Descendant of Kunta Kinte shares `Roots'

A genealogy primer from Haley's nephew

November 11, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Chris Haley, great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Kunta Kinte, sat at Annapolis City Dock yesterday afternoon, read aloud from his late uncle's acclaimed book "Roots" and extolled the significance of genealogy and family history in the pursuit of self-awareness.

But first, he had to clear one hurdle: explain who Kunta Kinte was to his rambunctious audience of 16 Annapolis Elementary School third-graders who yelled, "He played in a movie" when Haley mentioned his ancestor's name.

"Well, actually, an actor played his part in a movie," Haley said, smiling.

Haley, 40, of Landover spoke in Annapolis yesterday as a precursor to the unveiling of a statue honoring Alex Haley at City Dock on Dec. 9.

Leonard Blackshear, an Annapolis businessman and president of the Kunta-Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation, said he and Anne Arundel County school officials arranged yesterday's event to demonstrate the importance of teaching children about family history.

"When we don't take the time to share heritage stories with our children, they become rootless, which is a problem we have today," Blackshear said. "Kids today don't know where they've come from and where they're going. If you've learned about the challenges your ancestors have faced and overcome, that gives you the strength to overcome challenges that you face in your own life."

Haley carefully explained the concept of genealogy. ("You have a mother and father, and they had a mother and father, and their mother and father had a mother and father. If you know all those different names, that's what genealogy is.")

When Haley was finished explaining the difficult terms, he gathered the children close, carefully opened his well-worn copy of his uncle's Pulitzer Prize-winning chronicle of their family history and began: "Early in the spring of 1750, in the village of Juffure, four days upriver from the coast of The Gambia, West Africa, a manchild was born."

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