Tuesday, February 13, 2018


For "Two for Tuesday", we're going to look at the televersion of an historical figure named George Moore, the grandson of that "Ol' African", Kunta Kinte aka Toby Reynolds.

First, some context provided by Wikipedia:

'Roots' is an American television miniseries based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel "Roots: The Saga of an American Family". The series first aired on ABC-TV in January 1977. 'Roots' received 37 Prime-time Emmy Award nominations and won nine. It also won a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings for the finale, which still holds a record as the third highest rated episode for any type of television series, and the second most watched overall series finale in U.S. television history. It was produced on a budget of $6.6 million. The series introduced LeVar Burton in the role of Kunta Kinte.

A sequel, 'Roots: The Next Generations', first aired in 1979, and a second sequel, "Roots: The Gift", a Christmas TV movie, starring Burton and Louis Gossett Jr., first aired in 1988. A related film, "Alex Haley's Queen", is based on the life of Queen Jackson Haley, who was Alex Haley's paternal grandmother.

In 2016, a remake of the original miniseries, with the same name, was commissioned by the History Channel and screened by the channel on Memorial Day. 

The character we're focusing on today was better known by the nickname of "Chicken George" and he became a premiere cock fighter in the United States and in Europe.  His parents were Kizzy, the daughter of Kunte Kinte and Tom Moore, who owned her.  (In Toobworld, Chicken George defied genetics, having darker skin than his mother despite having a white father.)

Again, from Wikipedia:

Dr. William Reynolds has previously assured his slaves that he would keep them all together at his plantation, not selling away any of them against their will as long as they "follow the rules". However, [because Kizzy broke those rules] she is sold off. William sells Kizzy to Tom Moore, a planter in Caswell County, North Carolina, who promptly rapes her, impregnating her with a son, to whom he gives the name George.

Early 19th century

George, under the tutelage of Mingo, an older slave, learns much about cockfighting, and, by direction of Tom Moore, their master, George takes over as the chief trainer, the "cock of the walk". George befriends a free black man and fellow cock-fighter, who informs him about the possibility of buying his own freedom. In 1841, a now adult George continues to believe Moore to be a friend until he realizes his master's true feeling when he and his family are threatened at gunpoint by Moore and his wife, as a result of the Nat Turner rebellion. Although none of Moore's slaves are personally involved in the rebellion, they become victims of the paranoid suspicions of their master, so they start planning to buy their freedom. In an emotional scene Kizzy reveals to George the identity of his father.

George becomes an expert in cockfighting, thus earning for himself the moniker "Chicken George". Squire James, Moore's main adversary in the pit, arranges for a British owner, Sir Eric Russell, and twenty of his cocks to visit and to participate in the local fights. Moore eventually bets a huge sum on his best bird, which George has trained, but he loses, and he cannot pay. Under the terms of a settlement between Moore and Russell, George goes to England to train cocks for Russell and to train more trainers and is forced to leave behind Kizzy (his mother), Tildy (Mathilda, his wife), and his sons, Tom and Lewis. Moore promises to set George free after George returns.

The Civil War

George returns 14 years later, in 1861, shortly before the start of the Civil War. He proudly announces that Moore, after some reluctance on Moore's part and some persuasion on George's part, has kept his word by granting George his freedom. He learns that Kizzy has died two months before, that Tom and Lewis now belong to Sam Harvey, that Tom has become a blacksmith on the Harvey plantation, and that Tom has a wife, Irene, and two sons. He also learns that his relatives have spoken well of him during his absence. He further learns that, according to a law in North Carolina, if he stays 60 days in that state as a freed slave, he will lose his freedom, so he heads northward, seeking the next stage in his career as a cock-fighter and awaiting the end of the war, the emancipation of the slaves, and another reunion of his family.

Several years later Chicken George unexpectedly returns, raises the spirits of his relatives and friends, and begins to plot their next step. He reports that he has bought some land in Tennessee. Using some cunning and deception of their own, the group makes preparations for their move away. After one final confrontation with Evan and his gang, George and his company start their trek from North Carolina to Tennessee. 

In the last scene George and his group arrive on his land in Henning, Lauderdale County, Tennessee, to start their new life. George retells part of the story from Kunta Kinte in Africa to himself in Tennessee.  

The story resumes in 1882, 12 years after the arrival of "Chicken George" Moore and his family in Henning, in West Tennessee. George, elderly and showing his age, moves in with Tom Harvey, one of his sons, along with Tom’s wife, Irene (Lynne Moody), and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Cynthia.

A year later, Chicken George dies [in a house fire] in 1883 at age 83, and the family bury his body beside that of his wife, Mathilda "Tildy", who died in 1875 at age 76.

Chicken George Moore was played by Tony Award winner Ben Vereen in 'Roots' and by Tony-nominated Avon Long in 'Roots: The Next Generations'.

The character of George Moore is not the same as he was in real life; not many historical televersions are.  But for some reason, the production team behind the mini-series chose to give him a different last name, substituting "Moore" for "Lea".  I'm not sure how that plays out in the novel, but it's a small detail in Toobworld which makes Chicken George Moore wholly of the TV Universe.  Just based on that, we can consider 'Roots' part of the main Toobworld and not part of some Borderland which combines Toobworld and BookWorld.

O'Bservation:  Once upon a time, when I was in full Sherlockian mania, I realized there was  whole block of Chicken George's life while he was working with Sir Eric Russell in England and Europe that was left unaccounted.  I don't know if any exists, but I think that period in his life would be fertile ground for fanficcers.  I haven't written any - yet - but I could see him making the acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, providing some assistance in one of their investigations which was consigned to the tin dispatch box at Charing Cross.....

For more about the real Chicken George, George Lea, click here


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