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Mama Floras Family

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Mama Floras Family movie poster
Writer  Alex Haley (book), Carol Schreder, David Stevens

Mama Floras Family is a 1997 historical fiction novel by Alex Haley and David Stevens. The story spans from the 1920s to the 1990s as it follows Flora, a daughter of poor black Mississippi sharecroppers, and her descendants. Haley died before completing the novel, with Stevens finishing the story line.


In 1998 the book was adapted into a made for TV miniseries of the same name.

Based on Alex Haley's novel about a black matriarch in the early 20th century, this dramatic miniseries spotlights the struggle for social change. Cicely Tyson stars as Mama Flora, a woman determined to free her children from the bonds of prejudice.


The young Flora meets the wealthy Lincoln Flemming at a dance one night. Lincoln wants her to come care for his elderly grandmother Nana at his home, to which she agrees. Eventually Flora becomes sexually involved with Lincoln and believes the two of them to be romantically involved. After experiencing him shun and shame her in front of his rich contemporaries, Flora begins to feel used and refuses to sleep with him anymore. This prompts her to become evicted from the house. Flora later discovers that she was pregnant with Lincolns child, which prompts his wealthy family to bribe her into leaving Mississippi to avoid scandal. Flora takes the offer, planning to go to Memphis, Tennessee. She gives birth to a boy and names him Luke, but is forced to give to the baby to the Flemmings to raise.

Flora then travels by train to the city, but is instead directed by a fellow passenger to go to the small town of Stockton under the advice that a young woman such as her should not go into the city alone. Once there, she gains employment and shelter through the Reverend Jackson.

While living in Stockton Flora meets and falls in love with Booker Palmer. The two marry, have a son named Willie, and Booker becomes a sharecropper soon after they marry. Booker experiences financial difficulties, which force him to steal cotton from other farmers. During one of his nightly runs, he is shot and killed. Flora later buries Booker, but only after remaining with his body all night. Shortly thereafter Flora receives news that her sister Jossie was ill and dying. Flora travels to her sister and ends up taking her niece Ruthana back with her to raise as her own daughter. Throughout the 1930s Flora raises both Willy and Ruthana in Stockton, but when Willie gets into a fight with some white boys hes forced to escape to Chicago where Ruthanas father lives. Once there, Willy stays with Georgy, who shows him the area and finds Willy a job. One night Willy ends up gambling and smoking marijuana, which causes him to lose his home. Willy moves into a basement with his friend Josh, who was later arrested for dealing drugs. During all of this time Willy continues to write his mother, cousin, and his girlfriend Ernestine, but lies and tells them that everything was fine. Later at the outbreak of World War II, Willy joins the army and upon his return he proposes to his girlfriend. The two marry, move to Chicago, and have three children.

During the same time period Ruthana manages to gain a scholarship to Fisk University due to her good grades in school. While Ruthana is away in college, Flora returns to Mississippi to find her son Luke. She returns to the Flemming Mansion and gains her sons address from the mansions cook. Flora writes to Luke, who comes to find her. She discovers that Luke has graduated from law school and was joining the army. Luke and Flora remain in touch. Upon his return from the war he opens a practice in Harlem.

After Ruthana graduates she takes a job as a social worker in Harlem, only to discover that Ernestine was very sick. The doctors were unable to discover what was wrong with her, and she later has a heart attack in her sleep. Ruthana helps her cousin Willy raise the children.


Critical reception for the book was mixed, with Kirkus Reviews calling the book "an affecting if superficial take on recent racial history". Publishers Weekly mostly panned Mama Floras Family, stating that the book lost "the human touch that animates the novels first half".


In November 1998 a two part miniseries adaptation of Mama Floras Family aired on CBS. The miniseries starred Cicely Tyson as Flora Palmer, making it her second time performing in an adaptation of Haleys work.

Critical reception for the miniseries was mixed, with some reviewers comparing it unfavorably to Haleys Roots miniseries. Tyson won an Image Award in 1999 for her role as Mama Flora.


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