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*Alex Haley was born on this date in 1921. He was a Black author and journalist whose books helped popularize the study of Black history and genealogy.
Born in Ithaca, New York, Haley was educated at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College and Elizabeth City Teachers College. He served in the United States Coast Guard, where he worked as a journalist. After retiring, Haley moved to New York City to pursue a writing career. As a journalist, Haley was impacted. In 1962 he interviewed trumpeter Miles Davis for Playboy magazine. Soon after, he interviewed Malcolm X, with whom he later collaborated to write The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965. The book had a strong influence on Black nationalists. It also received praise from critics and was widely read in colleges and universities.
Haley then began to research and write his best-known work, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The book, a mixture of fact and fiction, chronicles Haley's ancestral history and the methods he used to trace his lineage to a West African village. To write the work, Haley invented certain unknown details of his family history. The series of character portraits that he created caused many Americans to become interested in genealogy. Haley received special citations from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award committees for Roots.
Roots was translated into 26 languages and made into a television miniseries in 1977. An estimated 130 million Americans viewed at least one episode of the eight-part series. Alex Haley died in 1992.
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York