". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dems' Sit-in + White Rage by Carol Anderson + Free State of Jones / NAACP

   It's almost as if we've gone back to the days of John Quincy Adams, when he would speak for hours and hours without a break about the slave markets right outside their Capitol doors in D.C.

A Motion to Censure Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts

Except he didn't have a smart phone and he was usually all alone.  And yah, the Jacksonians and slaveowners instituted gag orders against him.  So will Ryan and Co. against the Dems this go-round, doubtless.

Why did it take the Dems so long to grow this much backbone?

Evidently The Bern has watered and nourished that backbone -- or at least his massively popular campaign events have substantially helped the backbone growth.  Also that the rethuguglies are such a gaggle of blood thirsty, vicious, bullying fools, which the polls show it. Thus the Dems think they've got a realistic shot at keeping the White House, their own seats, and retaking a substantial number of ballot seats.

Not that I know any thing, of course. But I can speculate with the best.

But it does seem odd that Sandy Hook couldn't do it, nor Ferguson, Treyvon Martin, etc. But the martyrdom of nearly a half-hundred gay latino gays has. That's fabulously interesting and revealing in itself, particularly as those deaths in Orlando were only 49 of the over 300 gun related deaths in the U.S. that weekend.

The relentless efforts to arm every single person in America -- except the we know whos don't we -- is joined at the hip with (to mix metaphors) to our national racial divide, and the cycles of repression and roll-back of Civil Rights.  These are the subjects of a new book by Carol Anderson,  White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.

Let us never forget that the vaunted 2nd Amendment was inserted into the Constitution by the demands of the southern slaveowners.  Ever since the colonial days it had been mandated that every white man in these colonies and later states own arms to put down African American anti-slavery uprisings -- any action on the part of African Americans from taking off from the coerced slavery to planning organized resistance. This is the meaning of well-regulated militia, not fear of foreign invasion, or at least not until the successful San Domingue slave revolution put an end to San  Domingue slavery and San Domingue became Haiti.  From then on, even into the 1850's, southern slaveowners, and particularly slaveowning politicians drumbeated the ever more draconian black codes by howling about imminent invasion by baby-eating white women raping Haitians.

Very oddly, yesterday during our local NYC public radio prime time talk show discussion about the 2nd amendment, what it means, its constitutional history, this history was entirely ignored by the constitutional law experts, until a caller to the show brought up this history.  The constitutional law history expert admitted this was all true, but "there's no reason to talk about that here and now."  WTF?  If not here and now, when?

Last night in Free State of Jones. we watched the vicious repression of African American rights of every kind, including that of the law of the land which these hypocritical slaveowners had sworn allegiance, emancipation, dramatized.  The vote and education were particularly targeted by these vicious traitors.  By 1876 -- with the beyond shameful collusion by the norther Republican party for political gain -- the black vote in the South was effectively repealed.

There's an excellent a White Rage article about Carol Anderson's new book, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, here in the Washington Post.

Anderson argues that this pattern of progress followed by retreat has effectively eroded, if not scuttled, every modicum of progress made by African Americans since the Emancipation Proclamation.
Anderson’s book, which began as a 2014 opinion article in The Washington Post, recounts numerous instances when hard-won gains by African Americans have been reversed. For example, in 2008, for the first time in history, the black voter turnout rate nearly equaled that of whites, and the turnout of voters of all races making less than $15,000 nearly doubled. “While the number of whites who voted remained roughly the same as it had been in the 2004 election,” she says, “two million more African Americans, two million additional Hispanics, and 600,000 more Asians cast their ballots in 2008.”
The GOP, “trapped between a demographically declining support base and an ideological straitjacket . . . reached for a tried and true weapon: disfranchisement.” Anderson notes that despite the rarity of voter fraud, state after state began requiring voters to have documents such as bank statements, utility bills and W-2 forms, which African Americans, Latinos, the young and other economically disadvantaged people are less likely than others to possess.
Then, in 2013 the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act that for decades had protected African Americans from blatant disfranchisement. Since the ruling, 22 states have passed voter-restriction statutes. Anderson also argues that white resistance to the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision explains why, six decades later, black children largely remain trapped in segregated and unequal schools.
Anderson singles out President Ronald Reagan for presiding over the rollback of many of the gains blacks made during the civil rights movement. She says that while Reagan “positively oozed racial innocence,” his policies showed a contempt for blacks.
The description of White Rage's historical mile-posting of rolling backpost Reconstruction, post Jim Crow, post Civil Rights gains, is  much longer than this pull. However, any woman of any identity and heritage has to recognize in these tactics of presidents like Reagan and Wilson, that the rollback of women's rights, particularly reproductive rights, are accomplished in the same manner.  So yah, we all need to be deeply concerned.  What affects one part of us affects all of us.

As mentioned in another place, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund sponsored the party for Free State of Jones's premiere at the Plaza Hotel (home of Kay Thompson's still famous character, Eloise). This predominately NAACP African American audience watched the film with rapt respect,  attention -- and full historical knowledge and understanding. No one even requested before the lights went out that people shut down their cell phones and refrain from using their phones. During the 2 hours and 19 minutes of the film, no phone rang, no horrible light from a smart phone screen interfered with what we were watching.

However, at the party, there was a great deal of conversation about the relationship between the events depicted in the second section of Free State of Jones that takes place after the war and emancipation and the voting act, and the events of the last years here. People also kept checking in on the Dem sit-in with their phones at the party and commenting on that.

I felt pretty privileged to be in such company.  I kept meeting one brilliant, fascinating, talented person after another.  That's the thing: in the company of interesting, outgoing and friendly people, one also becomes interesting, outgoing and friendly.  The two parts of the Plaza's vaunted and enormous Oak Room and Bar (est. 1907; closed in 2011, and how again revived)  provided a space that was perfect for this.

Yah, this event was a fairly big deal for us this summer, for more than one reason -- the history work I'm doing now, because I've always found Newt Knight and his saga fascinating, because it takes place in Mississippi, and because the guy who was instrumental in getting Free State made is the guy who made the New Orleans Jazz Preservation Hall film, shot in Cuba, for which el Vaquero is associate producer.  We'll see the rough cut of it next week maybe?  The title, at least at the moment is Tuba to Cuba, tubas being so instrumental to New Orleans music,

I do wish I had been able to enjoy it rather more than I was, feeling so poorly as I do from The Coughing . . . .  OTOH, it was a rare opportunity to drink truly fine champers in the historic (in film and deals) Oak Room without paying for it myself.*


*   Among the films including location shots in the Oak Room are the opening shot with Cary Grant in North By Northwest, Arthur, The Scent of a Woman,  and the 2013 remake of The Great Gatsby.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Coughing Regression Again + Dyckman House + Reconstruction

 I went uptown to Innwood Thursday to attend beloved friend C's presentation at the historic Dyckman Farm House museum on 205th St. on the Dyckman family and the first excavator / archivist of the associated Old Nagle Cemetery,  Reginald Pelham Bolton. Dyckman House is the last surviving Dutch-style and built farm house on Manhattan Island. As the original owners of the farmstead were very respectable, decent persons, there is little to say about them as people, or about their descendants who bought back the property after the previous, Independence era generation had fled New York for England, as they were Loyalists, not Patriots. But Bolton now -- there is a fellow! 

Dyckman Farmhouse 19th century
Dyckman House Currently
  C was both informative and entertaining.  She's spent over a year going through the untouched archive / collection of artifacts Bolton collected, sorting, organizing, tagging and photographing all the items. What a material historian she is -- as well as a terrific artist of fabric and costume.

I'd had a bad night of coughing, but once I got up it went away again, and I felt much better.  I'd been looking forward to this outing so much, the first really, since The Coughing began.  Alas 2/3 of the way through the professional archeologist's part of the program talking about the history of urban archeology and the archeology of this area of Innwood / Manhattan. Coughing began.  I had to flee the backyard veranda where the presentation was taking place.

K (C's husband), concerned, followed. I'd expected the Cough to recede, and it finally did. After the event wound down I went with C and K and a new friend of theirs, who I took to as much as they have, to a nearby three block row of Inwood's hispanic nouvelle restaurants and bars  Some coughing ensued not much though.

But by the time I got back home downtown, The Coughing was fully back. I coughed all night, all the next day, all the next night and now it is three days without sleeping and I'm melting down.  Full reset of it, all right. Nothing much helps. I've seen a doctor. He shrugged, told me rest and take lots of liquids and wait it out. Taking those horrible Ricola drops is about all I can do.  As usual, they make my mouth taste awful, food taste awful, and kill my appetite -- though not hunger, just any impulse to try and eat anything. Between hunger and sleeplessness I'm a mess all right.

A state of mind that reflects the state of mind with which I've learned about the systematic process of rewriting the history of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and everything before and after. The blame for an enormous part of this history revisionism has to be put squarely upon the decision-makers of the North and the Republicans, starting with the new history textbooks created after the war to service the growth of federally mandated national public education.

Since the textbooks were for every region of the U.S. the editors didn't want to antagonize any Southerner, and particularly the southerners on the education committees, so slavery was written out of the basic school room histories at all levels of education.  Already by the late 1870's people who had lived and fought and lost people to the way, northerners, were writing with shock that the generation that was following them was ignorant of the whole business -- that many of the youth in their communities seemed not to even know there had been a war, much less why there had been one.

 Despite the many letters to the editor in newspapers across the land, the op ed pieces, articles in the magazines and journals, nothing was changed.  Sound familiar?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Reconstruction: Free State of Jones, the Antithesis to Gone With The Wind

Free State of Jones, directed by Gary Ross, opens here in NYC on June 24th.* Among others as protagonists it features Newton Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey, a rare white ally down there in Mississippi n the days after the Surrender at Appomattox, Reconstruction and Jim Crow.

The other day, after writing about my struggles with attempting to write accurately, vividly and accessibly to the events and arcs of what happened in the South and with our history after the Surrender, I mentioned the stereotype of the vile "carpetbagger."  Someone inquired whether that image of hatred was an historical one or merely created in our national consciousness by Margaret Mitchell in the course of her Gone With the Wind.  It was indeed an historical fact that such figures were vilified throughout the nation after the War, south and north. 

Newton Knight

The Free State of Jones -- about which more than one book of history has been written, illuminates one of the rare aspects of Reconstruction that created such figures.  The way Newt Knight was regarded and treated by white Southerners, first because he didn't believe in secession, and second because of his way of living with African Americans as if they were as good as he was, put his neighbors into a frenzy.  So imagine, how these people felt about northerners coming on down and -- if not directly working for the betterment of African Americans' futures, making a profit out of what the South had squandered.  Fortunately for Newt Knight, his family and this story, Newt had a gun, was not ever intimidated into not using it, and was a crack shot.  

"  While Knight is a hero, Mr. Ross said emphatically, he is not a white savior of African-Americans, but a white ally.I think we need to celebrate alliances,” he said. “And it is demonstrably true that Newt was allied with African-Americans all through Reconstruction after a lot of white people in the South had bailed.”
In carrying the Newton Knight story through the violent rollback of the promise of Reconstruction, Mr. Ross is taking on the negative image of the period driven deep into American consciousness by films like “Gone With the Wind” and D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” as well as the Lost Cause nostalgia that has infused many movies since.
“This is not your granddaddy’s Civil War movie,” said the Yale historian David Blight, one of 11 historical consultants listed prominently in the closing credits. “It doesn’t in any way sentimentalize any element of the Confederate cause. Quite the contrary.”

Film, Free State of Jones, with Mahershala Ali and Michael McConaughey in the foreground.

This film come with a website "Free State of Jones, with footnotes to vouch for the authenticity of the characters and events.  The site includes film stills, clips and other information:

   We felt it was important in an historical movie, especially a movie about such a crucial time in history, for the audience to know what was true and what was fictionalized, even if it was based on underlying source material.
In this site you will be able to navigate through the entire movie, click the areas that interest you, and see a brief explanation of the historical facts that informed the screenplay. If you are more curious about that part of the movie, we have footnoted the paragraph to see sources on which it is based. But footnotes themselves can be misleading, so if you want to see the entire primary source, you can click again and be transported to the original document. We hope this is helpful, maybe even fun. Some things need to be invented in a movie, but most things in Jones were not. I think it’s only right that you be able to tell which was which.
The NY Times has an article about the director and Free State of Jones on its site, here.

The Youtube video trailer isn't listed as for sharing, but can viewed here. It's powerful stuff.


*  This is one of the two films I am planning to see this summer in a theater.  The other is, natch, Ghostbusters.  The Free State of Jones we'll see at a special screening occasion; at Ghostbusters we'll just be two average movie goers on hopefully opening day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

More Books + Carpetbags

Since turning in the final copy and proofing of The American Slave Coast manuscript it's been such a relief to not be sitting between high columns of research materials.

But having embarked upon another long research and writing project, the columns are returning.

Things are so different from the embarkation of the research reading for The American Slave Coast though, and now, beginning the new project.  Books are harder to get, as the research libraries have moved so many off the shelves to off-site.  One cannot browse any longer, which is an actual drawback for researching no matter what digital advocates think.  Waiting for a book instead of opening it up at the point of catalog placement on the shelves to learn whether it will be useful or not is also a huge drawback -- and truly slows down the work.

Additionally, as the database providers insist on charging a facility by the number of users on top of the quarterly flat fees, there is a corresponding effort, which is truly detrimental to professional  research, of discouraging as much usage of certain of the databases as possible,  This contradiction to the purpose of institution of higher learning boggles.  The institution's accreditation demands providing research materials yet the bean counters don't want the research materials to be accessed. WTF?  Much of the blame of course, accrues to the database providers themselves and their gddmned greed -- and their own desire to restrict access to the content for the sake of profit from other people's work and production.  They don't create a syllable of the content they sell access to for their private profit.

A reconstruction of an 1860's carpetbag, fabricated from the same materials out of which were made carpets of the day..

Returning to my columns of research materials.  This week I scored via inter-library loan and consortium programs a pile of books on "carpetbaggers."  As perhaps others are aware, the stereotype of who the so-called carpetbaggers were does not generally conform to the pattern the Lost Causers created to show themselves as victims by greedy northern jerks.  What almost all of these so-called carpetbaggers were, were people working with the Freedmans' Bureaus, educators, overseers of black voting rights and so on.  Actually, though tragic and sad, this stuff is very interesting reading.

Of course, once again, one sees the same patterns repeated from 1861 through 2016 for voter repression, imprisonment for others' private profit, and all kinds of exploitation and cruelty.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Reading! + The Coughing + Radicals

I read two entire novels from start to finish in the last 10 days or so, which is by now abnormal.  It's not often a work of fiction that isn't a classic, whatever it is classified as being -- genre or literature -- can interest me beyond the starting of it.

The first one I read from first page to last page was Baltimore newspaper journalist turned mystery-thriller novelist, Laura Lippman's latest, Wilde Lake. As have some her other most recent novels, Wilde Lake features a plot that switches between the featured character(s)'s past and present.

This isn't one of her Tess Monaghan series -- the protag's evidently aged out of continuing, or else, Lippman, married to David Simon, has too much else going on to keep up the Tess series for now, as well as continuing her production of non-series works. I have very much enjoyed all of Lippman's novels, not least because they're set in Baltimore and the immediate environs.

The second novel I read from first page to last is also a mystery thriller, though constructed within historical fiction. When Falcons Fallnumber 11 and the latest installment in the continuing Sebastian St. Cyre series by C.S. Harris. The tales are temporally located during the Napoleonic era. St. Cyr, Vicount Devlin,  is a special Londoner: fabulously handsome, intelligent, high ranking, highly skilled fighting with hands and weapons, possessing enhanced vision and hearing. To offset his entitlements he also carries the weight of what seems the insoluble mystery of his birth father's identity. The young lord is caught up in one murder after another that have political dimensions as well as personal ones. By now he's accompanied on his adventures by his equally high born and talented -- and of course, socially conscious far beyond their time -- wife, Hero. They have an infant son, who is the reason they married in the first place, as the two, who met not cute, but in hate, ended up having desperation sex in the face of their imminent deaths. However, obvs, they neither died, and truly adore each other.

The third novel it looks very like I shall be reading from the first page to last is Guy Gavriel Key's latest, Children of Earth and Sky (unfortunate title) set in a fantasy 16th century fantasy Venice, fantasy Prague and fantasy Ottomans. The little guys are fantasy kingdoms on the fantasy Dalmatian Coast. I started the novel last night, too tired to do anything else, thanks to the Coughing Whatever It Is, and got one third of the way through with no problems (other than usual ones with Kay's fantasy Spanish and other languages) before giving up to sleep.  The era and the region are ongoing interests of mine, in any case.  Kay also writes strong women, and the varieties of ways in which women can be strong, most effectively, meaning they are still women not men with the mere addition of primary female sexual characteristics.  He also has the great gift of keeping one wishing to turn the page.

I'm exceedingly hesitant to believe this, but last night I did have the most sleep I've had in weeks.  It was sleep uninterrupted by coughing. I didn't take the drops before bed, and I did take a part of a sleeping aid, for the first time in many weeks.  I only needed to take three drops during night, waked by coughing irritation. Normally it's been a lot more often and then I never get back to sleep.  So I feel a lot better today than I have in weeks. This is the start of week 5 since I came down with The Coughing.

It's difficult business, writing coherently and accessibly about Thaddeus Stevens, Henry Wilson, Charles Sumner and the so-called Radicals during Andrew Johnson's lies and and the catastrophes he opened for African Americans. The Coughing has made it seem just about impossible to achieve that objective.

This period of American history after Lincoln's assassination is murky at best to anyone who isn't a specialist in the first place, and most histories tend to say very little about any of what happens after Johnson is sworn in as POTUS. This isn't sexy history, but some of the worst of our history, particularly our political racist history, this throwing of the emancipated slaves to the CSA wolves. making it even more complex is that the House and Senate moved on two separate occasions to impeach Andrew Johnson.

Moreover, the reputations of everyone who struggled against the northern and southern white supremacists of the time -- were libeled as "Radicals", including General Grant. These clear-sighted adversaries of white supremacy have been subject during their own lifetimes and ever after to relentless calumny and lies.

Harper's Weekly woodcut of Stevens making his final argument to the House
The historical portrait of Thaddeus Stevens in particular has never recovered from the lies of the vile Birth of A Nation.  Mostly these men who never faltered in their advocacy of abolition and civil rights for African Americans were neglected, buried and written out of the historical record from before, during and after the Civil War. Gore Vidal outright lied about President Grant in his novel 1876.

As mentioned, most people, if they recognize the name of Stevens at all do so because of Griffith's portrayal of him as a lascivious man who kept a mulatta mistress (though Stevens, single all his life, did enjoy the company of women and never pretended otherwise, he did not have a mulatta mistress). Sumner is remembered as the man, who in 1856, secessionist Preston Brooks infamously viciously beat nearly to death (Preston did intend to kill him) with a cane in the Senate chambers, and maybe, as a close friend of the Adams's family, particularly Francis Adams, Henry Adams's father.  Does anyone know that Henry Wilson existed, though he wrote one of the most useful histories of the Civil War going, writing it while all the events were fresh in his memory?

So, even discounting feeling rotten from The Coughing, the difficulties I'm facing here are great. Please wish me luck in achieving my goal.  I need all the good wishes I can get!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Coughing, Cuba & The Good Witch Is Good Watch - Fluff TV

Always coughing, always exhausted. Could this be caused by the Riccola cough drops I take at bedtime, and during the night, to suppress the coughing urge?  My stomach is very tired of these cough drops, which also suppress the appetite for some reason.

Thus I wasn't thrilled last evening when El V reminded me that I will be likely spending about 6 weeks in Cuba in January - February 2017. I'd forgotten the NYU Cuban music gig that he has for the 2017 spring semester . . . .  I really don't want to be in Havana for that long.  Plus fearing getting sick (which is how I got the coughing bug -- el V acquired it in Cuba and brought it back to me -- and will I ever get over this thing I've had for weeks now? This isn't counting the January 2017 Oriente trip.

The real problems are the election. We have no idea how things will shake out and how this will affect everything about Cuba, for all kinds of reasons from either candidate.

So, the coughing. So Fluff TV.

Ever since watching her in several seasons of Army Wives when living in Maryland, Catherine Bell has charmed me. She's so lovely, while being thoroughly approachable. Her characters are very nice people, while having substance and grounding.

While still part of cast of Army Wives (Lifetime TV) Catherine Bell played the central role in a series of Hallmark Channel movies, the Good Witch.  Cassie Nightingale arrived in an out-of-the-way New England town (as if there actually is such a thing) named Middleton. Her past is something of a mystery, as is Cassie herself, who knows things, appears fortuitously, and so on.

Grey House, BC -- Before Cassie.
Grey House AC -- After Cassie.

Cassie evidently had ancestors in Middleton, specifically the one who owned the old mansion in disrepair called Grey House, which has been left to her.  Cassie struggles to turn Grey House into a Bed and Breakfast while also opening and running a shop called Bell, Book and Candle.

There were seven Good Witch Hallmark movie between 2008 - 2014. Along the way Cassie acquired a family, gained the love and trust of Middleton, and even served as mayor.

Cassie in her beloved shop, the Bell Book (as she calls it).

In 2015 Catherine Bell turned The Good Witch into the first season of a television series without jettisoning any of the elements that made The Good Witch such a successful and lovely-to-look-at Hallmark series of movies.

The stories, like Cassie's witchcraft, are gentle, sweet and wise. It's a fantasy of how the problems that she and her loved ones and the town even, face, can turn out well -- problems of family, livelihood, leases, work, home, that we all share. This is particularly striking in the 2015 series continuation, in which Middleton, which is a very special small town -- probably still more like a village, quite like Chestertown, MD, where I first saw Catherine Bell, has come to the notice of greedy developers who want nothing more than to capitalize on the town's charm and thereby turn it into another tacky, over-crowded, over-developed chain franchise place, just like the small city closest to them. This situation resembles Chestertown as well, with people lusting to have box stores and franchises just like the closest big town small city -- called Middletown in fact -- while other, and equally passionate and influential factios of Chestertown rally to block these things from happening.

I just watched the whole The Good Witch 2015 series. During the episodes the coughing receded -- at least the noticing of the coughing receded.  Did I mention how pretty Cassie, Grey House and the shop are?

O, so very pretty, but still with such warmth -- it's like being inside one of those sumptuous fantasy Hallmark greeting cards. Martha Stewart should eat her heart out.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Roots Television Series Reboot & The American Slave Coast

Soraya Nadia Macdonald's interview of us re The American Slave Coast is up a ESPN's The Undefeated in connection with the Roots reboot.

I watched the Roots reboot last month via the screener stream.

The first episode, filmed in South Africa -- which is not the same landscape as the Gambia, from where Kunta Kinte supposedly came from, but what the heck) is the best.  It's quite different from the beginning of the 70's Roots. This time is shows the European slave trade within the context of  West Africa after at least two centuries of European meddling in African politics to make exploitation easier for them. Slavery is just at the point -- the end of the 17th century, the start of the 18th --when it becomes the atmosphere all West Africans breathe, the and primary business of Africans from rulers to hunters. Personal feuds play a role,  war and political ambitions play roles. Still, at this moment, the community of Kunta Kinte's family is an extremely rich one in terms of spiritual practice, culture and sense of who we / me are in the world. There's even a bit when young Kunta wants to go to university -- Timbuktu, and needs to persuade his father that the expense is worth it.

I.e. Kunta comes from a sub-Sahellian aristocratic family ( which conveniently feeds into the feel-good myths that my ancestors were Egyptian pharaohs, Fidel stole all my Cuban family's plantations / business, in my former lives I was very rich, very beautiful,  and ruled multitudes).  Kunta's literate because his family practices Islam as well as their 'traditional' religion. We see him becoming well-trained in warrior skills included training, riding war stallions and fighting from horseback. Then, due to a feud, comes the capture by African slave hunters, followed by white buyer, branding and the slave ship.

The slave ship sequences are horrendous, far more so than in the 70's Roots. It felt as if the producers had gone to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, spending a lengthy period in the slave ship acoustic exhibit -- and took to heart the horrible groans, moans, shouts and other sounds -- all against the constant roar of the ship's hold, where they are shackled, pushing through the tons of water.  Nothing is softened in this sequence, as in the 70's Roots, in which the white captain has a tortured conscience, instead of, as in the reboot, the captain raping a 'girl' every day.  There is the seasickness, the filth, the disease, the madness, the suicides and even a failed rebellion. Some viewers may stop watching at that point because, "I don't need to see people vomiting on themselves -- it makes me queasy enough to vomit myself."  But this is as close to the real representation or the true horror that a slave ship was as it gets.  I admit to adverting my own eyes at times during the slave ship experience. Even so, I must defer to William Wells Brown's words, which are my bottom line on movie and television depictions of slavery:  "Slavery has never been represented; Slavery never can be represented."

The Fiddler is a figure usually much absent in these depictions.  It's Fiddler's capacity to entertain with servility that has provided him a relatively soft and secure condition (portrayed in by far the finest acting in this series, by Forest Whitaker.  His Fiddler breaks the viewer's heart, or at least this one's (Kunta's character does not, despite the obvious intention of the series that he do so).  Music plays a big role in the continuity of the family narrative and the background in this Roots (which was missing from the 70's Roots) and is well-done.

Adult Kizzy, played by Noni Rose

Ben Vereen plays Chicken George
Slaveowner (the villain played naturally by Jonathan Rhys Myers who successfully has played so many bad men, including Henry VIII) Tom Lea's pathetic desire to have Kunta's daughter, Kizzy, acknowledge his initial physically violent rape and his further constant coerced sexual use of her as something she values in some way is rather the heart of the rest of this section of the Roots reboot. In certain ways the complicated relationship of Tom and his son by Kizzy, Chicken George, is a transference of this desire of Tom's, that his exploited slave "love" him. This is entirely believable.  They both love the birds and the sport of fighting cocks.  But just like Tom with his slaves, even George who is his own son, the cocks are lovingly tended and trained, and then thrown out to kill or be killed for Tom's purse.

Evidently there was no narrative way around what happens in this same sequence, since Haley wrote it in his novel and it was in the first Roots series as well, the preposterous situation is retained that George, given to an English lord as payment of a debt, remains a slave in 1800's England, when slavery was abolished on the island effectively in 1772.  Haley claimed historian status, but demonstrated here and in other parts, that he didn't do basic research.

When George returns decades later to Georgia and Tom's plantation, the non-historic / factual contrivances get much worse. The final episode is the Civil War and the aftermath. It turns ridiculous -- the Kinte men galloping, walking by foot, back-and-forth between Tennessee and Georgia, the whole family moving to Tennessee en masse without any white people harassing, robbing or even killing them.*

Nevertheless, with all its flaws and serious errors, like the first Roots, for people who haven't thought about and know nothing about this central history of the U.S., this series might hit their consciousness like a bomb, which can only be good for us all.

*  At this point Roots becomes as nonsensical as Underground , which in 1857 -- the Fugitive Slave Act era, a group of enslaved people, including small children and infants, run from interior Georgia, overland 6 - 8 hundred miles to "the north,"  via a fantasy "underground railroad."

This is not where or how the so-called underground railroad operated, for obvious reasons of geography and distance. Not to mention the many other preposterosities in the series, many of them obviously included as tasteless, non-factual, leering pandering to an audience's pornographic  fantasies about antebellum slavery,.