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Museum - Historical Articles

Posted on: February 4, 2022

The Generations of LeVar Burton


Every week in the month of February, the Spotsylvania County Museum is featuring notable historical figures who are from or have impacted Spotsylvania County to honor Black History Month.  

LeVar Burton’s work in entertainment has now resonated with multiple generations: from his breakthrough role as Kunte Kinte on ABC’s Roots miniseries in 1977, to Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987, to hosting PBS’s acclaimed Reading Rainbow for more than 20 years- his legacy is not only marked by his acting roles, but his dedication to promoting education for all people.


2011019576-1Alex Haley (left) and LeVar Burton (Right) visiting Spotsylvania County
November 10, 1977
Artifact: 2011.019.576

Burton was just 19 years old when he prepared for his first ever audition and was cast for the role of Kunte Kinte, an experience that would change the course of his life forever. The show reeled in over 140 million watchers over the span of the 8 days it aired on ABC. Further than viewership, the societal impact Roots had in America was unmatched to any television show or movie prior- it was the considered to be the first time the story of slavery and early American history was told from the point of view of the enslaved. 

levarLeVar Burton at the Olde Mudd Tavern 
November 10, 1977 
Artifact: 2011.019.589

Spotsylvania County was fortunate enough to host LeVar Burton amidst his newfound fame at a  Roots cast dinner in 1977 at the Olde Mudd Tavern.  He was joined by Roots author Alex Haley during the filming of “Roots: A Second Look” where Haley visited the grave of his ancestor Kunte Kinte at the Waller Family Plantation and met with county supervisors. 

Reading RainbowSource: IMDB

Roots opened many doors for Burton, who realized how much value there is in meaningful, educational entertainment. When he was 26 years old, Burton became the host and executive producer of PBS’s Reading Rainbow in 1983, an occupation he would have for the next 23 years until 2006. Reading Rainbow encouraged literacy and the joy of story telling for children of all ages and from all different backgrounds. Over the course of his career, the show won 12 Daytime-Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award. Amidst all his success, Burton claims that his inspiration, drive, and love of reading were because of his mother, Erma Gene Burton, an English teacher who taught LeVar that books and stories were the paramount of life. 

levar burton momLeVar Burton with his mother, Erma Gene Burton
Source: @LeVarBurton on Twitter

No matter your age, it is likely that LeVar Burton has been a part of your life in some role or another. His larger than life charisma and intellect have made him a cultural icon that we can lean on for knowledge, entertainment, comfort, and joy. Seeing his global impact for nearly the last 50 years brings no doubt that his influence and light will continue through generations that follow. 


“In a society that functions optimally, those who can should naturally want to provide for those who can't. That's how it's designed to work. I truly believe we're here to take care of one another.” - LeVar Burton

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