When the ‘Roots’ plaque was stolen in An­napo­lis

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Chris Kal­tenbach THEN & NOW chris.kal­tenbach@balt­sun.com

On a sunny day in Septem­ber 1981, state and lo­cal of­fi­cials joined au­thor Alex Ha­ley dock­side in An­napo­lis to ded­i­cate a plaque in honor of his an­ces­tor, an en­slaved African named Kunta Kinte, who had been brought to the city in chains.

“I wish our grandma was here,” said Ha­ley, whose best-sell­ing book, “Roots,” had been turned into a block­buster 1977 TV minis­eries. “She used to tell tales of Kunta Kinte, the African, as she told it. All our early boy­hood, we had heard about this place called Napo­lis.”

Two days later, the plaque was gone, pried out of the side­walk and taken away ei­ther by pranksters, who thought steal­ing the much-pub­li­cized tablet would make for a good joke, or by the Ku Klux Klan. A call­ing card left be­hind, pre­sum­ably by the van­dals, taunted, “You have been pa­tron­ized by the KKK.” Klan rep­re­sen­ta­tives from both Mary­land and An­napo­lis de­nied any in­volve­ment with the crime.

The ac­tion in­fu­ri­ated those who had pushed for the plaque to be erected in An­napo­lis. Who­ever did it should be “given the same kind of pun­ish­ment they had in Kunta Kinte’s day,” An­napo­lis Mayor Richard L. Hill­man was quoted as say­ing in The Sun of Sept. 24, 1981.

A sec­ond plaque was un­veiled on Nov. 22, 1981, weigh­ing 1,500 pounds — 1,425 pounds more than the orig­i­nal, set into a con­crete and gran­ite foun­da­tion and bolted to the ground. The re­place­ment plaque re­mains, part of a larger in­stal­la­tion mark­ing the spot where Kunta Kinte ar­rived in An­napo­lis in 1767, 250 years ago.

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