69 pages 2 hours read

Alex Haley

Roots: The Saga of an American Family

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1976

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Historical Context: The Atlantic Slave Trade

Content Warning: This section of the Guide contains graphic depictions of enslavement, including violence, sexual assault, and death associated with slavery. The source material contains frequent use of racial slurs and racist language, which are reproduced in this guide only through quoted material.

The Atlantic slave trade was an operation entailing the capture and sale of African peoples, mainly from West and Central Africa, who were primarily sold in the Americas, including the American colonies and—after the Revolutionary War—the United States. Many European nations participated in the slave trade, including England, Portugal, France, and Spain. Beginning in the 16th century, the Atlantic slave trade existed for more than three centuries. Over the course of the Atlantic slave trade, as many as 12 million African people were transported as property, and as Haley depicts, many died in transit due to disease, starvation, and injuries on the 80-day journey from Africa to the Americas.

Roots addresses both the existing concept of slavery in Africa and the differences between existing forms of both African and European slavery and the chattel slavery of the Atlantic slave trade. In pre-existing forms of slavery, enslaved people still had rights as human beings but were generally seen as laborers and servants.

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