The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Alex Haley

Alex Haley

Alexander Palmer Haley (August 11, 1921 - February 10, 1992) was an African American writer who was the Chief Journalist for the United States Coast Guard before retiring to become a senior editor for Reader's Digest. He wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965 and is probably best known for his book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, a fictionalized account of his family's history, starting with the story of Kunta Kinte, kidnapped in Gambia in 1767 to be sold as a slave in the United States. Roots won the Pulitzer Prize and went on to become a popular television miniseries.

In the late 1980s, Haley began working on a second historical novel based on another branch of his family, traced through his grandmother Queen - the daughter of a black slave woman and her white master. Haley died before he could complete the story; at his request, it was finished by David Stevens and was published as Alex Haley's Queen. It was subsequently made into a movie in 1993.

Born in Ithaca, New York, Haley grew up in the Southern U.S. and served in the Coast Guard from 1939 to 1959, starting as a mess attendant, 3rd class; during this time he started writing short stories and articles. He researched Roots for 12 years; the Roots TV series adaptation aired in 1977. The same year, Haley won a Pulitzer Prize for the book and the Spingarn Medal as well.

Haley's fame was marred by plagiarism charges, and after a trial, he was permitted to settle out-of-court for $650,000, having admitted that he copied large passages of Roots from The African by Harold Courlander . In 1988 Margaret Walker also sued him, claiming Roots violated the copyright for her novel Jubilee . The case was dismissed by the court.

The book and film were both successful, evidently striking a chord in the American psyche and reaching record-breaking 130 million viewers when it was serialized on television. Roots emphasized that African Americans also have a long history and that not all of that history is lost, as many believed. Its popularity sparked an increased public interest in genealogy, as well.

In 1999, the U.S. Coast Guard honored Haley by naming the cutter Alex Haley after him.


  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
  • Roots (1976)
  • A Different Kind of Christmas (1988)
  • Alex Haley's Queen: The Story of an American Family (1993) (completed by David Stevens after Haley's death)
  • Mama Flora's Family (1998) (completed by David Stevens after Haley's death)

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Alex Haley
  • Biography
  • The Kunta Kinte - Alex Haley Foundation
  • Coast Guard cutter named after Alex Haley
  • Roots tribute page

Last updated: 02-05-2005 14:50:49
Last updated: 05-02-2005 19:44:31