who told Chicken George about the 60-days rule, asks Master Murray to have Tom come put horseshoes on the Confederate horses. When Tom goes, he is falsely accused of stealing from the dumpster after a young white boy does. Tom is whipped. He goes home in fury and tells Master Murray was happened. Murray is very angry and tells Tom he should not go back.

Soon the white boy shows up at the Murray plantation asking for food. He is 16 years old and introduces himself as George Johnson from Tennessee. The Murrays hire him as their overseer. The Murray slaves are suspicious and angry that they should have an overseer, but soon become friends with George Johnson, who works alongside them and only pretends to be urging them to work harder when the master comes by. Soon George returns home and gets his young wife, Martha, who gives birth to a stillborn girl.

In 1865 the Confederates lose the war. The Murrays offer to have the slaves stay on the farm and sharecrop. At first the family plans to do this and even divide plots; but then Chicken George returns to tell them about a new settlement in western Tennessee, called Henning, where whites and blacks alike are being welcomed to help build a town. The family, along with the Johnsons and many local slaves families, pack up their belongings in homemade Rockaway wagons.

The newly free Murray family arrives in Lauderdale County, Tennessee to find it still a racist place but full of possibilities for them. Tom is told he must blacksmith under a white man, but he ignores this law and opens his own mobile blacksmith shop in his wagon, which soon become indispensable to the growing town. By 1874, the family is prosperous and they construct a church: the New Hope Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. The church doubles as a school, and Tom's children all move through it: Maria, Ellen, Viney, L'il Matilda, Elizabeth, Tom, and Cynthia.

Elizabeth wants to marry John Toland, but her father stops her because John is "high yaller," or so light-skinned he could nearly pass for white. Tom does not want Elizabeth having that trouble in her life. Elizabeth is devastated. Soon, Matilda dies after she gets angry at Tom about this. Chicken George dies not too soon after, in 1890 at the age of 83, after burning himself from falling in the fire.

Cynthia begins a relationship with Will Palmer, an ambitious young man who works at the lumber company under an alcoholic owner, essentially running the place. When the owner goes bankrupt, the white businessmen of Henning decide to give Will the lumber company, which he names W.E. Palmer Lumber Company. Cynthia and Will have a daughter in 1895 whom they name Bertha George. With her whole family around, Cynthia tells the story of Kunta Kinte.

The Palmers spoil little Cynthia, and she is the first in the family to attend college, at the Lane Institute. She meets Simon Alexander Haley at college. He is mixed-race, both grandmothers having been slaves and grandfathers have been their masters, but makes a good impression. After World War I he comes home and they marry. They move to Ithaca, New York for Simon to go to Cornell to graduate school and Bertha to study music. They return home in 1921 with a baby - the author, Alex Haley.

The last three chapters of the book are Haley writing about his own life. He has a close relationship with his family, and his mother dies in 1936. He grows up hearing the oral traditions of his family. He spends 20 years in the Coast Guard, eventually becoming a journalist with them. Upon retirement from the Guard he continues writing as a journalist and co-authors The Autobiography of Malcolm X. While on assignment in London he sees the Rosetta Stone, and becomes inspired to find his family's own key to unlock the past. He decides to try to figure out where in Africa Kunta Kinte came from, based on the words passed down through the years.

After a lot of research he determines that Kunta came from The Gambia and was Mandinka. He is able to locate Juffure and returns to meet his long-lost relatives and hear a griot relate the village's long history, which includes details of Kunta's capture. Back in America, Haley does extensive research in old historical records and determines which plantations his ancestors lives on and the ship on which Kunta arrived in America. 200 years after Kunta arrived in Annapolis, Haley stands on the same dock. The book ends with Haley's beloved father's funeral, as Haley and his brothers, the seventh-generation descendants of Kunte Kinte, remember their father.


In this last part of the book the entire family finally gains freedom at the end of the Civil War. It is a fitting culmination to much of the book's narrative. From there, the generations are not as involved as the descriptions of earlier ones; Haley mainly highlights careers, marriages, and children, going through several generations quickly to reach a very unique part of the book: when his own perspective as the writer of the book is incorporated.

It is not often that the writer of the book is a character within it. By having the homecoming of Kunta Kinte's descendant related by that descendant himself, the following quotes gain even greater truth and resonance:

"'About the time the King's soldiers came' - another one of the griot's time-fixing references - "the eldest of these four sons, Kunta, went away from his village to chop wood . . . and he was never seen again. . . .' And the griot went on with his narrative. (Chapter 120.)

This quote occurs when Alex Haley is tracking down his ancestry in The Gambia itself. He has found his ancestral village Juffure and is hearing the story of Kunta's capture from a griot who knows the village's entire history. This quote connects the entire book, for this is a story that has been passed down orally through seven generations to reach Haley. Now, hearing it again from a traditional oral storyteller and historian, Haley's genealogical quest has come full circle. This quote demonstrates the power of oral traditions and shows how Kunta was right to insist that his descendants continue to tell the story of him and his family through the centuries. At last, a descendant has returned.

"I guess we had moved a third of the way through the village when it suddenly registered in my brain what they were all crying out . . . the wizened, robed elders and younger men, the mothers and the naked tar-black children, they were all waving up at me, their expressions buoyant, beaming, all were crying out together, 'Meester Kinte! Meester Kinte!'.... I just felt like I was weeping for all of history's incredible atrocities against fellowmen, which seems to be mankind's greatest flaw . . .  (Chapter 120.)

In this quote Alex Haley feels like he is being welcomed home and acknowledge as an African by the people of Juffure, who are all calling him Mr. Kinte. This quote is emotional because it provides exactly what Haley has been searching for, his roots, and more than that, he has been accepted by his people. When he cries, it is because he knows so few of his fellow descendants of slaves can or will make this journey, and no one who was enslaved could (except for the few free blacks sent to Liberia). Even more than hearing the griot confirm his family's oral traditions, this moment may be more meaningful for Haley as he is acknowledged as an heir to Kunta Kinte - and, in this moment, a symbolic replacement.