Chapter 118 Summary
Switching to first person, Alex Haley describes growing up as the favorite of Grandpa Will Palmer, Alex being the son Will never had. Bertha stays in Henning with Alex while Simon stays at Cornell to finish his degree. Alex spends his first years exploring the nooks and crannies of the W. E. Palmer Lumber Company, having fun and imaginary adventures, and following his grandpa everywhere. Little Alex is devastated when Will Palmer dies. Simon Haley comes home from Cornell to take over the lumber business.
Alex becomes very close with Grandma Cynthia. The summers are spent on the front porch listening to stories from visiting family members such as Aunt Plus, Aunt Liz, Aunt Till, Aunt Viney, and Cousin Georgia. Many center upon Kunta Kinte, stolen away from Africa on a slave ship, given the name “Toby,” and who tried to run away so many times that white men cut off part of his foot.
Little Alex is confused as to why white men would ever do such horrible things. The elderly ladies continue the story down from Kizzy to little Alex Haley himself. Alex looks in amazement upon Grandma Cythia and realizes that, as a little girl, she was on that wagon train to freedom with her mom and dad (Tom and Irene). Alex Haley credits these stories on the front porch as being the original inspiration for discovering his lineage.
Eventually, Simon Haley sells the lumber company to become a professor of agriculture at A&M College, as they add a couple more sons to the family. Bertha dies fairly young, and Simon marries again just as Alex Haley enlists in the Coast Guard as a messboy in World War II. On the ship for days, Alex Haley begins to treasure his little typewriter as he learns to write at an expert level. Even though it takes eight years for his first story to be purchased, Alex Haley eventually earns the title of “journalist” in the Coast Guard.
After writing The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley sees the Rosetta Stone in his travels and has a revelation: just as the Rosetta Stone unlocked the mystery of language, maybe he can unlock the mystery of his lineage. Alex Haley now begins a new project with few specific historical details: the African name “Kinte” and the sound “ko” for a musical instrument and the words “Kamby Bologo” that indicate a river.