Kunta Kinte (or Kunta Kunte) is the central character of the best seller novel “Roots”: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, and of the television mini-series Roots, based on the book.
Roots is now accepted as being a mixture of both fact and fiction, and much of the book's material is allegedly borrowed from a book called The African by Harold Courlander.
Kunta Kinte was a Mandinka. Kunta was captured and imported to Annapolis, Maryland, and later sold to a plantation owner in Spotsylvania County, Virginia near the present-day rural community of Partlow.
In the miniseries, the young character was portrayed by LeVar Burton, and the older by John Amos.
There is a memorial to Kunta Kinte in Annapolis, Maryland. It is the only monument in the world to bear the name of an actual enslaved African, apart from the Zumbi from Palmares Kilumbu (a negro leader of rebellions against slavery) statues in Brazil and Bussa statue in Barbados. It depicts Alex Haley, book on his lap, telling his family's story to three children. In a notorious incident, the Kunta Kinte plaque was stolen within 48 hours after its installation in 1981, allegedly by the Ku Klux Klan. The plaque was never recovered, but it was replaced within two months.
Haley's novel begins with Kunta's birth in the village of Juffure in The Gambia of West Africa in 1750. Kunta is the first of four sons of the Mandinka warrior Omoro and his wife Binta Kebba. Haley describes Kunta's strict upbringing and the rigors of manhood training he undergoes.
One day in 1767, when the young warrior left his village to find wood to make a drum, he was attacked by four black men who surrounded him and took him captive. The most horrifying part of Haley's novel is where he describes this event. Kunta awakens to find himself blindfolded, gagged, bound and prisoner of the white men. Haley describes how they humiliate the young warrior by stripping him naked, probing him in every orifice, and branding him with a hot iron. He and others are put on a slave ship for a nightmarish three month journey to America.
Out of 140 Africans, Kunta is one of only 98 who survive the crossing. After arrival in Maryland he is sold to a plantation owner who renames him "Toby," much to his dismay. During the remainder of his life Kunta never gives up his dreams of freedom and trying to escape, even after part of his foot is chopped off. (He was running and the slave catchers caught him and he had a choice to be castrated.) He eventually marries another slave named Bell Waller and has a daughter named Kizzy, which in Kunta's native tongue means to "stay put". Unfortunately, Kizzy is later sold away when she is discovered to have written a fake traveling pass for a young slave boy she is in love with.
After Kizzy is sold, it is stated that Bell was sold years later and Kunta died soon after. It was said that he could barely walk when he died, but he still kept his dream of freedom and just "faded" after Bell was sold. After Kizzy visits his grave 2 years after he died, she scratches out the "Toby" carved on it and carves in "Kunta Kinte."