JANUARY 23: “My name is Kunta Kinte!”

Kunta-Kinte-As-Slave-In-Juffureh-Gambia
ON THIS DATE in
1977, nineteen-year-old LeVar Burton appeared as Kunta Kinte in the initial installment of “Roots,” a 12-hour miniseries that dramatized two centuries of African-American struggles.

An unknown actor at the time, Burton delivered what The New York Times in 2012 called a “shattering, dynamic performance.” His Kunta Kinte was an African captured by slavers in 1767 and thrust into forced servitude in America.

A fictional recreation of author Alex Haley’s ancestry, “Roots” proved a cultural phenomenon —only the final episode of “MASH” and the “Who Shot J.R.” episode of “Dallas” drew more viewers than the “Roots” finale.

A student at the University of Southern California when cast for “Roots,” Burton would later appear on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and host “Reading Rainbow” on PBS.

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