Murray Palmer Haley was born on August 11, 1921 in Ithaca,
New York. He was the oldest child of Simon Alexander and
Bertha Palmer Haley. At the time of his birth, his father
was a graduate student at Cornell University and his mother
was a music teacher.
As a young boy, Alex Haley first learned of his African
ancestor, Kunta Kinte, by listening to the family stories
of his maternal grandparants while spending his summers
in Henning, Tennessee. According to family history, Kunta
Kinte landed with other Gambian Africans in "Naplis"
(Annapolis, Maryland) where he was sold
Alex Haley's quest to learn more about his family history
resulted in his writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning book
book has been published in 37 languages, and was made into
the first week-long television mini-series, viewed by an
estimated 130 million people. Roots also generated
widespread interest in genealogy.
Haley's writing career began after he entered the U.S. Coast
Guard in 1939. Haley was the first member of the U.S. Coast
Guard with a Journalist designation (rating). In 1999 the
U.S. Coast Guard honored Haley by naming a Coast Guard Cutter
after him. Haley's personal motto, "Find the Good and
Praise It," appears on the ship's emblem. He retired
from the military after 20 years of service, and then continued
Out of the service, he tried his hand at journalism in the
private sector. His first successful article was an interview
that appreared in Playboy Magazine in 1962. Haley wrote
many well received playboy interviews. He next worked on
The Autobiography of
Malcolm X. Published in 1965, it became Haley's
first major book.
It was about this time his thoughts then turned back to
the family story of the African slave that he heard as a
child. His work on the story, which he knew he had to write,
became a primary focus of his writing efforts. He details
his many years of research in the last chapter of Roots.
First referred to as Before This Anger, it was
eventually published in abbreviated form in 1974 by the
Reader's Digest. The completed version of Roots
was placed on bookshelves in 1976. The award winning book
and 1977 television mini-series introduced Kunta Kinte to
Other Haley publications include A Different Kind of
Christmas, a 1990 book about the underground railroad,
the story of Haley's paternal ancestors. Queen
was produced into a television mini-series, which first
aired in the winter of 1993.
Perhaps one of Alex Haley's greatest gifts was in speaking.
He was a fascinating teller of tales. In great demand as
a lecturer, both nationally and internationally, he was
on a lecture tour in Seattle, Washington in
February 1992 when he suffered a heart attack and died.
his passing, he has left a legacy of international stature.
Kunta Kinte has become a cultural icon world wide. And,
Roots initiated such a widespread interest in genealogy
research that Haley is considered to be the father of popular