Dunbar on Episode 3 of Roots: “I Decided to Live” @ProcessHistory“

Erica Armstrong Dunbar writes:

“She [Kizzy] gives birth to Lea’s son, and her inability to embrace her newborn child demonstrates the deeply complicated feelings surrounding motherhood within slavery. She contemplates both infanticide and suicide after her newborn’s arrival, but remembers her duty to family and the strength of her father. Kizzy will later tell her son, nicknamed Chicken George, that in that moment she made a conscious decision. As she tells him, “I decided to live.”


“Like millions of enslaved women, Kizzy submits to repeated sexual violence in order to keep her owner content. She does this to keep her son safe from angry reprisals, but makes certain that she will never bear another child by her captor: she consumes herbs and roots to prevent pregnancy.

The presence of family, in particular children, kept millions of enslaved women from attempted escape. In an earlier episode, Belle, Kunta Kinte’s wife, reminds her husband of the difficulties of escaping slavery with children in tow. A baby’s crying and need for comfort and food would too easily expose a runaway family. Toddlers’ little legs and feet could not keep up the rapid pace needed for a successful escape. So Kizzy’s son and grandchildren keep her from leaving the Lea farm. When she meets and falls in love with a free Black man, capable of purchasing her freedom, she refuses his offer. Kizzy explains that even if she were free, she would “die every day,” knowing that her family remained enslaved. So she makes the ultimate sacrifice for her family and rejects the possibility of life as a free woman in order to remain with her loved ones. This decision will haunt her, but positions her to help care for her grandchildren in their greatest hour of need: after the sale of her son, Chicken George…”

Read it all: “I Decided to Live”: Roots, Episode 3 – Process

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