"When I watch 'Roots' I can't help but put myself in the place of the slaves and wonder if I could have survived that kind of treatment," said Ronald Brown, 27, who is black and an unemployed landscaper. "Sometimes I just want to climb into the television and help the slaves fight the whites."
"'Roots' makes me angry," Brown added, "but it's a different kind of anger that that I felt when I participated in the 1968 riots. 'Roots' makes me wonder who I am and who my ancestors were."
The week-long television movie of "Roots," the eighth and final episode of which appears tonight, is both an extraordinary American history lesson and a mind trip back to slavery in which the viewers experience vicariously the roles of white masters and black slaves.
They return from their journey with feelings of pride, anger, guilt and for some, indifference. Black and white, they all seem to have the same probing questions about their own origins and links with the past.
Nightly, small groups across the country have met in front of television sets to watch "Roots," and talk with friends afterwards about what they had seen.
In a Northwest Washington home, a black mother gathered her small children around a table after the movie and re-emphasized the main points in each episode. "I want my kids to realize that this is not fiction," she said. "This is something that actually happened to our ancestors."
In a suburban Maryland drugstore, a white customer argued politely over the counter with a white pharmacist last week. They were trying to establish whether whites should feel responsible for the way blacks were treated during slavery.
In an inner-city bar, the television set is clicked off each night soon after the last screen fades from the screen. The black bartender leads a kind of seminar with black customers on slavery and racism.
In one week, a 12-hour-long movie depicting in sometimes startling and horrifying detail the plight of the slave ancestors of author Alex Haley appears to have greatly altered the way millions of Americans - black and white - view their ancestors and their own racial attitutdes.
"It occurred to me as I was watching that, 'Hey, maybe some of my ancestors were on that slave ship'," said Clavin Page, 19, who is black. "I think the movie teaches black folks a history lesson about themselves which we can't find in the history books. It tells us that black slaves were intelligent and could think for themselves."
Helen Ross, a black waitress who lives in Southeast Washington, said she had never fully explored the justification for white supremacy before she began watching "Roots."
"It really upset me to hear a bunch of white people sitting around saying that blacks were too dumb to learn how to read," she said. "The question I kept asking is 'Just what makes the white man think he is superior to us?'
"By the end of the movie, I had a pretty good answer," she said. "White people are just afraid of black people. They know that blacks have good sense, but they don't want us to realize just how smart we are."
Sam Williams, a black employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, like some other blacks said he was not angered by the story of "Roots" because the racial hatred which characterized the era of slavery no longer exists.
"Slavery was all before my time. I never had any trouble (with whites) even though I was born in the South," said Williams. "Coming over here was the best thing that has ever happened to blacks," he continued. "I'd rather be here than in Africa. Even though it was a hard time for our ancestors, it's all behind us.
"It's like stubbing your toe - you go on and it stops hurting," Williams said.
Marie Singleton, a black woman also employed at the Department of Agriculture, said she believes "Roots" can be an important tool for helping whites to understand the attitudes blacks have toward them today.
"I wasn't surprised by the atrocities we saw in 'Roots,'" she said. "I just wish more white people could see that movie. It'll give them a sense of shame and guilt.
"Maybe then they can see why black people are justified in their attitudes," she said.
For many blacks, "Roots" has raised new questions about racial oppression. Some blacks have said that as they watch the series they fell that, in many subtle ways, whites still manipulate black people as easily as they did 200 years ago.
"As I watched the movie, I, was thinking about what's going on today," said William Wilcox, 50, who operates the Ebony Barber Shop at 11th and P Streets NW. "White people may not beat us with a rawhide whip anymore, but they still can make us do whatever they want by applying a little economic pressure.
"All they have to do is jack up the prices, or refuse to give us a job or withhold somebody's welfare check and we're in trouble," Wilcox said.
"'Roots' is trying to tell us black people what whites and their history books have never told us. That is that black folks are rooted in intelligence, not ignorance.And that blacks have always had the ability to think," he added.
"White people can learn a lot from this movie too," Wilcox said. "Most white people only know as much about slavery as their mothers and fathers wanted to tell them and that was very little.
"I'm sure the fact that while masters got young black slave girls pregnant was not a proud part of the family heritage that was passed from generation to generation," he said.
"But 'Roots' is an opportunity for young whites to see it all for themselves, regardless of what they've been told," said Wilcox.
Each night last week Joel D. Hankin, 83 and confined to bed in his Anacostia home, watched and carefully studied the "Roots" episodes. To Hankins, whose parents were slaves in Lamar County, Ala., "Roots" comes close to the stories he heard of his own family's experiences in slavery.
"My daddy told me about how he was whipped once for trying to learn how to read," said Hankins, who for 10 years has been preparing a book about his parent's struggles. "Daddy said he and the master's son was on their way back from selling a load of cotton," he said.
"My daddy saw a small scrap of newspaper on the ground and he got down and picked it up," Hankins said. "He wanted to know what the words were and the young white man taught him the words. After he had learned all the words on that scrap of paper, the master's son started teaching my daddy how to read the Bible.
"But the master finally found out that my daddy was learning to read and he whipped his son and my daddy," said Hankins.
"I've learned not to hate any man," Hankins said. "I hate the doctrines and the system of discrimination. I hate injustice in the courts, but I don't hate the man."
Whites interviewed tended to respond to "Roots" in one of two ways. Either they labor with feelings of guilt or they assume a neutral stance of indifference.
Bob Welch, a retired federal government worker who lives in Arlington and is white, said that although there is little whites can do about the injustices of the past, they should at least feel guilt.
"Our forefathers are the ones that did it, so more or less the responsibility should fall to us to try to give the younger colored people a better chance in life," Welch said.
"There are lot of people who still feel as bad toward the colored today as they did during the Civil War," Welch said. "They want to kill 'em all."
"I remember arriving in Laurel, Miss., in 1942 at the onset of a lynching," he said. "They lynched this colored boy for fooling around with a white girl . . . just as I got off the bus, the big mob was coming down the street. This colored boy never had a chance.
"I was only 18. I'd never seen that kind of stuff before, the hate people could build up over something," Welch said. "You got people that bad right out here today. They'd just as soon shoot one as look at him.
"I think the 'Roots' programs might help," he added. "A lot of people that have this hatred in their minds . . . it'll make them think twice."
Buster Maurer, a white real estate salesman who resides in Rockville, said he does not feel that blacks' problem with slavery was as extreme as it is depicted in "Roots."
"Every nationality has had a problem with slavery. The Jews had their problems in Germany," he said. "I don't feel upset about the whole thing. A lot of people keep thinking we're supposed to feel guilty.
"I can't see it, because we weren't responsible for it," Maurer continued. "I work with a lot of blacks. They realize this was a time period they weren't involved in either. We all talk about it every day."
A 13-year-old white Montgomery County girl, who has watched "Roots" every night, went to her parents toward the end of the first night's program that showed African slaves being shipped across the Atlantic to America.
"Did we do that Mom?" she asked. "Were our ancestors slave owners?" "I told her I doubted it because our ancestors came here in 1620 and have been small farmers ever since," the girl's mother said later.
"I would feel guilty if I thought we did stuff like this," the relieved girl told her mother. "It makes me sick.". "It makes me sick."