Scriptural Roots: How Alex Haley Read “America Great Again”

TV Guide Cover featuring "'Roots': The Story Behind the Search' by Alex Haley."


During the U.S. bicentennial, Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family took American reading and viewing audiences by storm. The pre-internet social media event challenged a nation to rethink the terms on which one can identifying as American. Dr. Richard Newton, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies University of Alabama, discusses the history, spectacle, and controversy behind an American scripture and what it tells us about race and religion.

Read the Book

Identifying Roots: Alex Haley and the Anthropology of Scriptures, by Richard W. Newton, Jr.
Purchase your copy here with promo code “ROOTS” for 25% off.

Identifying Roots presents a cultural history of Alex Haley’s Roots, examining the strategy and tactics Haley employed in developing a family origin story into an acclaimed national history. More than an investigation into Alex Haley’s legacy, Identifying Roots unearths the politics of beginnings and belongings. While we all come from somewhere, this book examines the terms on which our roots can work as a tradition to embrace rather than a past to leave behind. And it investigates why some of the texts we read also seem to read us back.

Listen to an Interview

Roots on WITF’s Smart Talk w/ Scott LaMar.”

The late 1970s saw the release of Alex Haley’s Roots. The story captivated American audiences on page and TV alike, successfully integrating the reality of African American life and history into the mainstream of a post-civil rights America. The History Channel aired a remake of the pivotal miniseries in 2016. Coming in the wake of a reemerging movement for civil liberties and equal treatment for people of color in the form of #BlackLivesMatter, the remade series’ release is poised to be as significant as it was in 1977. Richard Newton discusses his research into Roots‘ impact as a scripture and how exploring Roots memorials in Tennessee, Maryland, and Georgia help us understand the change the multimedia phenomenon had on our country.

Check out these Research Profiles

The University of Alabama News Center Logo

“The ‘Roots’ of Scriptures”–Richard Newton finds the impact on human life that both “Roots” and the Bible have engendered to be fascinating — so much so that he’s writing a book [read more].

Talking Alex Haley's Roots with Professor Richard Newton Department of Religious Studies, The University of Alabama

“Know Your Roots“–Richard Newton sits down at his institutional home, the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, to discuss his research for the Study Religion blog [read more].

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