Alumnae: Alumnae Stories

Alumnae Stories

Erica Tazel, C'97, Stars in "Roots"

June 2016

Spelman Alumna Erica Tazel Appears in RootsWhen the 2016 remake of "Roots," the mini-series based on Alex Haley’s 1977 slave narrative, premiered on the History Channel on Memorial Day, Spelman alumna Erica Tazel, C'97, was front and center as Matilda, the modest, intelligent and religious daughter of a preacher.

Tazel's character is enamored by the wit and charm of Chicken George, the grandson of Kunta Kinte and the great-great-grandfather of Alex Haley. Considered the only woman who can tame the colorful and fun-loving Chicken George, Matilda later marries him and gives birth to his eight children.

On day three and four of the mini-series, viewers watched as Matilda almost single-handedly raised her children, mostly boys, and served a testament to the strength of Black mothers who must endure hardship and inhumanity in order to keep their families together and alive.

Spelman Alumna Erica Tazel Appears in Roots

When an Acting Role Becomes a Tribute

In the Essence article, "The Dynamic Power of Matriarchy in the Black Community," Tazel said, "In many ways Matilda is the ancestral throwback of the single mother who has to keep the kids educated and formed for example if the father gets incarcerated, or if he dies or if he is killed by gun violence. There is some version of that that could have happened in that time, whether he was sold, hung, or in our case, sent to another country and I wanted to pay homage to that.”
Read the full Essence article here.

From the Science Lab to the Silver Screen

Best known for her role of Deputy U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks in the FX television series Justified (2010–2015), Tazel holds a bachelor of arts from Spelman College and a master of fine arts from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

In an interview on, Tazel shared how she transitioned from a pre-med student to an actress, how she avoids typecasting, her worst audition experience, and the best piece of acting advice she was ever given. Listen Now.

Tazel made her professional acting debut at the New York Shakespeare Festival’s A Winter’s Tale (2000); and further roles include at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Cymbeline, and an off-Broadway appearance in Playwrights Horizons' Juvenilia. Tazel was nominated for the L.A. Drama Critic's Circle award for Lead Performance, for her work in I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given To Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda (role of Juliette, 2007), and received the NAACP Theatre Award for Best Lead Female (2007) for that same role.

Tazel's television debut was as a dance teacher on an episode of Sex and the City (2001). Prior to her supporting role in Justified, she was a guest lead on Without A Trace, had recurring roles on Jericho and Third Watch, and guest roles on programs including The Office, ER, Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU, Life, Heartland, Bones and Firefly.

Read the Vanity Fair article, "Justified’s Erica Tazel on Being a Woman of Color in a Cowboy World." Watch the official "Roots" Trailer.