I just re-watched this historic production after 26 years, and was again amazed at the enduring power and quality of the story. I can remember not only watching in 1977 with my family, but then seeing it again days later in 8th grade social studies class. It was a major cultural event. It's a nostalgic kick to see so many of the familiar TV stars of the 70's (white and black) assembled for this important work, from Ralph Waite, Lorne Greene, and Robert ("Mike Brady") Reed to John Amos, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, and George Stanford Brown - even a young Todd Bridges!
Aside from personal nostalgia, what impresses me upon a more mature viewing is the unflinching attention to all the sordid details of slavery, things I didn't really understand at the time: the horror of the Middle Passage, that cold pragmatic debate of "tight pack" versus "loose pack", the complicity of some Africans in the slave trade, the near-ubiquitous violation of black women by their owners (Hailey's first white ancestor appears as early as the 2nd generation), references to Abolitionists, the Nat Turner rebellion, the origins of the Klan as defeated southern whites sought to circumvent the new equality - it's all here. This is nothing less than a primer on the tragedy that was American slavery. It still educates as it entertains, just as it was intended to do.