Chicken George and his loved ones have finally gotten the freedom that Kunta Kinte fought for in Part 4 of Roots.
Attitudes towards Black people are not much different across the sea in England. George is still a slave and is still not seen as a person. His master It took more than 20 years, but he was finally set free and returned to America.
When he arrived back at Tom Lea’s plantation, he found it in shambles. While Lea Farm was never some sprawling estate, it had fallen into complete ruin by the time George returned home.
More than than that, his family was nowhere to be found on the property and Kizzy had long since passed away. He was shocked to learn that Tom was still alive, and for a moment he had hope that the old man could tell him where his family was.
It should come as no surprise that Tom has once again broken his promise, having sold off George’s entire family to Murray plantation instead of setting them free. At this discovery, George renounced Tom’s name and set off to find his family.
Over at the Murray plantation, Matilda is seeing her grown son Tom off for work. He’s the apprentice of a local blacksmith, who is a free Black man. Tom is able to come and go from the plantation as he pleases since he has road papers, but he’s still very careful not to get into any trouble. That’s because he doesn’t want to wind up like his father–sold off for failing their master. From this comment you get the sense that Tom doesn’t think very highly of his father.
Besides, he’s far too focused on working hard so that he can save up the money to buy his entire family’s freedom.
During his shift, the blacksmith asks him to transport a runaway slave that had been hiding in his shop for 7 years. At first, Tom dismisses the plea for help, but the slave finds a way to appeal to him. While Tom can’t take him the entire way, he does drop him off in the road so that the slave can make the rest of the way on his own.
While he’s out, George find his way to the Murray plantation, where he’s immediately interrogated by the master’s son, Frederick, who takes his gun. But when Matilda lays eyes on him, he’s permitted to stay on the property. However, the master’s son won’t let them have their reunion until the end of the work day. Nevermind that they’ve been apart for more than 20 years; she’s got to finish tending her master’s family. If that means she has to wait all day to have a moment with her long-lost husband, too bad.
When the horn blows to signal the end of the day, Matilda runs into his arms for the warmest embrace they’ve had in years. After an intimate evening together, they emerge from Matilda’s cabin to greet what remains of his family. George discovers that three of his children has been sold off.
Even though he’s returned to the states as a free man, he’s decided to live on Murray Farm so that he can be with his family after missing so much time with them. This rubs Frederick the wrong way because George is far too free for his liking.
George discovers during a party one night that his mother’s song has been turned into a popular song to play at parties. While slave owners dance to the tune, they have no idea where it came from, but they all love the sound. For a moment, George and Matilda dance in the moonlight.
Their interlude is interrupted by Tom, who tries to get George to understand that he doesn’t want to do anything to get on the master’s bad side.
Being reunited with most of his family is all George had dreamed of for years. But even as he is living that dream, he tries to make sure that his family is woke about the White man and his ways.
No matter what his father believes, Frederick is a huge advocate for secession and believes that slavery is the backbone of the South. Frederick is also convinced that the South can win the war in two weeks. He’s never met a Black person he likes or respects. Naturally he can’t stand having a free Black man on his father’s plantation, and he thinks George is nothing but trouble.
One night he concocts a plan with his friends to capture George, whose freedom papers would expire if he spends more than 90 days on the Murray property. One of his sons overhears the plot and warns his mother. She insists on George leaving the plantation immediately so that he can’t be enslaved again.
George eventually finds himself at a carriage terminal trying to book passage up North to no avail. He runs into an interesting character named Cyrus, who has heard about the Union starting to rally their troops. He tells George that Black people can fight for the North if they are able to get to a Union base. It proved to be a dangerous trip, where they nearly lost their lives.
It’s about this time that the Civil War has officially begun.
Predictably, Frederick is fighting for the Confederates and he has set up the Murray plantation as a camp Southern soldiers.
Frederick is an overzealous and unruly heir to the plantation. If you didn’t know any better, you would think he was the head of the house. His father essentially lets Fredrick run all over him, and the boy was only encouraged by his fiancée, Nancy. However, she’s not as malicious as she seems. In fact, as a spy for the North, Nancy’s been playing Frederick the entire time. Color us surprised!
By positioning herself at Murray Farm, she’s able to cut off tactical correspondence for the Confederacy and track their army’s movements. She then sends the information she’s gotten back up North to be used against the South.
Her team is fairly small, though, so she enlists Tom’s help on a mission. At first, he says no because he just wants to keep his head down long enough to protect his family and buy their freedom. He has a change of heart after trying to save his wife from being raped by Frederick’s friends. It was all that he could do not to hunt them down and kill them all after the assault.
Knowing that this would lead to not only his death, but also endanger his family, he decides he can best help his loved ones by helping Nancy and her right-hand man Jerusalem. He’d been masquerading as her mute servant, and it was a good cover.
Between the three of them, they successfully pull off an ambush to recover Confederate tactical plans, killing three Confederate soldiers in the process. When word of the operation got back to Frederick, he did some digging and found out that Nancy and Jerusalem were spies, so he hung Nancy’s partner right in front of her and demanded that she tell him everything she knows so that they could use the information against the Union.
She refused to do so, questioning how a self-proclaimed Christian could endorse the sin of slavery. Because she hit him with logic, Frederick flew into a rage and strung her up right beside Jerusalem. His father was powerless to stop him and his gang.
Meanwhile, George and Cyrus have made their way to the Union camp. Much like Kunta’s time with the British battalion, the Black soldiers found themselves fighting without their own guns and walking ahead of the White troops as kind of a human shield.
Just like with the British, sending unarmed men into the field was a setup for disaster. While defending a hilltop for, Union soldiers were able to hold off Confederates charging up a hill using canons. Unfortunately, canons are best used for long-range attacks, leaving the unarmed Union soldiers at a distinct disadvantage when the Confederates get too far up the hill.
This leaves them with no other option than surrendering. By this time, both Cyrus and George had hidden somewhere at the back of the fort to avoid capture.
It’s generally understood that in combat, once someone has surrendered, you take further action to harm them as a means of submission. But the Confederate soldiers have no honor and are so filled with hate for Black people fighting for their own freedom that they gun down every Black soldier standing before them in surrender. It was a striking parallel to the more contemporary theme of hands up, don’t shoot. It was clear that even in surrender, Black lives did not matter to the Confederacy unless you were serving them.
The Union may have lost that battle for the fort, but they won the Civil War, meaning that all slaves were now officially free people.
Black people at Murray Farm found out the good news when they woke up to a strange sight one morning. Cows from a neighboring plantation had wandered onto their property, and Murrary Farm was all but deserted by Confederate troops.
Just people began gathering in the main yard a woman came running out to joyfully report, “We ain’t slaves no more.” Surely, this was a day that many of them thought they would never see. The overcome with emotion, embracing each other in disbelief, sending up shouts of praise to God, some crying, and others tearing off identification tags.
But Matilda had a quieter reaction saying hushed prayer of thanks and remembering her family members that passed on before they could ever see freedom.
As relieved as they were, and as grateful as they were, the former slaves aren’t sure what to do with their new-found freedom. They have no idea where they will stay or what they will do for money.
For the time being, many would stay at Murray farm to work the land for a pitiful amount of pay. But they still had a roof over their heads and they were no longer anyone’s property. Essentially they had become sharecroppers with a very loose system of compensation.
As George’s family was out in the field one day, Cyrus came wandering up to ask about to deliver word about George and to ask about Kunta Kinte. The family fed him and listened to his war stories, sharing that George was still alive, but he was still fighting to defend a church that had come under attack by Bushwackers.
When Matilda got news that George was still alive, she sent her son Tom to find him and bring him home. The dutiful son set off to do just that. He had a bit of trouble finding the church that his father was defending, but he got some help from the spirit of Mandinka warrior.
Tom may not have known what he was looking at, but the very heart of his people were leading him to his father. Tom found his dad sitting in a doorway looking profoundly tired while defending the church.
George found the energy to get up and move when Tom told him it was time to come home. He bid a quiet farewell to the minister, explaining that it was time for him to go back to his family. The reverend thanked him and gave him some words of encouragement.
“The war might be over, but some White men, they’re never going to let it go. They’re never going to accept us being free,” the reverend said as he saw George off. “But I know one thing. The Lord don’t take no steps backwards, and we ain’t giving up our freedom.”
And not all of those people the reverend was talking about were from the South, either. When George, Tom, and another Black soldier tried to take refuge at a Union camp they were turned away because the soldiers were upset over President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. It didn’t matter to them that three men were being chased by Bushwackers. They were tired of fighting for Black people.
So George had to resort to his old skill of charming a crowd to sell their skills and gain protection in the Union camp. It upset him to have to put on his old act again, but he wasn’t going to let that keep him from getting home safe to his family.
The men soon left the camp and returned to Murray Farm to reunite with their loved ones and plot out the family’s next steps. One thing they knew for sure, though, was that they would not be staying on the plantation where they had been enslaved for their entire lives.
The master of the plantation offered them what he could, and it was all set to be an amicable (if awkward) exit until an embittered Frederick came stumbling out of the house.
As he took aim at Tom, George shot him through the heart without blinking. It was a fitting end the hateful bully, and the only person to shed a tear over his death was his own mother.
George and his family, on the other hand, were too busy getting ready to start their lives as free people to feel bad about what had happened. They packed up the family cart and left the plantation to make their own way.
One night, as they family set up their camp for the evening, Tom decided that it was time to honor his ancestors as he reflected on the fact that his youngest daughter was the first of their family to be born into freedom since arriving in America. But he acknowledged that this didn’t mean her life would be easy.
“Still going to have to fight to stay free,” Tom told his daughter before he named her and his family’s tradition, vowing to tell her the story of their ancestors.
He did just that. His daughter passed the story onto her children and so down through the generations until the story reached Alex Haley, who shared it with the world.