This Day in Black History: Celebrating the life of college dropout-turned legendary ‘Roots’ author Alex Haley

Black History Month

Author Alex Haley


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HOUSTON — Feb. 10, 1992 is a day we lost a legend when “Roots” author Alex Haley died, leaving a legacy of works that has inspired generations.

Alexander Murray Palmer Haley was born on Aug. 11, 1921 in Ithaca, New York.

Haley lived with his family in Henning, Tennessee, but returned to Ithaca at the age of 5. In 1936, at the age of 15, Haley graduated from high school and attended Alcorn A&M College in Lorman, Mississippi. In 1937, Haley transferred to Elizabeth City State Teachers College in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.  Shortly after, Haley decided to drop out of college.

In 1939, Haley joined the United States Coast Guard. During this time, Haley bought a portable typewriter and typed love letters for his Coast Guard friends, wrote short stories and articles and sent them to magazines. After World War II, Haley requested the Coast Guard to allow him to transfer into the field of journalism. Haley retired from the U.S. Coast Guard in 1959.

In 1962, Haley conducted the first interview for Playboy magazine with Jazz musician Miles Davis. This interview paved the way for him to interview other great and influential men in the 1960s, including Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., Quincy Jones and Malcolm X.

In 1965, Haley published his first book, The Autobiography of Malcom X. A year later, he received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. TIME magazine ranked that book one of the 10 most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.

In 1976, Haley published his next famous book, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. In 1977, Roots became a television miniseries on ABC network– reaching over 130 million viewers. In the same year, Haley was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP for his work with Roots. In 1979, ABC aired the sequel miniseries, Roots: The Next Generations — continuing the story of Kunta Kinte’s descendants.

Before his death, Haley trusted Australian writer and director David Stevens to complete his next big project. In 1993, Alex Haley’s Queen television miniseries aired on CBS.

On Feb. 10, 1992, Haley died of a heart attack at the age of 70 in Seattle, Washington.

Twenty-six years later, Haley is still relevant in today’s journalism industry. His creative work and talent continues to be one-of-kind and appreciated.

Haley shows that with determination…and a brilliant mind…you can do anything. We #Salute him on this day.


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