Acclaimed American writer and author Alex Haley spent his childhood summers with his grandmother, Cynthia Palmer. She told him stories about her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents until finally, she had traced a single ancestor that had been the first of their bloodline to arrive in North America. This ancestor, an African called “Toby” by his slave owners, had been searching for wood to build a drum in the forest. He was targeted by white slave traders, kidnapped, beaten, abused, and chained aboard a slave ship headed for America.
Profoundly ingrained in his mind in adulthood, these stories inspired Haley to investigate and corroborate the oral narrative. Against all odds, imposed by the legacy of slavery and systemic racism, his meticulous research revealed that Toby was his great-great-great-great-grandfather who had arrived from the Gambian town of Juffure, where he was known as Kunte Kinte. Kinte was among the up to 1.5 million victims of the African slave trade in the region encompassing The Gambia and Senegal.
His novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family dramatically recaptures the history of his family—from Kinte’s enslavement to his daughter Kizzy’s experience sold as a slave and having endured sexual violence, his grandson Chicken George’s ambitions for his family’s freedom, and the subsequent four generations that confronted the Civil War and ongoing racist institutions in America.
As the first African American author to document his family roots, he has voiced the stories of millions of Black Americans and everyday people to investigate their own ancestries. His honest and chilling depictions of slavery inspired insightful discussions on slavery, which had been considered a taboo topic in the past.
In January, Frontida Records visited Kunta Kinte Island in The Gambia and met with Malick Leo Manga from Affordable Human Needs and Bill Haley, Jr., grandson of Alex Haley, who keeps alive the monumental legacy of his grandfather. Today, Manga and Haley form the leadership behind the Inherited Roots Project, an ambitious humanitarian initiative that supports the sustainable development of the African continent.
Partnered with Frontida, they strive to address the implications of slavery, which are far-reaching in present social, economic, and physical infrastructures such as healthcare. The next step in this process is to develop and pilot our EHR technology at several medical centers in The Gambia and ultimately integrate the entire Gambian population into a safe, secure, sustainable, and life-saving digital healthcare system.
Together, let’s empower Black leaders, health professionals, and voices this Black History Month and beyond!
Ariana Castro is a nonprofit copywriter and grant writer at Frontida Records. She is a second-year UCLA student majoring in English and minoring in Digital Humanities.