Susan Batten, Michael Wilson Show Their Roots

"Showing Roots"

"Showing Roots"


 Susan Batten remembers when the landmark miniseries “Roots” was broadcast in her North Carolina hometown of Clayton in January 1977.

“It was a small Southern town with a population of about 2,500 and had three traffic lights,” says the Ridgefield resident of more than 20 years. “Everything in town came to a stop as we watched the series. After ‘Roots,’ it changed how everyone looked at the folks on the other side of the railroad tracks, where whites lived on one side and blacks on the other and we didn’t intermingle at all.”

The collective national television experience that broke all ratings records changed life in Clayton and elsewhere around the country in big and especially in small ways, she says.

“I remember seeing the hairdos in my town change,” Batten says. “The black women in town wore what we called ‘church lady’ wigs, which looked just like white church lady wigs, except they were on black women. But after a few nights of ‘Roots,’ I started noticing the wigs were gone and the black women began embracing the braids and natural African hairstyles. I thought this as not only changing how I saw the people on the other side of the railroad tracks, but how they saw themselves, too, as they're seeing their history unfold.”

But a beauty parlor decision?

“It takes a lot of courage to change your hair,” Batten says.

That detail stayed with Batten, who has written a screenplay based on her hometown experience. “Showing Roots,” a story about two young women — one white and one black — who join forces in a beauty parlor after the broadcast of “Roots,” will have its television premiere on Lifetime on Thursday, May 26, 2016 at 10 p.m.