Roots: Night 4
June 3, 2016 3:18 PM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Part 4. After more than 20 years in England, Chicken George is given his freedom and returns to the Lea farm.

We Watched "Roots" With a "Roots" Expert (Part IV) [Michael Mechanic at MotherJones]
For the past four nights, I've been watching A&E/History's Roots remake with Matthew Delmont, an Arizona State University historian who literally wrote the book on the topic: Out in August, Making Roots: A Nation Captivated covers the creation of Alex Haley's fictionalized family history and the resulting 1977 miniseries on ABC—still the most-watched drama in the history of television.

Spoiler alert! Yesterday, Matt and I talked up episode 3, the saga of Chicken George, and his relationship with his odious master (and dad) Tom Lea. The episode ends with George being hauled off to England as payment for his master's cockfighting debt. Today we tackle the fourth and final episode. (You can stream all the episodes here.) The finale begins with a bit of narration: It's 40 years later and the South is in an uproar—secession and civil war is coming. Against this backdrop, Chicken George returns from England a free man and sets out to find his family, who have been sold to a new owner. Mr. Murray is a decent guy as slaveholders go, but his son Frederick seethes with racial hatred and resentment about the changes threatening the white Southern way of life. We know straight away the dude is bad news.
Previously in the Mother Jones series: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3

Watch online: Episode 4
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (3 comments total)
Can anyone shed light on the beginning of this episode? Chicken George gets hauled off to England as a slave in, what, 1830-something? Slavery was abolished in England in 1833. But it's implied that George gets his freedom because his master manumitted him on his deathbed. In 1860. How is this possible? How was George not freed upon arrival in Britain, or when slavery was abolished there within at most a couple years of his arrival? Is this a glaring historical oversight in an otherwise pretty historically OK miniseries, or was there more nuance to the end of slavery in Britain?
posted by Sara C. at 5:17 PM on June 6, 2016

Sara - Seems like a historical inaccuracy. Additionally, in looking into it, the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was in regard to slavery in most other parts of the British Empire, but slavery had already been abolished in England.

The 1772 case Somerset v Stewart held that slavery was unsupported by Common Law. The facts of the case were rather similar to Chicken George's - James Somerset, a slave, was brought to England by Charles Stewart, who had purchased him in Boston.

Slavery then continued in England until Slave Trade Act 1807.
posted by larrybob at 2:25 PM on June 7, 2016

I've heard that slaves were snuck into England via illegal means between 1772 and 1833, because the former decision came down via precedent and was not well-enforced.

But George is depicted openly in the presence of white Brits who seem well off and educated and who would probably have known that slavery was quasi-illegal and definitely frowned upon. And if one smart-ass abolitionist showed up at a cock fight and started asking questions, it would all be over.
posted by Sara C. at 3:00 PM on June 7, 2016

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