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Miniseries encouraged discussion about Roots, race

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

By Monica L. Haynes, Post Gazette Staff Writer

The impact of television's "Roots" was felt beyond the actors who brought Alex Haley's book to life. It opened a dialogue about race relations across the country and prompted greater interest in genealogy among people of various races and nationalities.

The following folks with Pittsburgh roots recall how the landmark miniseries touched their lives.

"The program 'Roots' has affected my life tremendously. My father died when I was 9 years old, and I did not have much contact with his side of the family. When 'Roots' was released, it changed my life completely. After viewing the program, I attended a family reunion on my dad's side of the family and started to learn more about my family. With the help of other family members, I have traced my family 'Roots' back to my great-grandfather, who was a slave. 'Roots' has affected my whole family, and I will always be grateful to Alex Haley and all the persons responsible for its showing. -- Robert Tarpley, a Brownsville native who now lives in Lexington Park, Md.

"My mother and I have become amateur genealogists. ... Using census data, we traced our Slovak ancestors from their immigration to this country in the late 1890s, to their home in Jefferson County in 1900, Clarion County in 1910 and finally to 'Mulberry Alley' in Pittsburgh's Strip District in 1920. Although we refer to this as our 'Roots' search, our interest in genealogy comes from the fact that we have a large stereotypical Pittsburgh extended family that's not very transient and therefore we have lots of aunts, uncles and cousins sitting around telling stories." -- Melody Hamel, attorney, 36, of Brookline.

"I hated 'Roots,' " says Wallace Sapp of Manchester. "It opened so many wounds that I still haven't been able to close." (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

"I hated 'Roots.' It opened so many wounds that I still haven't been able to close. I was born in Florida in the '50s. I saw and experienced all the ugly heads of racism." -- Wallace Sapp, document control specialist, 51, of the North Side

"I think its greatest impact was simply as an American history lesson. It covered several centuries of American life, although not always with a balanced view. It was also covertly one of the first movies to introduce the Islamic religion on a national scale. ... I also remember that by some divine intervention, we were off school that entire week because the temperature hovered around the zero mark. We also had mounds of snow everywhere from previous storms that made it possible for a lot of young viewers to stay up until 10 every night and watch it uninterrupted. Without the terrible weather, I probably would have missed some of it because of having school the next morning. -- Anthony DiGiangi, 39, of Jeannette

"The series 'Roots' seemed to unlock the keen interest my family had to find out more about lost generations, family rumors and the history that preceded us -- the trek from Russia to the U.S. ... We found out about the family lost in the Holocaust, the occupations of great-grandparents, the fact that my grandmother actually worked for a governor [Thomas R. Marshall] who became vice president under [Woodrow] Wilson. The spark began with 'Roots.'" -- Lew Borman, executive director, 51, formerly of Pittsburgh now living in Chapel Hill, N.C.

"That was a powerful moment in my life!!!" -- Larry Thomas, systems analyst, 51, originally from the North Side now living in Columbus, Ohio.

"I enjoy watching this show because it makes me feel like my people have come a long way and are still struggling to be equal. It scares me to know that there are still people out there who hate because of the color of your skin and your beliefs. I pray that one day we will see that the only thing that will bring the people of color and difference together is love and understanding of one's ways and lifestyles." -- Juanita Peredisabofa, technical representative, 51, formerly of Pittsburgh now living in Dallas.

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