A year ago, millions of Americans saw the enslaved Kunta Kinte landing at Annapolis in the television drama that helped make Alex Haley's "Roots" a phenomenal success.
Today, the depicted 211-year-old incident represents another kind of property in Annapolis - namely, a hot potato.
The city fathers wouldn't mind if people forgot that Annapolis provided entry to the slave ancestors of countless black Americans, including Haley. But several black Annapolis residents, with the backing of some white leaders, are determined not to let the world forget.
They want to erect a Kunta Kinte plaque on the historic City Dock to symbolize the upward struggle of minorities who arrived in America under oppression.
"Kunta Kinte and all men and women regardless of race, who entered this port in bondage and gave strength, character and dignity to Maryland," reads one of the proposed wordings.
The idea for a plaque got a cool reception from the city's mayor, John C. Aspostol, when it was proposed in December. He objected that Kinte was not a Marylander (he was bought by a Virginia plantation owner) and that the plaque should not single out any individual.
Apostol devised a strategy that led to recent inconclusive action by the city council endorsing the "concept" of a plaque without approving the plaque itself.
The council, with Apostol presiding, shunted the proposal to a special commission for a recommendation, with specific approval from the council required before the tablet can be put up.
"You have made a tragic mistake," black activist Carl Snowden told the council after it voted, 5-4, to withhold approval of the plaque.
Afterward, Snowden said that the council action reflected American reluctance to "face the dichotomy in its history."
"The fight against oppression is memorialized conspicuously in things like the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument," he said. "But there is no memorial in the country to victims of oppression."
Mayor Apostol says that he is deluged with requests to allow markers, particularly in the restored dock area that draws thousands of visitors weekly. His solution is to put up three flagpoles with banners to commemorate many events in Annapolis history, including Kinte's arrival.
Apostol hastily recruited the design and review commission after the Kinte plaque was proposed. He defends the action as being consistent with the system used to guard against nonconforming or inappropriate uses when the City Dock was being restored.
But Snowden argues that his group can't begin to raise the estimated $4,600 for the two-by-three-foot bronze tablet until the council definitely gives its approval.
Snowden himself has come in for criticism from other black leaders who feel that his chances of success would improve if his committee were more representative of the community as a whole. Former Alderman T. Norwood Brown said he urged Snowden to "broaden the base" for the Kunta Kinte memorial.