Thursday, October 09, 2008

Cathy Ginn and her class visit Alex Haley's home

Cathy Ginn, master's candidate in history, teaches history at the National College of Business and Technology in Bartlett. On 26 September she took her class to visit Alex Haley's home in Henning, Tennessee. The class is pictured here sitting on the same porch that Mr Haley, the author of Roots, sat on when he heard his great-grandmother tell stories from Africa that sparked his famous search for his own roots.

Before the visit, Ms Ginn had asked Dr Louis Gates to write to her students about his friend. The reply was presented to the museum in Henning when the students visited. (Dr Gates and Ms Ginn both come from the same town in West Virginia, she noted.) Dr Gates is now Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, where he is Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. He is well known for his work in identity politics, which includes work with DNA to establish ancestry. His note to the students follows:

I met Alex Haley through his friend, Quincy Jones. Quincy, one of my closest friends, scored the music for "Roots" when it aired in 1977. At that time, Quincy became obsessed with tracing his roots. And he introduced me to Alex, a small, warm, gentle, and open man. Alex always went out of his way to be kind to me, to say a good word. He was one of our generation's greatest myth makers, inventing a concept of reversing the Middle Passage by finding the source of one's tribal ancestors. Now, of course, we can do this through DNA. And when I conceived of my series, "African American Lives," it was because I had developed one very serious case of "Roots Envy" since I watched Alex's gripping television mini-series! And that is what we have done: "Roots" for the twenty-first century, "Roots" in a test-tube. I loved Alex, and his farm reflects his sense of peaceful reflection and a profound love of the world.

Ms Ginn remarked on how well the visit fit the theme of her history class: "My History is American History." About the class's sitting on Haley's porch, she said, "It was a poignant moment, needless to say, for each of us."


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