Director: Bruce Beresford, Thomas Carter, Phillip Noyce, Mario Van Peebles.
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Tom Lea), Malachi Kirby (Kunta Kinte), Forest Whitaker (Fiddler), Laurence Fishburne (Alex Haley), Babs Olusanmokun (Omoro Kinte), Matthew Goode (Dr. William Waller), Regé-Jean Page (Chicken George), Emayatzy Corinealdi (Belle), Shannon Lucio (Patricia Lea), James Purefoy (John Waller), Erica Tazel (Matilda), Anika Noni Rose (Kizzy), Adam Fergus (Sir Eric Russell), Carol Sutton (Miss Malizy), Chad L. Coleman (Mingo), T.I. (Cyrus), Anna Paquin (Nancy Holt), Michael James Shaw (Marcellus), Mekhi Phifer (Jerusalem), Brett Rice (William Byrd), Mark Rolston (Jewett), James Moses Black (Benjamin Lyon), Wayne Pére (Benjamin Murray).
this second version of Roots shows more of the horrors of slavery
Spoiler Warning: the whole movie is summarized.
Alex Haley opens with: "This is how I heard about the boy, Kunta Kinte. And this is how I'll tell you the story."
Juffure, West Africa, 1750. A city in a Mandinka kingdom located on the banks of the Kamby Bolongo, the Great River of the Gambia. Kunta Kinte's family were warriors. Their traditional enemy were the Koros. On the day of the birth of Kunta Kinte, his family sets free the group of slaves that the Koros were transporting on the river. During the showdown, Omoro Kinte, Kunta's father, hears the drums telling him that his wife Binta is giving birth to a child. He jumps on his horse and rides to his village. He stops before his home, but the women won't allow him to enter. He doesn't have to wait very long and is allowed to enter. He sees his wife and his baby boy.
Omoro takes his son outside in the night and performs a little ceremony. He says to his son: "Behold Kunta Kinte, the only thing that is greater than you."
As a young man, Kunta likes a young woman known as Jinna. His future with Jinna seems dim, because soon an older warrior will take her for his bride. One of the Koros will marry her.
A dance is held and Jinna dances inside a circle of women. A Koro man enters the circle and acts like a hunter. He is choosing his bride. Kunta confronts the man and says that Jinna will never marry him. The two men start to fight and other men have to rush in and stop the fighting. Omoro grabs his son and tells him that this is not the time and he must control his temper. His mother tells him to go get his brother a bowl of rice from the house. Kunta goes but finds himself snatched up by several men who will perform the rites of manhood on Kunta and other young men.
The young men are ran through the jungle through the night and into the next day. There they are stopped at a clearing. A man on a horse tells the young men that only the bravest of them will be selected as warriors. For those who fail , no woman will bear them children and the failures will have to leave Juffure and live out their days somewhere else. The first challenge for the young men is to swim across the river. As they are crossing the river, they are interrupted by large slave canoes filled with human cargo. The young men have to wait until the canoes go by. The slaves look miserable. Across the river, the first test us to ride a royal stallion. All the riders are thrown off the stallion's back.
Another test, involving two boats, is to throw a stick to hit an oncoming enemy in the rival boat. Kunta throws a stick but it goes over the head of the enemy. When the two boats reach each other, Kunta jumps out of his boat onto the enemy and the two men both fall into the river. Kunta's teacher is furious with Kuntaa for not following his instructions. So now Kinte is forced to run back to the village. He is given a short head start in the race. If Kinte is caught before he reaches the village, by the other young men, he will not be a warrior and he will have to live elsewhere. Kunta runs as fast as he can. He reaches the river and jumps in for his swim to the other side, but he is stopped by an empty canoe floating down stream. He grabs the canoe and looks into the boat. He is shocked to see a dead man with a hole blown into his chest.
At a gathering of the men, Kunta tells everyone what he saw in what the canoe. He was certain it was a male from Juffure. The men decide not to rush into war, but to consider the matter carefully. They go on with the rite of passage. The young men are circumcised after receiving a dosage of a pain killer on the penis. Kunta gives out with a big shout of pain.
The rite of passage being completed, the young men are given rides on the soldiers of the men of the village. Kunta and the others are very happy to now be considered men. There is a big celebration by the whole village. The new men dance for the villagers. Kunta sees Jinna and tells her that he is sorry that he missed her wedding. He is surprised when Jinna tells him there was no wedding ceremony and she is not married.
Kunta tells his parents that he wants to go to study at the university in Timbuktu. His parents are not happy and tell him that Timbuktu is very far away from their village. Father says he won't allow it. He tells his son: "Stop filling your head with dreams. And forget that girl. We will make you a better match." Kunta jumps on his horse and rides away.
Kunta rides out to see Jinna. He asks her if Koro turn her down as his bride. Jinna informs him that it was her that turned Koro down. As the couple starts talking about their future together the slave hunters surround them. Kunta tells Jinna to run home. A slave trader tries to shoot Jinna, but Kunta knocks the gun away and stabs the man to death. Kunta runs and jumps on his horse and starts riding away. An assistant of the slave traders grabs Jinna. Kunta starting riding his horse across the river, but a boatman shoots Kunta's horse from under him. The horse lands on Kunta's leg and he has trouble getting his leg free. He finally gets free, but the chasers are now upon him and one of them beats Kunta with a stick.
The slavers were just going to hold Kunta for a ransom, but now they decide to turn him over to the English slavers so that Kunta will no longer be a free man. The slavers also decide to enslave as many of Kunta's friends as they can.
The British are branding their property now. Kunta sees a man try to bolt away from the slavers, but he is grazed by a bullet and goes down. Then Kunta recognizes the wounded man as his Uncle Silla. And then Kunta is branded. He screams out from the pain.
Now Kunta finds himself in the hold of slave ship. He and everyone like him are chained down. Kunta and Uncle Silla call out for each other. Kunta complains that it's difficult to the a good breath of air. Some men behave as if they are going crazy, while others sob.
Kunta refuses to eat. So they force his mouth open and force feed him. The British want to keep all their captives alive so they can sell them at slave auctions. They bring the men up to dance on the upper deck. This is their form of exercising. While on deck, Kunta sees the white men bring up Jinna so that the captain can use her as a sex toy. Jinna fights her way to the railing and tries to jump into the sea. She is caught and pulled back to the captain. Kunta wants to try and help her, but Uncle Silla tells him it's not the right time to strike out against the whites. A white man senses that what just happened to Jinna has stirred up the native males too much. So he picks out Uncle Silla to be an example for the rest of the men. The whites say Uncle Silla has a bad arm and it must be amputated. They grab him, throw him to the ground and a sword is used to chop off the arm.
Kunta asks for volunteers to fight with him to takeover the ship. There are many who are willing to fight alongside Kunta.
On deck, the men and women sing about their plans to take the ship. One of the women has hidden an axe in a laundry basket. At the signal given by Kunta, he grabs the ax and with it he smashes the chain into two parts. The sailors were prepared somewhat for this, because they could sense something was wrong. They fire their guns into the mass of black men taking out some of the men. But the black men keep coming and they start killing the white men. The other whites run behind a wall set up for protection. The try to close the door, but enough natives grab onto the door so that the are able to pull it open. Some more whites are killed. What saves the day for the whites is that captain uses the ship's small, portable cannon to fire grape shot into the mass of black bodies. Qiite a few natives and killed or wounded. A white boy is also killed by the cannon fire.
Some of the dead black bodies have their heads chopped off and placed on top of spikes for all to see.
Annapolis, Maryland, June 1767, 87 days after capture. Kunta is one of the first men to be selected by a slave buyer. He doesn't care for the rough examination he receives, but he doesn't fight back either.
Kunta rides in a wagon in the back. He sees other blacks working in the fields. Kunta notices that only one white man is watching the workers in the field. He starts looking for a way to get free. Kunta notices that the apparatus holding the chain to the buckboard is very loose, so he keeps pulling and pushing the chain until the apparatus falls off the wagon. Kunta takes off running as fast as he can through the fields. The black driver is responsible for his cargo and he has to catch the slave. He catches up with him, but Kunta had wrapped the chain around his right fist and he hits the driver hard on the right side of his head. Kunta starts running again. He reaches as far as the slave quarters and there he is caught. The overseer doesn't punish the newest slave, but rather gives a bad beating to the poor driver, named Samson. In English, the overseer says that no one understands the new slave, but he does. He knows that you can't buy a slave. You have to make a slave. And he knows how to make a slave.
A Georgia man has come to buy some slaves from the master of the plantation. He chose to split a family up, and the mother begs for the master to take her loved ones. It's not use. Samson, the driver, is also thrown into the cage on the back of a wagon to be taken to Georgia. Samson gives an angry look to Kunta as the slave that got him taken away from his daughter.
Kunta is assigned to a slave named Fiddler because he is a fiddler at parties and gatherings. Fiddler doesn't want the job saying it's too much responsibility, but the master's wife wants this and that's that. The wife names Kunta to be Toby. Fiddler is worried that Toby will run away again, and the master will punish Fiddler just like he punished Samson. Fiddler doesn't want to be sold off to the Georgia plantation owner.
Toby works in the fields, but still has his chains on him. A young woman tells Toby that if he wants her sexually, he can have her. Toby says no. He adds, in his language: "Here, a baby can only be a slave."
October, four months later. Toby get Fiddler in trouble because he will not attend to the mistress' horse as she ask him to. The master comes over and slaps Tobby's face hard. Then the master blames Fiddler for not forcing Toby to be obedient.
Fiddler knows that Toby is going to make a run for freedom and he won't be able to stop him. So he says the best time to run is at Christmas time when everyone will be celebrating.
Christmas Eve. The mistress gives out small gifts to the slaves. At night, the slaves have their own celebration with dancing and singing. Toby, still chained, starts sawing on his chains. He eventually gets the chains off. Fiddler finds Toby with his chains cut, so he tells him since the chains are cut, Toby must run tonight. Toby will play his fiddle at the Christmas celebration which will be a sign that the overseer will be at the festivities and it's time for Toby to run. Toby hugs Fiddler for helping him escape.
Toby is going to take the mistress' favorite horse. When he hears a particular song played, Toby knows when to take off. The overseer, however, checks on Toby and finds him gone. The chase is afoot.
Toby goes asleep on his horse. What really awakens Toby is the bark of the pursuing hounds. He takes off his shirt and ties it to the bridle equipment. He slaps the horse on the rear and sends him running away.
Toby starts running, but it doesn't take long before the dogs catch up with them. Toby fends them off with his stick and soon the overseer sees Toby. He calls of his dogs and then rides his horse to catch up with Toby. Toby is going to throw his stick at the overseer, while the overseer is going to shoot Toby with his pistol. Luckily for Toby, a young man knocks out Toby with with a blow to the back of the head with his rifle butt.
Toby's hands are tied and he's forced to walk behind a horse ridden by the man who knocked Toby out. Toby is tied up to a whipping post. The overseer starts beating Fiddler, but Fiddler is larger than the overseer, and Fiddler wrestles him to the ground. Fiddler lets the man go and the overseer shouts to the master to sale Fiddler to the Georgia plantation owner. The master's brother steps in and says he will buy Fiddler. The overseer is upset about this, but there's nothing he can do about it.
The overseer will now whips Toby until Kunta will says his Virginia name, Toby. Kunta takes a lot of blows before he finally gives in and says his name is Toby. Fiddler puts grease on Toby's wounds. He tells Toby to use the name Toby but keep the name Kunta Kinte deep inside him.
10 years later. The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) is on and Toby tries to escape again. The overseer chases after Toby. Toby seeks help from a British soldier, but the overseer arrives and he kills the British man. Toby now sees his chance to kill the overseer. He charges toward the overseer and knocks him down. He takes the rifle away from the man and uses it to strangle the overseer to death. The British arrive in force. Toby surrenders the rifle to the officer in charge. He says he will kill many Americans for the British king. The officer tells Toby to walk east into the Great Dismal Swamp [southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina] and there meet up with Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian regiment.
Kunta reaches Lord Dunmore's encampment. The blacks are given the goal of capturing the bridge at the Dismal Swamp. Kunta asks where are their guns. The answer is that the armaments have been delayed, but the is be given pikes instead.
The British reach the bridge, but the blacks will not move to take the bridge. Kunta tells the British: "Without guns, we cannot defend ourselves in this fog." The British threaten severe consequences for the blacks if they do not take the bridge. The blacks slowly walk onto the bridge. All of a sudden a hail of bullets hit the men. Men drop where they stood. Kunta and his new friend Carleton let themselves go down into the swamp water. They fight off a snake in the water with them. The now climb out of the water. Kunta tells Carleton: "From now on, we don't fight for English. We fight for ourselves."
Americans come looking for stragglers. Kunta kills one of the American by shoving his pike through the man's throat. Kunta now swims out to the canoe. He surprises the American and kills him with a knife. Now Kunta fires a pistol bullet into another American on the shore. Then Kunta goes to find Carleton. The third American killed was actually Carleton who stood up on shore and was shot by Kunta. More Americans, these with dogs, come searching for the blacks. Kunta gets in the canoe and paddles away from the river bank.
Farther down the river, Kunta gets out of his boat just where a group of slave hunters have congregated. The leader tells Toby that he has to make sure that Toby doesn't run away anymore. He takes an ax and cuts to top of one of Toby's feet. Now that really hurt.
Toby awakens to the face of a female slave named Belle. A little later Fiddler comes into the shack. He tells Toby that they are on Doc Waller's farm. Doc Waller has bought Toby from his brother.
At night, another overseer, named Spalding, comes to tell Toby that he knows he is a troublesome slave. He says he knows Toby killed overseer Connelly, so he is warning Toby that he will be watching him all the time. He knocks his rifle barrel on Toby's bad foot and Toby cries out. Belle comes in and tells the man that she is watching Toby very carefully and he won't get into any trouble. The overseer tells Belle to make sure that she keeps an eye on this Toby fellow.
Belle brings Toby a crutch and some boots. Toby won't let Belle put the boots on his feet. This makes her mad and she says she doesn't believe that Toby was ever any fierce warrior. She scolds him for not trying to walk saying that little crippled children can get themselves ready. Belle is so mad that she has to walk out of the cabin. Fiddler has been watching all this, and he pulls Toby outside and puts him in a corral with a stallion. Fiddler tells him he can get himself up and go back into the cabin.
Toby finally gets himself up and he walks back to the cabin. Now Toby is civil to Belle and thanks her for her treating his wounded foot.
Toby becomes the driver for the master as he demonstrates his mastery over a temperamental stallion. Spalding is not happy about this. At night, he takes Toby outside to see what he did to the previous driver. He shows the hanged daughter of the former driver. The driver killed two white men. Spalding suggests that maybe he should hang Toby now instead of waiting to have to track Toby down. A black woman comes out and saves Toby by reminding Toby that he must get himself ready to drive the master, because Mrs. Malloy's baby is coming any time now. Spalding lets Toby go.
1783. Toby drives the master out to a clearing in the woods. There is another buggy in the clearing. Tobby sees that this is a liaison between his master and his master's brother's wife.
The Revolutionary War is over. America is free from England.
Spalding gets balled out by the master, because he forced a pregnant woman to work in the fields. The woman gave birth to a baby boy, but the mother died. The master says that the cost of the loss of the slave will come out of Spalding's wages.
Belle agrees to become Toby's wife. The have the jumping of the broom ceremony, but Toby is not happy because he thinks the ceremony is passed down from the European from masters to slaves. Fiddler tells Toby the if he doesn't jump the broom, he's going to slap Toby upside the head with the broom. So Toby and Belle jump the broom.
The wedding is brought to an abrupt ending when Toby is informed that Mrs. Waller is having a baby and his brother wants his brother Dr. Waller to birth the baby. So Toby has to driver Dr. Waller to the brother's plantation. Toby says that he bets the doctor is very happy to birth the baby for Mrs. Waller, but the doctor misinterprets the meaning as a personal insult to him, Mrs. Waller and the baby. The doctor slaps Toby on the back of his head.
Toby is furious with the doctor and tells Belle that he should have killed the doctor. Belle tells her husband to forget about the matter because she only cares about her husband, herself and the baby that will becoming to them.
Belle and Toby have a baby girl and Toby goes out one night to bless his daughter. He brings Fiddler with him. Some night riders come upon the ceremony and they tell the two men that no niggers are to be out on the roads at night. Toby says they are still on Dr. Waller's plantation. That makes the whites think that Toby is sassing them. They now want the baby as a nigger tax. Fiddler tells Toby to get out of here and Toby starts hurrying away. The white men start attacking Fiddler who takes a knife away from one man and stabs the man in the belly. He then does the same to another white man, but another white man stabs Fiddler in the back. Fiddler falls to the ground. This last white man goes after the baby and Toby. The man sees and hears the baby on the ground under a tree. He rides over to the tree. Toby jump on him from a tree branch and he smashes the man's head on a rock until he is dead.
Toby goes back to the confrontation area and sees the three downed bodies. Toby tries to get Fiddler up, but it's no use.
Toby returns to his home and says to Belle that they must run away from here. Belle tries to dissuade him and after awhile Toby gives in. He tells Belle that the white men killed Fiddler. He adds: "I hate this country." He now names his daughter Kizzy.
Kizzy is now a little girl. She has become the good friend Missy, the child of the mistress and Dr. Waller. Missy asks "Auntie Belle" if it's okay that Kizzzy plays with her. Dr. Waller says that Belle won't mind as he looks at Belle. Belle doesn't like it, but says Kizzy can play for a little while.
The two little girls go happily off to run around the plantation. They run into a drunk white man, who asks them if they have been saved by Jesus, but successfully get away from him after Missy kicks the man in the shin. They next run into a abolitionist priest and they hear him say: "For all those who prosper from slavery, hellfire will be your ultimate reward. Missy pulls Kizzy out of there.
The neighbor girl named Abigail is a little older than Missy and knows more about blacks and white. Abigail is upset how Missy treats Kizzy as somewhat like an equal. Missy is upset that Abigail is complaining about her good friend, and Missy chases after Abigail with some scissors. The adults intervene to stop the chase.
Missy's father (not biological father) catches his daughter reading a book to Kizzy (Actually Missy had just started to teach Kizzy to read.) The father warns his daughter to be very wary of Kizzy, because her father is a real trouble maker. Toby comes over to check on his daughter and the master doesn't like this uppitynesss, so he stands on Toby's bad foot while he tells Toby off.
Missy and Kizzy are now adolescents and still best friends. Young slave Noah comes in to tell Missy that her governess is here to take her home. Missy makes fun of Noah for not having much facial hair. Noah seems to really like Kizzy.
Dr. Waller notices that Kizzy has reached the age of 15 and he says he should start to bred Kizzy. He adds that she can breed her with Noah.
Toby hears this and doesn't like it. So he now trains his daughter to jump on a horse from the backside and then he teaches his child to ride a horse without a saddle.
Noah finds Kizzy's diary and discovers that she know how to read and write. He starts nagging Kizzy to teach him how to read.
Kizzy finally tells Noah that she will teach him how to read. Noah is very happy about that. He now tells Kizzy that he sure would like to kiss her. Her father has walked into the barn and hears the remark about kissing. He grabs Noah to shake him, but Kizzy shouts that she told her father the truth, and if he doesn't believe her, then he doesn't respect her. Toby lets Noah go and Noah walks out. Now Toby knows the his daughter can read. He says he's scared for what the whites might do to her. Kizzy tells him that reading has become her way of being a warrior.
A hurricane hits the area. There are casualties. In the storm, Kizzy tells Noah now is the time to escape. Noah asks her to go with him, but she doesn't go with him. The hurricane moves on. Toby and Belle are very worried about their daughter, since they can't find her. Finally, they hear Kizzy shouting out from inside a Dutch oven. The slave chasers catch up with Noah. They have him surrounded in a barn. Overseer Spalding goes inside the barn calling for Noah. Noah rushes Spalding and jabs him in the leg with a knife. Noah makes a run for it across the fields but he is shot several times by the chasers. He dies in the field.
For helping Noah escape, Kizzy is now to be sold away to another plantation. She begs for help from Missy, but Missy feels betrayed by Kizzy and asks her how could Kizzy do this to her? Kizzy, screaming, is dragged out of the plantation house and thrust onto the back of a wagon. A man holds her down. The wagon pulls out to go to another plantation. Her parents are devastated.
At a rest stop, Kizzy escapes at a rest stop, but she doesn't get too far before being captured. The wagon rolls on to Tom Lea's farm in North Carolina. Tom rapes Kizzy. Outside, his wife listens to the slaves crying and screaming. The wife looks upset.
Nine months later Kizzy gives birth to a boy. Tom names the baby after his father. His name is George. Kizzy takes the baby boy into the swamps to try and kill herself and the baby. Along the way she changes her mind and saves herself and her son.
Lea Farm, 1816. Ten years later. The master is still raping Kizzy. Kizzy detests her master. Her son by master Tom is a light black color and he is ten years old. He loves the roosters used in cock fighting. The bird caretaker is named Mingo and he hates George for visiting with the birds. Mingo says the boy will take his job away from him and that's why he is so nasty to George. George is once again caught by Mingo handling the roosters. The boy gets balled out and Mingo complains to the master.
One early morning Tom comes into Kizzy's cabin and starts balling out George for disturbing Mingo, whose work with the roosters is so important to Tom himself. Tom says the boy is going with him and Mingo to go cock fighting, and George is going to have to work. This is no punishment for George, who feels happy about working with the roosters. On the ride, George asks master Tom lots of questions about cock fighting. Tom says he has been cock fighting ever since he was a boy. He says: "Carried me from a backwoods shack with ten brothers and sisters abracadabra. Bought my own farm. And I bought my first nigger." He also says that the biggest farm owner in Carolina is Mr. William Byrd. "That bastard hates me 'cause I'm Irish and 'cause my daddy was backwoods poor.
They arrive at the cock fighting place, and Mingo's Red kills his opponent. That makes Tom and his team happy. Mingo, however, still has it in for George. He takes a rooster and thrusts it at George. George is startled and he starts backing up very fast and trips. So, now Mingo calls him Chicken George.
Kizzy helps Tom's wife how to read. She asks Tricia not to tell her husband that she learned to read from Kizzy.
The fellows return home from the cock fighting. Tricia is a bit jealous of Tom's being close to George. Tom asks George if he wants to go with him cock fighting rather than work in the fields. Kizzy wants to keep her son working with her in the kitchen. Tricia tells Tom that the boy should wait for one more year to be cock fighting all the time. Tom cruelly tells Tricia: "What the hell you know about children, since you can't have none?" Now Tom tells George to get out there and help Mingo to unload the roosters.
George finishes up late and tries to sneak into his bed without waking his mother. Mother, however, awakens. She's mad that her son is so late coming in and that he is so dirty and stinks of the cages. George says that the white men were showing Mingo some respect. Mom gets mad and reminds her son that Mingo is still nothing more than a slave and so is George and George better not forget that. Mom is also upset because George told her that Master Tom likes him. She doesn't want her son to be so close to Tom.
1828, 12 years later. Tom and Tricia go to Sunday sermon. Tom says hello to Mr. Byrd, but the elder man just scoffs at the poor man. Mr. Byrd also scoffs at Tom for trying to sit up front with the "better" people.
Outside the church a black preacher man talks about passages from the Bible to the slaves. George is a mischievous young man now and he gets in trouble with the preacher's daughter for mimicking the black preacher and making some of the preacher's flock laugh at George's words and motions. She balls George out. George likes her, so he quickly tries to pacify her with pretty words. He does a good job of it, but the young lady is still not completely convinced. George wants to go out with her, but she says her daddy chooses who she goes out. George says he's not afraid of her father. At that the preacher arrives and asks George if he has anything to say to him? George quickly kiss the preacher's daughter and then runs away.
George has some good ideas on how to make roosters better fighters. Mingo grabs George by the throat and tells him George better not to anything to the birds, if he's not around. George tires on this and knocks Mingo's hands from his throat. Now George is too big for Mingo to try to intimidate George physically. The older man starts a coughing fight. George gives him some water and asks if he wants his mother's doctoring help? Mingo says he don't want any of the Africa medicine.
There's a gathering down by river. George asks Mingo to go with him, but Mingo doesn't trust anybody and wants to be left alone.
George helps his master and Mingo with the cock fighting. Their rooster looses the fight and Tom is angry and frustrated. George says he has trained one of the roosters himself and he's sure the rooster can win. Mingo is furious with George, but Master Tom tells George that the next go round will be George's turn fight his rooster. George goes to get his rooster ready. A black man with his rooster come over to George to tell him that his rooster will be fighting George's rooster. George finds out that this black man is a free man. George wants to know all about how the man got his freedom. The man says his master gave him a portion of the winnings each time they went cock fighting. This type of arrangement gives George some big ideas.
George's rooster wins the match. George made such a good showing with his showmanship that a wealthy man now wants to buy him. The man, Mr. Jewett, is shocked when Tom refuses to sell his George at any price. Nevertheless, he invites Tom to be at his table for the Easter Picnic. Tom is more than happy to attend the picnic. He's in a very good mood and gives George some money from the pot when Georges asks for it. And he does more for George. He says he will buy the field hand Matilda from another owner so George can marry her. He tells George to produce a lot of slaves for him and he will more than recoup his money on Matilda. He also will let George build himself a new cabin on a good site.
At a get together, George introduces Matilda to his mother and Matilda introduces her father, Reverend Lyon. Kizzy makes it clear to Reverend Lyon that she does not believe in the white man's God. She says that his Bible probably has the pages of Exodus torn out of it. The white man will never let a black preacher preach from Exodus.
George tells his mother that he is going to marry Matilda. Mamma approves of the idea. George then tells her that he's going to buy his freedom and then he is going to buy his mother's freedom, Matilda's freedom and Reverend Lyon's freedom.
Tom and Tricia come to the Easter Picnic. Mr. Jewett calls Tom over to his table. There's going to be trouble because Mr. Byrd is also at Mr. Jewett's table.
At the "other" picnic, George introduces his friend, the freedman Marcellus, to his mother. Kizzy doesn't like the man because he fights the roosters, but Marcellus just says that right things so that highly independent Kizzy can't resist his charm and his pro-woman's positions.
Mr. Byrd starts talking about politics at the table. He hates the idea that Andrew Jackson might become the next president. He digs at Tom by saying the people who back Jackson are just poor farmers or men without their own land. Tom stays quiet, but Mr. Jewett asks Tom for his opinion of Jackson. Tom says Jackson will make a fine president. Mr. Byrd refers to Tom as a low born man. Then his wife compares the Irish with horse droppings as troublesome features of New York City. Tom become infuriated with Mr. Byrd and the language heats up fast. The tipping point for Tom is when Byrd says he would dine with niggers before he would dine with Tom. Tom slaps the man across the face. Byrd now wants a duel to get satisfaction for Tom slapping him. That's fine with Tom and he asks George to be his second at the duel.
Marcellus tells Kizzy that Mr. Jewett obviously wants Tom dead, so he started the row between Tom and Byrd.
Tom will fire first, then Byrd. If both men are alive after the exchange, then they will fight with swords until one of them is dead. Tom is so shaky that he hits a tree instead of Byrd. Byrd just nicks Tom's right ear. So, they try again. Tom sends a bullet crashing through Byrd's mouth and out the left check. Mr. Byrd shouts out in great pain. His second shot at Tom goes through Tom's left hand. He shouts out in great pain.
Now it's a fight with swords to the death. Tom is slashed in the left shoulder. Tom gets stuck with a side wound. Then Tom runs his sword through Byrd. Byrd yields to Tom who was about to stab him again.
Tom is bedridden trying to heal his wounds. George played a big part in the duel because he kept cheering Tom on and getting him to keep getting back up. So, now George asks Tom that if he works really hard and makes master Tom rich, will Tom let him buy his freedom? Tom promises that when that day comes, he will let George buy his freedom.
George and Matilda jump the broom. Tom watches the ceremony from a porch. He doesn't like seeing how much in love Kizzy is with Marcelllus. Tom says he wants George to start making babies as fast as he can. And he want the first boy to be named Tom. George agrees to this.
Kizzy comes to talk with George. She is extremely angry with George for wanting to name his first born male "Tom". George just sees the name as a useful tool to keep him in the good graces of the master. Kizzy says George can't handle a man like Tom Lea. The man is no good.
Marcellus and Kizzy are naked in bed together. Marcellus wants Kizzy to go with him up north. They are interrupted by the appearance of a drunken master Tom. Marcellus gets up and stands proudly in front of Tom. It looks as if there's going to be some real trouble. Marcellus, however, offers $2,000 dollars to Tom to buy Kizzy. Tom thinks about it and tells Marcellus that they may be able to come to an arrangement. Tom leaves.
Late at night, Kizzy works on making some sweet rolls. A very heated Tom comes into the kitchen and wants to hear Kizzy say if she really wants to leave the plantation. He is shouting and hollering sentences like: "Pick that nigger over me?!" He says that Kizzy is going to leave George behind. And now Tom is going to rape Kizzy. She tells Tom that she can't leave because she can't leave George and his children alone with a master like Tom Lea. She steels herself and tells Tom to be quick about raping her.
George knows that Tom raped his mother again. He becomes very angry with Tom.
In the morning, Marcellus says goodbye to Kizzy. Kizzy tells Marcellus that her father would have liked him.
Tom and his cock fighting team, travel a long way north into Virginia. When they finally arrive, all they see and hear are men with guns. Tom is mad that there's not going to be a cock fight. He demands to know what's going on. It's 1831 and a slave rebellion has broken out in Southampton County, southeast Virginia. The leader is a black man named Nat Turner. The whites in the county are vowing revenge on Nat and his rebels.
White men start throwing the rooster cages off Tom's wagon to check for smuggling of knives and guns. Mingo tells them to stop and uses force when don't stop. For that, Mingo gets a terrible beating with a rifle butt. George begs for mercy from the whites. Tom comes over and the whites ask if Tom will vouch for these men? Tom says yes he will. The whites leave. Tom says they have to get home because Tricia is alone on the farm. George is more concerned about getting medical help for Mingo.
Now Tom is really shaken up by the news of the rebellion and the killing of white women and children. They run into a road check and one of the white men says that Tom ought not to trust his "boy" (George). For safety, the boy should be chained to the wagon. Tom grabs some chains and tells George to put them on. George protests that Tom knows that he would never turn on him. Holding his pistol directed at George, Tom demands that George put on the chains this instant. George reluctantly ties himself in chains.
The wagon arrives at Tom's farm. His wife is okay, but some of the buildings on the property are burning. (The white militia men set the fires in their searches for Nat Turner.) George tells his father-in-law to get the axe and cut a piece of the buck wagon so George can slip his chains off the top railing. The reverend makes the cut and George starts running to find his family. He searches and searches even into the night. In the woods he finds his mother and wife with a group of other slaves.
Kizzy checks on Mingo and announces that the man is dead. George says he's going to kill Tom. Kizzy tells him that this will only bring the slaves further trouble. No George tells his mother that he's known that he was the son of master Tom for a long time now. Kizzy replies with a story of her own about she was going to drown herself and baby George in the swamp, but she heard the voice of her father telling her not to do it. So she didn't do it. She keeps talking to George until he calms down enough to become more clear-headed.
George works with the roosters. Mingo had told George to take his special feed for rooster. In moving a barrel of his feed, the barrel turns over and George finds Mingo's money purse. He wanted George to have the money. George just walks away from the money.
Mother and wife now tell George that their fifth grandchild should be named Tom. If they name the baby Tom, the master will be nicer to his namesake. Otherwise, master Tom might harass the baby boy for a long time. The name Tom for the boy will also help protect their whole family from the evil doings of master Tom. Mother shows George how to conduct and carry out Kunta Kinte's ritual blessing of the baby boy.
1835, 4 years later. Going to Charleston, South Carolina for a big cock fight. It's a long trip, but they arrive safely. Mr. Jewett is there and he introduces Chicken George to his cousin from Hampshire, England, Sir C. Eric Russell. Sir Eric is a big better, so Tom bets $10,000 dollars the his rooster can defeat Sir Eric's rooster. Sir Eric accepts the challenge. Now Tom tells George that if his rooster wins the bout, he will set George free.
The match begins and Tom Lea's rooster wins. Tom is thrilled, but not as thrilled as George, who will be freeman. Sir Eric asks Tom if he tricked the Englishman. Did he set him up for failure? Sir Eric demands a rematch and Tom foolishly bets the man for $20,000 dollars. It's Tom that is being tricked. Sir Eric now brings in a really fierce bird, a champion. Of course, Sir Eric wins, and Tom knows he's men bamboozled. Buy Tom has one way out. If he gives Chicken George to them, then things will be even. George will have to go to England with them. George is furious with Tom and grabs him around the throat and balls him out. Tom has to call for help and men grab George and drag him away. They sock George in the gutt, throw him in the back seat of Russell's buggy and chain him to the seat. Russell takes off with his prize. George is forcibly taken away from his family.
Hampshire, England, 1849. Chicken George very seldom lost a cock fight and the English men loved him. He returned to his old ways of playing the flamboyant showman. George had to stay 20 years in England.
Tom Lea's Farm, 1860. One year before the Civil War. George comes home to a very poor farm. The cabins in the slave quarter are in ruins. He asks a now very old woman where is his family? The woman says she only knows where his mother is. She takes George to her grave. George apologizes to his mother for not being with her when she died. The old woman tells George that master Tom is still alive.
George into the house filled with roosters and rats. George starts to come into the living room and almost gets killed by pistol shot. Tom says that this nigger is trying to rob him, but he will kill him before he robs his house. George tells Tom that he's not going to kill his own son now. The son comes closer to Tom, all the way talking to his father. Finally, Tom knows that it's his son George. The old man starts to cry.
Tom tells George that his family was bought by a man named Benjamin Murray of Alamance County. George is upset with Tom about selling his family away. Tom tells George that he needed the money. He had to sell them. George wants to know where the papers are at that will free him and his family. Of course, Tom doesn't have any such papers. He says George had a good life with those fancy Englishmen, but old Tom had a horrible life. Tricia ran off, the old niggers could hardly work George tells his father: "You a man without honor, Tom Lea." He adds: "God damn you!"
Murray Farm, Alamance County, North Carolina. Tom is now a big strapping man. And he's an angry son who blames his father for leaving the family and going off to England. Tom is a good blacksmith and the master makes money by sending Tom out to various farms to do some blacksmithing. Tom picks up a young black man named Winslow who has been hiding for some seven years. He's getting the runaway closer to his goal of reaching Elizabeth City where he can catch a barge going north. On their way, Tom sees two white men on horses coming toward him. He tells Winslow that he will have to get out of here now. Winslow protests, but Tom says he has to go right now. Winslow disappears in the woods.
George shows up on the Murray farm and causes a little commotion because he has a pistol in his belt. Benjamin Murray's son is a bit of a bully and a sadist. He really harasses George. Then George sees his wife on the second story porch. He calls out to her. She tells Benjamin that the black man is her husband. Benjamin goes outside to talk to George. He looks at papers from England that he is a freeman. Benjamin tells his son that the man is free, so obey the law and let him be. The son shouts out to his female slave that she can't see her husband until all her work is done. Now the son makes George wait out on the road for his wife.
It's dark before George's wife can come over to see George. They hug each other.
In bed with George, Matilda asks her husband if she's still pretty. He assures her that she is.
The next morning. George meets with his children. Three of his children have been sold off elsewhere. His son Tom is still away on his blacksmithing. The other three children are glad to meet their father.
George watches as soldiers test their cannons. On the third test the cannon blows up, sending the throwing the three soldiers into the air. Tom is now there and he handles one of the cannon balls. He says the problem is that the cannon balls are not completely rounded. Frederick, the mean one of the Murrays, says that's a lie, but father Murray feels the ball and says that Tom is right. George speaks with Tom and tells him not to get too close with the master. Tom just rejects the advice. He says: "Ain't every nigger get made the fool by his white daddy."
The Murrays have a dance for the neighbors, complete with a black musical band. George comes over to watch from outside. When George's wife comes out from the house, George dances with his wife Nancy. Frederick sees that and he doesn't like it. Tom comes over to scold George for putting the family at risk. Frederick might punish the family because George insisted to dance with mama. George tells Tom that there's really no one right way to be a slave.
Frederick's lawyer tells him: "As your lawyer, I'd prefer you to refrain from shooting Chicken George. A trial requires my valuable time, even played as a farce." The lawyer says a freedman can stay no more than 90 says on a plantation or else the freedman can be sold as a slave. Frederick should seize Chicken George on the 91st day. Tom overhears this conversation and quickly Matilda demands that George leave the plantation immediately. George doesn't want to leave. Matilda says master Benjamin can't control Frederick and the master has health problems. When Frederick takes over the plantation, he will sell George or just kill him. George sees the light finally and agrees to leave the house. He promises her to come back one day and take the family away.
Lots of people want to go north by stagecoach, before the shooting starts. George and a black acquaintance named Cyrus try to get onto the stagecoach, but the white people have priority. They have to wait for another coach. Cyrus suggests that they just start walking north. George agree to walk.
Frederick's wife confides in Tom that she is a spy for the north. This information scares Tom. She asks Tom to help her get information up to the north. Tom says that he's just a slave and the southerners would kill him if they discovered spy material on him or in the wagon. He won't help her.
The First Battle of Fort Sumter opened on April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery fired on the Union garrison. The Civil War begins.
Murray Plantation, Confederate Encampment -- 2nd Cavalry. Frederick leaves the plantation to go off to fight.
Western Tennessee, approaching the Union Army line. George and Cyrus dive for cover, afraid of being caught by the slave catchers. Another man joins them. He picked up a flyer. George reads it: "Memphis Battery D, 2nd United States Light Artillery, seeks volunteers of African descent. Pay -- $13 dollars a month." Cyrus says he would fight two war for $13 dollars a month. Rebel troops are nearing the slave's hiding place. The leader of the rebel unit fires a shot that come close to killing one of the three me. In fear, they start to get up and run for their lives. The third man with them, however, gets shot and killed. George and Cyrus keep on running. They run to a road, but there a Confederate trooper on a horse and with a saber in his hand chases down the two runaways. When the trooper goes for Cyrus, from behind the trooper, throws a rock that hits the trooper in the head, stunning him. The runaways now pull the trooper off his his horse and onto the ground. George takes a big rock and smashes it into the man's head. Now the two men get on the horse and ride away.
Tom's wife Irene is being raped by some men. Tom hears the commotion and goes to see what's going on. A man at the door of a stall tries to stop Tom from intervening and a fight ensues. Another rapist comes to help subdue Tom. The leader tells Tom that they will hold him down until his men finish with his wife.
Tom is so angry at the multiple rape that he now volunteers to work with the Union spy Nancy. She tells him that Confederate officer, Major John Marrett, is coming through their area on his way to Augusta, Georgia. He has plans relating to the building of a new arsenal and he must be stopped. Nancy's plan is to kill the major and get his papers up north. Tom says the master build some grenades to use close up. They can stop the major with the grenades.
Tom and Charles, the driver for Nancy, set up the ambush along a stretch of road in the woods. Three soldiers come around the corner on horseback and Tom throws a grenade onto to the road that explodes reeking great pain and confusion among the Confederates. Tom shoots down one of the soldiers. A soldier on the ground shoots Charles in the right shoulder. Charles kills the man with his pistol. All of the soldiers are presumed to be dead. Tom helps Charles get on one of the soldiers' horses and takes off. Tom hears someone talking and he has to hide behind a tree. Frederick and another soldier find the three men dead. They hesitate then take off after the killers. Tom now runs for home.
At the plantation, Frederick is about to hang Charles from a limb on a tree located in the front yard. He brings Nancy out to show and tell her about what happened. Nancy tries to go back in the house, but Frederick holds on to her too tightly for her to get away. He tells her that they searched her documents and now know Nancy is a Yankee spy. Frederick slaps Nancy and gives the order to carry out the execution. Charles hangs low on the tree. Nancy grabs Frederick's pistol from Frederick's waistband and shoots Charles dead. Now Frederick decides to hang Nancy, even though many of the soldiers don't like the idea. Nancy swings from the second noose beside Charles.
Six miles form the Confederate line, Memphis Battery Light Artillery, of African descent. George and Cyrus are in their uniforms and in line marching along a road. They are headed to Fort Pillow, which is locate on high ground. Cyrus tells the soldiers around that none of them are safe. "No, not from that nigger-hating Reb Nathan Forrest.
Fort Pillow, Tennessee, April 12, 1864. [From Wikipedia: Fort Pillow was located on the Mississippi River in Henning, Tennessee. The battle ended with a massacre of Union troops (most of them African American soldiers) attempting to surrender, by soldiers under the command of Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Military historian David J. Eicher concluded, "Fort Pillow marked one of the bleakest, saddest events of American military history."]
George and Cyrus are in the thick of the battle, loading and firing their cannon. The Confederates keep coming and they overrun the Union positions. George leads his men over to the side. The Union surrenders to the Rebs. The Rebs now massacre the black troops, while George looks on from the sidelines. He jumps up and saves Cyrus from execution by pulling away from the shooting. As the two are escaping, Cyrus get shot in the left arm. He wheels around and shoots down the man who shot him.
George and Cyrus get away. George has to amputate his lower left arm.
Sherman burns Atlanta.
Battle in Nashville.
Lee retreating. Grant pursuing.
April 9th, 1865. Almost one ear after the massacre at Fort Pillow. At the Murray plantation all the whites are gone. A black woman brings the new that the war is over. And the slaves are free. There is much jubilation among the blacks. And then there is some sadness said about the dead from the war.
The blacks have a hard time getting enough food. Things are not easy for them.
Cyrus comes walking up to the plantation and the former slaves want to know who is that man. They accept the man, as soon as Cyrus asks them if they know who is Kunta Kinte.
Cyrus has supper with them and he tells them about his adventures with his friend George. What the family wants to know is where is George now? Cyrus says George dropped him off at a hospital, and then said he was going to walk back to the Murray plantation. A Reverend Garland recruited George against bad white men, called the Bushwhackers, who were killing off black men around his church out of Sewanee. Garland recruited George to help fight the Bushwhackers off. Tom looks at his mother and she tells him to bring back her husband to her. Tom is eager to go.
Near the Tennessee border, two weeks later. Tom reaches the church out of Sewanee. Or rather, he reaches the remains of a burned out church. People are worried about the Bushwhackers coming back. They want to leave the area. Tom sees George sleeping outside leaning against a shed. He awakens his dad, who is glad to see Tom. George decides to go home with his son.
On their way home, they run into some bushwhackers. The father and son team shoot a few of the bad guys and then manage to run away from them. They come upon a Union Army encampment, where the Bushwhackers will not follow. The father and son are unwelcome in the encampment. The soldiers are mad that some Southerner assassinated Abraham Lincoln and they're tired of blacks coming into their camp. A scuffles takes place and dad suddenly becomes the overexcited story teller. He talks about his son being the best blacksmith in all of North Carolina. An officer says well if the boy can shoe horses, they need him. He tells his men to let the blacks in. The soldiers obey.
On the Murray plantation, Matilda thinks her husband and son may be coming toward the workers. She starts running toward them. Then the whole group comes out to welcome the returnees.
The freed people tell the master that they are going to move away and the master says they can go. Nasty Frederick, however, comes out to tell the people they are not free to go. They have to pay off the debts they owe. The master tells Frederick to let them go, but Frederick is too much of a redneck to let them go peaceably. He says: "I won't never see a nigger be my equal." He pulls out his pistol to shoot Tom, but George beats him to the draw and he shoots Frederick who rolls down the porch steps to the ground.
Tom and his wife have a baby girl. He and George go to bless the
baby. Up to the sky, Tom holds the baby in his upraised hands.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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