He lied about all of it. There was no Kunta Kinte. The whole thing was fiction which was designed to make America look as guilty and as horrible as possible - partially, I suspect, because Haley knew that a guilty and horrible America would sell.
After publication, the fraud was proven from three separate directions:
1. The author of "The African" settled a lawsuit with Haley before the verdict was rendered. Court testimony clearly showed that Haley plagiarized and rewrote large sections of "The African" inside the text of "Roots". The judge, who did not want to see such a public icon and hero destroyed, strongly urged Haley to settle the lawsuit before a verdict was rendered.
2. Genealogical researchers discovered Haley's fraud.
3. After Haley's death, a researcher going through Haley's papers discovered the fraud.
The truth of Haley's fraud got out from these persons to a media which uniformly minimized and played down Haley's fraud.
Jack Cashill examines the details. Excerpt:
"There was no Kunta Kinte," says Nobile bluntly.
Nobile and an African-American coauthor put a book proposal together on the subject [of Haley's deception], but as Nobile ruefully admits, "Nobody wanted to touch it." A Lexis search shows shockingly little follow-up by the media, major or minor.
The New York Times buried the issue in a page 18 "Book Notes" column. There, in discussing whether Haley's new book, Alex Haley's Queen, should be shelved under fiction or nonfiction, the Times had exactly this to say about the controversy: "Two weeks ago, the charges about the authenticity of Roots and the integrity of Mr. Haley were raised anew in an investigative article by Philip Nobile in The Village Voice. Members of the Haley family have rebutted the accusations." And that was that.
Not surprisingly, the Pulitzer people did not ask for their award back, and the book and video have remained a staple in history classes across America. Nobile blames Roots's seeming immunity on his progressive colleagues. "They were all too scared, or dishonest," he writes, "to admit to the public that the most famous black writer had lied about his ancestry."
Sometimes, it seems our nation is so insulated from truth, is so inundated with fantasy, that I simply have no idea how our culture coheres and thrives.