For Liberation and in Solidarity: Recommended Reading for LGBT Pride 2016

From the earliest marches in 1970 to this month’s events around the Bay Area and worldwide, Pride has celebrated and commemorated the LGBT community’s culture and heritage for over 40 years.

We at UC Press are honored to have published titles that recognize the past accomplishments and document the ongoing struggles of the community. As SF Pride, the largest gathering of the community in the nation, approaches, we’ve prepared a selection of books (including a few exciting upcoming titles!) to shed light on the unique experiences of LGBT individuals across just some of the many varied and diverse queer spaces.

Happy Pride, and happy reading!

Gay L.A.:
A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians

by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons

The exhortation to “Go West!” has always sparked the American imagination. But for gays, lesbians, and transgendered people, the City of Angels provided a special home and gave rise to one of the most influential gay cultures in the world. Drawing on rare archives and photographs as well as more than three hundred interviews, Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons chart L.A.’s unique gay history, from the first missionary encounters with Native American cross-gendered “two spirits” to cross-dressing frontier women in search of their fortunes; from the bohemian freedom of early Hollywood to the explosion of gay life during World War II to the underground radicalism set off by the 1950s blacklist; and from the 1960s gay liberation movement to the creation of gay marketing in the 1990s.


Lavender and Red:
Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left

by Emily K. Hobson | Available October 2016

LGBT activism is often imagined as a self-contained struggle, inspired by but set apart from other social movements. Lavender and Red recounts a far different story: a history of queer radicals who understood their sexual liberation as intertwined with solidarity against imperialism, war, and racism. This politics was born in the late 1960s but survived well past Stonewall, forming a gay and lesbian left that flourished through the end of the Cold War. The gay and lesbian left found its center in the San Francisco Bay area, a place where sexual self-determination and revolutionary internationalism converged. Across the 1970s, its activists embraced socialist and women of color feminism and crafted queer opposition to militarism and the New Right. In the Reagan years, they challenged U.S. intervention in Central America, collaborated with their peers in Nicaragua, and mentored the first direct action against AIDS. Bringing together archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Emily K. Hobson rediscovers the radical queer past for a generation of activists today.


Eccentric Modernisms: Making Differences in the History of American Art
by Tirza True Latimer | Available December 2016

“What if we ascribe significance to aesthetic and social divergences rather than waving them aside as anomalous? What if we look closely at what does not appear central, or appears peripherally, or does not appear at all, viewing ellipses, outliers, absences, and outtakes as significant?” Eccentric Modernisms places queer demands on art history, tracing the relational networks connecting cosmopolitan eccentrics who cultivated discrepant strains of modernism in America during the 1930s and 1940s. Building on the author’s earlier studies of Gertrude Stein and other lesbians who participated in transatlantic cultural exchanges between the world wars, this book moves in a different direction, focusing primarily on the gay men who formed Stein’s support network and whose careers, in turn, she helped to launch, including the neo-romantic painters Pavel Tchelitchew and writer/editor Charles Henri Ford. Eccentric Modernisms shows how these “eccentric modernists” bucked trends by working collectively, reveling in disciplinary promiscuity, and sustaining creative affiliations across national and cultural boundaries.


A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability

by Jack Halberstam

(This title is part of the American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present series and will be available in E-book format in November 2016 and in paperback in February 2017.)

In the last decade, public discussions of transgender issues have increased exponentially. However, with this increased visibility has comes not just power, but regulation, both in favor of and against trans people. What was once regarded as an unusual or even unfortunate disorder has become an accepted articulation of gendered embodiment as well as a new site for political activism. What happened in the last few decades to prompt such an extensive rethinking of our understanding of gendered embodiment? How did a stigmatized identity become so central to US and European articulations of self? And how have people responded to the new definitions and understanding of sex and the gendered body? In Trans, Jack Halberstam explores these recent shifts in the meaning of the gendered body and representation, and explores the possibilities of a non-gendered, gender optional, or gender-hacked future.


School’s Out:
Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom

by Catherine Connell

How do gay and lesbian teachers negotiate their professional and sexual identities at work, given that these identities are constructed as mutually exclusive, even as mutually opposed? Using interviews and other ethnographic materials from Texas and California, School’s Out explores how teachers struggle to create a classroom persona that balances who they are and what’s expected of them in a climate of pervasive homophobia. Catherine Connell’s examination of the tension between the rhetoric of gay pride and the professional ethic of discretion insightfully connects and considers complicating factors, from local law and politics to gender privilege. She also describes how racialized discourses of homophobia thwart challenges to sexual injustices in schools. Written with ethnographic verve, School’s Out is essential reading for specialists and students of queer studies, gender studies, and educational politics.


Plane Queer:
Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants

by Phil Tiemeyer

In this vibrant new history, Phil Tiemeyer details the history of men working as flight attendants. Beginning with the founding of the profession in the late 1920s and continuing into the post-September 11 era, Plane Queer examines the history of men who joined workplaces customarily identified as female-oriented. It examines the various hardships these men faced at work, paying particular attention to the conflation of gender-based, sexuality-based, and AIDS-based discrimination. Tiemeyer also examines how this heavily gay-identified group of workers created an important place for gay men to come out, garner acceptance from their fellow workers, fight homophobia and AIDS phobia, and advocate for LGBT civil rights. All the while, male flight attendants facilitated key breakthroughs in gender-based civil rights law, including an important expansion of the ways that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act would protect workers from sex discrimination. Throughout their history, men working as flight attendants helped evolve an industry often identified with American adventuring, technological innovation, and economic power into a queer space.

The UK, from Empire to Isolationism?

The news that the UK has voted to leave the EU has shocked many, and in the comings weeks we’ll learn more about what is next to come. For a respite from the #Brexit news, why not take a sanity break and read some history? Edmund Burke is long dead, but what would he have thought about the results? Would he have advocated for “remain” or for “leave”? While we can’t answer these questions, we can look at how Burke felt about the British Empire in his lifetime, and the role of Britain on the worldwide stage. In Edmund Burke and the Conservative Logic of Empire Daniel O’Neill shows that rather than being an opponent of empire, Burke was a staunch defender of the British Empire. How would he feel about the signal towards isolationism that prevailed in the referendum yesterday?

Please enjoy the following excerpt from Edmund Burke and the Conservative Logic of Empire.

The first thing to stress about Burke’s notion of empire is that it was truly global. Burke was one of the earliest thinkers to embrace the idea of a British Empire that encompassed not only Great Britain and Ireland but also the North American colonies, the Caribbean, and India. In this respect, the speed with which Burke incorporated India into his vision of empire was extraordinary. Far sooner than most, Burke understood British possessions as a unified whole, despite the great differences between places such as the New World, India, and Ireland. As early as 1774, for example, in his Speech at the Conclusion of the Poll, which outlined his notion of political representa­tion to his Bristol constituents, Burke told them that MPs were “Members for that great Nation, which is itself but part of a great Empire, extended by our Virtue and our Fortune to the farthest limits of the East and of the West.” While fully aware of the historical dangers of imperial overstretch and corruption that had plagued the Alexandrine, Roman, Spanish, and French Empires, Burke nevertheless embraced the possibility that a well-conducted empire might escape these perils.

The other main points that need to be stressed about Burke’s vision of empire relate to the centrality of a deeply entwined pair of features, “its pre- eminence and its heterogeneity.” Taken together, these principles led Burke to view the empire “as a diversified structure of subordination” under the sovereign authority of king in Parliament, which were understood as absolute, at least in principle. Combining these points in 1773, Burke wrote, “If it be true, that the several bodies, which make up this complicated mass, are to be preserved as one Empire, an authority sufficient to preserve that unity. . . must reside somewhere: that somewhere can only be in England.” Thus, the colonies were “placed in a subordinate situation,” as Burke put it, “not for oppression but for order.” Inversion of this principle, he concluded, would “destroy the happy arrangement of the entire Empire.” Therefore, despite his sympathy for the colonists, Burke held steadfastly to the principle of imperial subordination announced in the Declaratory Act, until after the Americans had declared their independence.

However, because empire had to be exercised over such widely diverse populations, Burke also argued that the extent to which sovereign power should press its rightful claims to preeminence was highly dependent on the nature of the people over whom it was exercised. For this reason, it was both deeply contingent and variable. In his Speech on Conciliation with America, Burke set this forth in unmistakable fashion when he described what he called “my idea of an Empire, as distinguished from a single State or Kingdom.” His vision stressed that sovereign authority and local privileges, immunities, and exemptions from that authority could and should coexist in order for empire to flourish:

My idea of it is this; that an Empire is the aggregate of many States, under one common head; whether this head be a monarch, or a presiding republic. It does, in such constitutions frequently happen . . . that the subordinate parts have many local privileges and immunities. Between these privileges, and the supreme common authority, the line may be extremely nice. Of course disputes, often too, very bitter disputes, and much ill blood, will arise. But though every privilege is an exemption (in the case) from the ordinary exer­cise of the supreme authority, it is no denial of it. The claim of a privilege seems rather, ex vi termini [from the very meaning of the word], to imply a superior power.

That is, according to Burke the British Empire was a unified entity composed of many deeply differentiated and subordinate components amenable to a wide range of special exemptions and privileges owing to their particular character and local circumstances. However, this fact did not attenuate the notion of imperial sovereignty but in fact presupposed it by definition. After all, what good was it to speak of special “privileges” if no superior power existed to supplicate and grant them in the first instance?

Over the coming weeks our authors will be providing unique essays on what Brexit means, beyond any economic implications, for the UK.

Daniel I. O'NeillDaniel I. O’Neill is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. He is the author of The Burke-Wollstonecraft Debate: Savagery, Civilization, and Democracy.


Myriad Atlases: Now Available as E-Books

UC Press is pleased to announce that the following titles in the Myriad Atlas Series The Atlas of Climate Change, The Atlas of Religion, The Atlas of Food, The State of China Atlas, The Atlas of Global Inequalities, and The Atlas of California are now available for the first time, in addition to their print format versions, as e-book editions.


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Sample interior spreads (please click to expand):




About Myriad Atlases:

Myriad’s award-winning atlases, some of which are published in the United States by University of California Press, are unique visual surveys of economic, political and social trends. By ingeniously transforming statistical data into valuable, user-friendly resources, they make a range of global issues – from climate change to world religions – accessible to general readers, students and professionals alike.

Have a Radical Summer

Whether you plan to spend your summer protesting for change or lounging by the pool (or both), there’s no bad time to enlighten yourself to the injustices of the world and to read about the possibilities of a better future. Right now, during the UC Press summer sale, you can get 40% off all of our books by using the code 15W4890 during checkout on our website. Below is a selection of suggested books to get you started, but go wild! It’s summer! And it’s 40% off!

Get your Solnit During our Summer Sale

Our summer sale is the perfect time to pick up the Atlas series from Rebecca Solnit. You can order the first two atlases, Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas and Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas for 40% off each. This is also your first chance to pre-order Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas at 40% off—you don’t want to miss out on what is sure to be one of the biggest books this Fall.


Roots: The Groundbreaking Series Reimagined Recap, Episode 4

This is the last daily recap by Matthew Delmont, author of Making Roots: A Nation Captivated (coming August 2016) about the remake of Alex Haley’s Roots television miniseries airing on HISTORY Channel. If you have not seen the entire series yet, you may be spoiled.

The new Roots series ended last night and, having spent a lot of time researching the original book and television miniseries, I am really impressed with the reimagined Roots.

Across its four episodes, Roots covered over a hundred years and featured almost a dozen significant characters. The scale of the story makes it difficult to maintain continuity and momentum and the final episode suffers at times from these narrative challenges. When Chicken George (Regé-Jean Page) returns from England as a free man, we meet the family he was forced to leave behind. Viewers are introduced to his and Matilda’s (Erica Tazel) children, but other than Tom (Sedale Threatt, Jr.) none of these characters are on screen long enough to learn anything about them. The most troubling example of this rushed pacing is when Tom sees Irene (Carlacia Grant) being raped by a white man in a barn. Witnessing this horrific act convinces Tom to collaborate with Nancy Holt (Anna Paquin), a Union spy who is masquerading as a Southern belle.  Irene, however, does not appear much in the episode before or after this rape scene and Carlacia Grant does not appear among the principle actors credited for episode four in A+E’s promotional materials. Unlike the story arc for Kizzy, where sexual violence is part of the fully realized character, rape is used here more as a plot device.

Still, there is much to like about this episode. Like Kunta Kinte fighting with Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment in the Revolutionary War, the writers added another battle scene that does not appear in the original book or miniseries. George joins other black soldiers (including rapper Tip “TI” Harris as Cyrus) at the Battle of Fort Pillow. In this Civil War fight, Confederate soldiers commanded by Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest killed over three hundred African-American Union troops after the Union troops had surrendered. This is a fascinating addition for two reasons.  First, the film Forrest Gump (1994) made a joke of the fact that the title character was named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, who served as the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War. If the original Roots challenged the legacies of epic and racist films like Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939), this reference to the Fort Pillow Massacre and Nathan Bedford Forrest is a subtle challenge to the ways the histories of the Confederacy are still soft peddled in popular media and public discourse. Second, this scene highlights how military service has been both a point of pride and, at times, disillusionment for African Americans. Roots debuted on Memorial Day, which makes the addition of Fort Pillow Massacre scene all the more poignant.


The music in Roots has been superb and a tune from earlier episodes show up here again. An African-American string group is playing the song that Kunta Kinte learned from his mother in the Gambia. And we’re told that musicians play the song across the South, although they do not know exactly where it came from. This music narrative line has been subtle, never more than a couple of minutes in each episode, but it highlights how African culture helped create American culture and how much cultural mixing and remixing took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

This new Roots also reimagined the naming scene from the original miniseries beautifully. The scene is repeated in every episode, but changed in important ways each time. In this final episode, Tom holds his baby daughter while his father, George, looks on. The scene is touching because neither man knows exactly how to perform the ceremony in the traditional way. “What do I do daddy? How do I give her her name the right way?,” Tom asks. George replies, “I can’t say I know for sure. Just talk to her.”  Holding his baby daughter, Tom says, “I don’t know any Africa words. I know you’re my first baby not born a slave…still gonna have to fight to stay free…everyday…always gonna be somebody who wants to take away your freedom…That’s why I got to tell you this story, so I can be the kind of father I want to be.” The screenwriters, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, did something remarkable here: They took one of the most iconic scenes in television history and made it even more moving.

The series opens with a brief voice over by Alex Haley (Laurence Fishburne), and the series concludes with Haley seated at a typewriter working on the story we have just watched. Haley is joined in the room by George and Tom (his great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather), and then walks through a field where he sees more of his ancestors (Kizzy, Kunta, Omoro and Binta. “The truth can never be known, it can only be told in a story,” Haley says. “I hope my story honors him.”

Having spent hundreds of hours reading Haley’s archived letters, drafts and notes, I was captivated by the end of this episode. In his unpublished manuscript “My Search for Roots,” Haley described how he felt haunted by the spirits of his ancestors as worked on Roots. “Sometimes I would feel as if I was going crazy or something. Not really ghosts, they seemed fleshed in some ephemeral way, but translucent… I had the feeling they were right there in the room with me, sitting in chairs watching, with no eye or face movements.” What became clear to me as I researched Making Roots was that the boundaries between fact and fiction in Haley’s story were less important and less interesting than how he conjured the lives of his family into this epic, mythical story. The final scene of the series captures this sense of conjuring beautifully and the new Roots series is an entertaining and timely update on this cultural phenomenon.

Coming 8/2/16: Making Roots: A Nation Captivated; to pre-order a copy, visit your local bookstore, or order online at IndieboundAmazonBarnes & Noble, or UC Press (save 30% at; enter discount code 16M4197 at checkout).

Matthew F. Delmont is Associate Professor of History at Arizona State University and the author of Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation and The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ’n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia.

Roots: The Groundbreaking Series Reimagined Recap, Episode 3

This is the third of four daily recaps by Matthew Delmont, author of Making Roots: A Nation Captivated (coming August 2016) about the remake of Alex Haley’s Roots television miniseries airing on HISTORY Channel. If you have not seen the first three episodes yet, you may be spoiled.

The acting in the new Roots series has been tremendous, and it was especially good last night. The third episode, in which Anika Noni Rose plays the adult Kizzy, picks up the story in 1816, nearly two decades after Kizzy gave birth to a baby that was produced after she was raped by her master. At the start of the episode Tom Lea (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is raping Kizzy again. This is a starting way to open the episode, but it makes it clear that sexual violence was an inescapable part of life for Kizzy and many enslaved women. Narrative time has passed between the two episodes and it is horrifying to imagine what Kizzy endured in these years. When Tom finishes and leaves, Kizzy prepares to go to work. This is a subtle scene and the details of Kizzy washing her body, rinsing her mouth, and steadying herself hint at what daily survival looks like for this character.

Much of the episode focuses on the relationship between Kizzy’s son, Chicken George (Regé-Jean Page), and his father and owner, Tom Lea. Chicken George gains Tom’s admiration when he becomes a skilled trainer of gamecocks. Regé-Jean Page and Jonathan Rhys Meyers play off each other well, and this plotline explores family and ancestry from a different angle. If passing the family story from Kunta Kinta to Kizzy was about maintaining a sense of continuity between Africa and America, passing the family story from Kizzy to Chicken George requires acknowledging that ancestry also contains elements of violence.


Alex Haley was fascinated by cockfighting, so I think he would have loved this episode. I was less enthralled by the cockfighting scenes (of which there are several), but I appreciate how this episode uses cockfighting as Chicken George’s path to freedom. After his bird wins a climatic fight, it looks like George has won his freedom. This moment of joy quickly evaporates, however, when the English cockfighting rival calls for a rematch and produces a larger bird that kills George’s bird and with it his chance of freedom. After losing, George is forced to go to England to work as a slave for man whose bird won the cockfight. The scene is ludicrous, especially since slavery was illegal in England by 1830s when this scene is set, but it speaks to how precarious freedom and the hope of freedom was for enslaved people.

There are powerful scenes between Chicken George and Kizzy, but too few of them. In one, Kizzy tells George that she almost drowned herself and him as a baby, and in another, Kizzy helps George perform the naming ceremony for his son. Overall, this episode felt rushed (there is, for example, a brief scene regarding Nat Turner’s Rebellion). I wished there was more time to explore this relationship between Chicken George and Kizzy. Or maybe I just wanted to see two amazing actors, Anika Noni Rose and Regé-Jean Page, share more scenes. Looking forward to the final episode on Thursday night!

Coming 8/2/16: Making Roots: A Nation Captivated; to pre-order a copy, visit your local bookstore, or order online at IndieboundAmazonBarnes & Noble, or UC Press (save 30% at; enter discount code 16M4197 at checkout).

Matthew F. Delmont is Associate Professor of History at Arizona State University and the author of Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation and The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ’n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia.

Roots: The Groundbreaking Series Reimagined Recap, Episode 2

This is the second of four daily recaps by Matthew Delmont, author of Making Roots: A Nation Captivated (coming August 2016) about the remake of Alex Haley’s Roots television miniseries airing on HISTORY Channel. If you have not seen the first two episodes yet, you may be spoiled.

I loved this episode and appreciate how it takes the original Roots story in new directions. It is much more clear now what the History Channel means when they call this a “reimagined” version of Roots.

The episode opens with Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) fleeing through the woods, being pursued by the Connoly (Tony Curran), the wicked overseer who whipped him at the end of the first episode. Kunta tackles Connoly and then uses the overseer’s rifle to choke him. As he chokes Connoly to death, Kunta declares, “My name is Kunta Kinte.” This scene of Kunta achieve revenge is unlike anything in the original Roots television miniseries or book where, after the failed slave ship revolt, Kunta Kinte is never shown fighting back physically. After seeing Kunta brutally beaten in the first episode, this scene is cathartic and shows that the new series is creating its own version of the Roots story.

This opening scene is set in 1782 during the Revolutionary War. The other characters in the woods are British troops. Kunta appeals to the British, “I will kill many Americans for your King,” and the troops direct him to travel east to the Great Dismal Swamp to join up with Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment of escaped slaves. The ensuing battle scene shows Kunta as a skilled swamp fighter. This Revolutionary War plotline is also a new addition to Roots. It should appeal to History Channel viewers who appreciate military history, but the scene also establishes this new Kunta Kinte as a sort of action hero akin to Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Kunta’s fighting skills, however, do not keep him from being captured by slave catchers who cut off part of his foot to ensure that he won’t run away again.

When Kunta returns to Dr. Waller’s plantation, we meet the first major female character in the series, Belle (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Belle tends to Kunta Kinte’s severed foot, but also has tough words for him when his will to recover and survive wanes. “What kind of warrior waits to die?,” she asks. “I seen plenty of men far worse of than you, no strip of skin left on they back. Overseer beat them near to death. I seen women worked to death, girls bodies used up hard, no older than children. But they found a way to get up. They was warriors, not you.” After watching Kunta Kitne fight and kill to try to achieve freedom, Belle’s speech is important because it makes it clear that enslaved people fought in a variety of ways.

After Belle and Kunta get married, Belle gives birth to a baby daughter. As Kunta and Fiddler (Forest Whitaker) carry the baby to perform the naming ritual, they encounter white patrollers on horseback. “Everybody in the state of Virginia knows a nigger can’t be on the road after sundown,” one of the patroller says. “We are not in the road,” Kunta replies. “This is Dr. Waller’s property.” The exchange calls to mind the curfews passed to quell protests in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore. Things escalate when the patrollers demand a tax or the baby in exchange for letting Kunta and Fiddler go. Fiddler creates a diversion, telling the men, “You got it all wrong. My name ain’t ‘uncle,’ my name ain’t ‘boy.’ My name ain’t ‘Fiddler.’ My name is ‘Henry.’ So y’all call me Henry.” Fiddler’s real name is never revealed in the original Roots and in a series that places such emphasis on the importance of names, this is a powerful scene. After declaring his name, Fiddler/Henry tells Kunta to run and then attacks and kills two of the patrollers before being killed by the third white man. Whereas the original Fiddler (played by Louis Gossett Jr) dies peacefully under a tree, this new character fights to the death to protect Kunta and the baby. Kunta returns home and asks Belle to join him in running away. “I hate this country,” Kunta cries, “America will never be my home. I hate this country.” The scene concludes with Kunta naming the baby girl, “Kizzy.”

After a brief scene with Kizzy as a six year old, the episode jumps to 1798 when Kizzy (E’Myri Lee Crutchfield) is fifteen years old. Kunta speaks plainly to Kizzy about the perils facing enslaved women. “The country will always be dangerous for you,” he says. “Many masters, masters’ sons, and overseers rape slave women and pay no price. If you ever fear it, you must kill the toubob [white man] and do it without hesitation, only if you are prepared to die yourself.” This scene sets up the episode’s climatic conclusion. After helping her boyfriend, Noah (Mandela Van Peebles), plan an escape, Kizzy is sold away to a small farm owned by Tom Lea (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Lea rapes Kizzy the first night, declaring “I just spent six hundred dollars on you” and “this is my right,” while Kizzy pleads, “kill me.” When Kizzy delivers the child born from this rape, she initially refuses to hold the baby. Later that night, she is crying and holding the baby alongside a riverbank. She fills her apron with rocks and walks with the baby into the water. As Kizzy considers killing herself and the baby, she has visions of Kunta and Belle and the grandparents in the Gambia, Omoro and Binta, whom she has never met. Kizzy walks back out of the water and talks to the baby: “I’ve got to tell you about our people. My father is Kunta Kinte, he is a Mandinka warrior. You have got to know who he is so you can know who you are.” Raising the baby to the sky, Kizzy repeats the line from the iconic naming ritual: “Behold the only thing that is greater than you.”

This scene is a remarkable reworking of the Roots story. Haley’s book and the 1977 television miniseries showed the enslaved characters suffering pain, but the original Roots provided little insight into the ways their painful experiences could be traumatic or leave emotional scars on enslaved people. The idea that Kizzy would consider killing herself and her child was almost unfathomable to Haley, but here it provides insight into what it means for Kizzy to survive as an enslaved person.

In veering from the original story, this episode makes Roots even more powerful.

Coming 8/2/16: Making Roots: A Nation Captivated; to pre-order a copy, visit your local bookstore, or order online at IndieboundAmazonBarnes & Noble, or UC Press (save 30% at; enter discount code 16M4197 at checkout).

Matthew F. Delmont is Associate Professor of History at Arizona State University and the author of Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation and The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ’n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia.


Save 40% with UC Press during the Law and Society Annual Meeting

The 2016 Law and Society meeting convenes June 2 – 5 in New Orleans, LA.

See the following UC Press titles and save 40% online with discount code 16E8104, or request an exam copy for consideration to use in your upcoming classes. The discount code expires May 20, 2016.

Additionally, be sure to take a look at these great guest posts from our authors:

Roots: The Groundbreaking Series Reimagined Recap, Episode 1

This is the first of four daily recaps by Matthew Delmont, author of Making Roots: A Nation Captivated (coming August 2016) about the remake of Alex Haley’s Roots television miniseries airing on HISTORY Channel. If you have not seen the first episode yet, you may be spoiled.

After nearly forty years, Roots is back and the first episode of the History Channel’s reimagined Roots was very promising. The differences between the original series and this new series were apparent almost immediately. The episode opens with a voice-over from Laurence Fishburne, who plays Alex Haley, the author of Roots. This introduction is very brief (“This is how I heard about the boy, Kinte, and this is how I will tell you his story”), but it sets the tone that viewers should see Roots first and foremost as a story that will combine elements of fact and fiction.

At the same time, the producers have made it clear in promoting the new series that this version aims to be more historically accurate than the 1977 version. This comes through clearly in the first half-hour of the episode, where were see Kunta’s birth and manhood training in Gambia. Kunta’s village, Juffure, is a busy trading hub and Kunta considers going to a university in Timbuktu. This episode portrays eighteenth century West Africa as a much more advanced society than how it was presented in the original book or television series. Alex Haley knew about this more complex history, but he chose to portray Gambia as an African Eden. “I, we, need a place called Eden,” Haley said. “My people need a Plymouth Rock.” Another way the new series troubles this vision of an African Eden is by detailing the ways Africans would capture members of different ethnic groups and use or sell them as slaves. This is the fate that befalls Kunta when he is captured, sold to English slave traders, and branded with the initials of the slave ship, the Lord Ligonier, which will carry him and 139 other Africans to America.

What is particularly interesting in this opening segment is that the series does not rush to get familiar actors on screen. In the 1977 version, producer David Wolper thought that the show needed to get established stars on screen early to keep the audience’s attention. Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou were in the first scene and the writers created the character of the slave ship captain so Ed Asner would be on screen in the first ten minutes. In the new Roots, by contrast, there are no established film or television stars in the opening segment and no white characters in the first half-hour. This is a bold way to open the series, but it allows viewers to be reintroduced to Kunta Kinte (played by Malachi Kirby), Omoro Kinte (played by Babatunde Olusanmokun), and others, while appreciating how these excellent actors are creating new versions of the characters.

One of the challenges with any remake is how to create narrative tension when audiences already know the basic story. This was especially true with the Middle Passage scene. Viewers know that Kunta Kinte has to survive the voyage for the story to continue. Viewers also know Kunta will be a slave in America, so when the enslaved Africans plan to take over the ship, viewers know that the revolt cannot be successful. Still the scene works because of the details. Kunta holds hands with the man next to him on the ship while they discuss the plan to fight back. This is a tender and touching moment amidst the swirl of violence and inhumanity on the ship. And the scenes where the enslaved women and men pass codes to each other through songs, nicely show the cunning and resistance that led to many revolts among enslaved people. I knew they were not going to be able to overtake the ship, but as the chanting intensifies (“Oh my brothers, dance!”) I still got chills.

Parts of this episode felt rushed, which is to be expected of a story that covers over a hundred years. The scene I found especially worrisome was when an unnamed enslaved woman offers herself to Kunta. We have not been introduced to her and do not learn anything else about her other than that she is willing to have sexual relations with Kunta. The scene is an occasion for Kunta to say that he does not want his children to be born into slavery, but there must be a way to convey this without having an unnamed character throw herself at him.

The most iconic scene in the original series is the whipping scene, where Kunta Kinte is whipped until he answers to his slave name, Toby. One interesting thing about this scene is that it is not in Haley’s book; it was imagined and written by television screenwriter Bill Blinn. The whipping is the climax of the first episode of the new Roots and, four decades later, it remains a powerful and disturbing scene. Connolly, the Waller plantation overseer (played by Tony Curran), is evil and sadistic. As he beats Kunta he demands, “Say your name so you know this isn’t Africa, this is Virginia; that you are the property of Waller no different than the hogs and horses.” Television is more violent today than it was in 1977 and I was not sure how this scene would work in the era of Game of Thrones. The scene works because the violence is connected to the narrative (“Your name is your shield” is one of the taglines for the series) and because, while this scene is fictionalized, it references countless historical acts of violence against enslaved people. In short, the stakes are higher here than in an ordinary television drama.

Let me end with my favorite moment from this first episode. Kunta is singing a song that he has learned from his mother in Gambia. Fiddler (played by Forest Whitaker) says he remembers his grandmother playing a similar melody and says, “I’ve been chasing that tune for a long time.” Fiddler asks what the tune is to which Kunta replies, “the song is mine, no one in this place can have it.” Fiddler assures Kunta, “I can wait ‘til you share it with me.” The scene is only a couple of minutes long, but it is beautifully acted and speaks to the themes of culture, memory, and loss that are at play in Roots. The quiet moments are what I appreciated most about the original Roots. I am happy to see that the new Roots is creating three-dimensional black characters to reimagine this remarkable story.


Coming 8/2/16: Making Roots: A Nation Captivated; to pre-order a copy, visit your local bookstore, or order online at IndieboundAmazonBarnes & Noble, or UC Press (save 30% at; enter discount code 16M4197 at checkout).

matt delmontMatthew F. Delmont is Associate Professor of History at Arizona State University and the author of Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation and The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ’n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia.