Being one of the first members of your race to appear regularly on national television is pressure enough. Imagine carrying that burden at the age of 17. That's what Leslie Uggams had to bear when she joined the cast of Sing Along With Mitch in 1961.
"Because of that time period, when I was growing up, I represented the whole 'Negro' race — we were 'Negroes' back then — so I had to be careful what I did," Leslie Uggams told The Root's editor-in-chief, Henry Louis Gates Jr., in a revealing interview that took place just before the 35th anniversary of the groundbreaking miniseries Roots, in which she starred.
The milestones of her career in the spotlight are numerous: performing as a child at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the stint in Sing Along With Mitch from 1961 to 1963; starring in her own prime-time variety show, The Leslie Uggams Show, in 1969; winning a Tony Award in 1968 for Hallelujah, Baby; her 1977 role as Kizzy Kinte in Roots; and playing the lead role of Lillian Rogers Parks in the 1979 miniseries Backstairs at the White House.
In a candid discussion with Gates, she discussed it all and even touched on the opposition she faced to her 1965 marriage to Grahame Pratt, a white Australian who remains by her side 47 years later. If you ask her about the way our country confronts race today — and if a show like Roots would even get made in the current climate — the answers might surprise you. Check them out in the video below.