Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 78 Summary

Alex Haley

Chapter 78 Summary

Most of the slaves who participated in the Richmond uprising, even Prosser, have been imprisoned. The plantation owners are feeling a lot better now that Thomas Jefferson is president.

All the slaves on the Waller plantation are surprised to hear the stories about how much Jefferson’s slaves adore their master. Fiddler declares that it’s only because he’s mixing his blood with all the young black womenfolk like Sally Hemings. The slaves aren’t quite sure how they feel about Jefferson. They talk about how he believes white people and black people are just too different to be able to live together.  Jefferson also feels they should be shipped, gradually, back to Africa.

Here the conversation changes. Kunta knows the slaves never would be shipped back to Africa because of the high price they fetch in the deep South for plantation owners to work their cotton gins. They talk about how slave traders are constantly angling masters to sell their slaves. Fiddler even talks about an elderly slave sold at auction yelling about final judgment on the whites. Bell is shocked to learn that this is the preacher who baptized Kizzy. All of these things scare the slaves so much that Cato approaches Fiddler and Kunta about talking a bit less of the horrible stories they hear.

Much to Kunta’s chagrin, Master Waller asks Kunta to stop at a slave auction during one trip to the county seat. An old cook is sold as well as a young field hand and a pregnant woman. Even a young woman who looks very much like Kizzy is stripped naked before she is sold. Master Waller quickly orders Kunta to drive away.

Back at the plantation, the slaves are beside themselves because a slave trader visited that very day looking for William Waller. Learning that William is not home, he forces Bell to take the slave trader card and orders her to give it to her master. Bell doesn’t feel like she could follow through with the request, so she throws the card on William Waller’s desk and waits for the worst. The slaves try to reassure themselves that William Waller has a strong financial mind and, therefore, is not in debt. They should have nothing to worry about as long as they keep following the rules. Despite Bell’s insistence of how “good” a master William Waller is, no one feels very confident that they won’t be sold.