excerpted from http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ahaley.htm.
American biographer, scriptwriter, author who became famous with the publication of the novel ROOTS. In it Haley traced his ancestry back to Africa and covered seven American generations, starting from his ancestor, Kunta Kinte. The book was adapted to television series, and woke up an interest in genealogy, particularly among African-Americans. Haley himself commented that the book was not so much history as a study of mythmaking: "What Roots gets at in whatever form, is that it touches the pulse of how alike we human beings are when you get down to the bottom, beneath these man-imposed differences."
He said that three groups of people lived in every village. First were those
you could see - walking around, eating, sleeping, and working. Second were the
ancestors, whom Grandma Yaisa had now joined.
"And the third people - who are they?" asked Kunta.
"The third people," said Omoro, "are those waiting to be born."
Alex Haley was born in Ithaca, New York, as the son of Simon Alexander Haley and the former Bertha George Palmer. Haley's father was a teacher of agriculture - he taught at several Southern colleges. In 1921 the family moved to the small town of Henning, Tennessee. Alex lived there for five years. His grandfather owned the local lumber company and when he died, Haley's father took over the business. Alex's mother taught in the local elementary school. She died when Alex was 10 and his father remarried two years later. In Henning Alex heard stories from his maternal grandmother, Cynthia Palmer, who traced the family genealogy to Haley's great-great-great-great-grandfather, who was an African, called "Kin-tay". He was brought by slave-ship to America and named Toby.
Haley did not excel at school or university. From 1937 to 1939 he studied at Elizabeth City Teachers College in North Carolina. During WW II Haley enlisted in the Coast Guard as a messboy. In 1941 he married Nannie Branch. The marriage ended in divorce in 1964, and in the same year Haley married Juliette Collins. They in divorced in 1972. Haley's third wife was the former Myra Lewis of Los Angeles. "I'm just not a stationary husband," Haley once said.
Haley started to write adventure stories to stave off the boredom, and getting a new rating - Chief Journalist. For his fellow sailors he composed love letters, which they sent to their girlfriends and wives. His other writings Haley submitted for magazines for eight years and received countless rejection slips, before his first text was published. However, during these frustrating years he learned the basics of his craft. After twenty years of service, Haley left the Coast Guard in 1959 to become a full-time writer. After 30 years of service he was entitled to a pension. He wrote for Reader's Digest biographical features, interviewed Miles Davis for Playboy, and produced THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X, his first major work. It appeared in 1965 and had an immense effect on the black power movement in the United States. Haley worked with the spokesman for the Nation of Islam (Black Muslim) movement, Malcolm X (Malcolm Little, 1925-1965), for nearly two years, one year writing the text. From their conversations he created the story of Malcolm X, told in his own words. The book sold more than six million copies by 1977 in the United States and other countries.
Haley: What motives do you impute to Playboy for providing you with this opportunity
for the free discussion of your views?
Malcolm X: I think you want to sell magazines. I've never seen a sincere white man, not when it comes to helping black people. Usually things like this are done by white people to benefit themselves. The white man's primary interest is not to elevate the thinking of black people, or to waken black people, or white people either. The white man is interested in the black man only to the extent that the black man is of use to him. The white man's interest is to make money, to exploit. (from Malcom X's interview by Alex Haley, Playboy, May 1963)
The autobiography depicts Malcolm X's experiences of racism in small towns, racial violence, criminal life, and his imprisonment. "When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Surrounding the house, brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out. My mother went to the front door and opened it. Standing where they could see her pregnant condition, she told them that she was alone with her three small children, and that my father was away, preaching in Milwaukee." Malcolm's belief that he would not live to see the book proved correct: he was shot to death shortly before it went to press. For his readers his descriptions of the basic beliefs and code of ethics of the Nation of Islam, as expounded by Elijah Muhammad, opened an unknown world. Black Muslims viewed white people as a satanic force, but Malcolm X believed that orthodox Islam contained universal principles of brotherhood, which rejected race as a form of identity. "At the time of its publication, the autobiography thus became something more than an exposé of the American Black Nationalist movement: It was a personal witnessing by a black militant of the tenets of universal faith to which he, at least, attributed the potential to resolve the increasingly divisive struggle for civil rights all over the world. Possibly because his autobiography ended with a disavowal of the Black Power movement that was then gaining momentum, both the Nation of Islam and in more radical violence-oriented groups such as the Black Panthers, he fell to assassins' bullets fired by rival African Americans." (from Chronology of Twentieth-Century History: Arts & Culture, volume II, ed. by Frank N. Magill, 1998)
In 1965 Haley stumbled upon the names of his maternal great-grandparents, when he was going through post-Civil War records in National Archives in Washington, D.C. During a trip to the British Museum in London he saw the famous Rosetta Stone, which had unlocked the secret of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. The idea - to decipher a historic unknown by matching it with that was known, started an odyssey that took 11 years and which is now part of literature history. On basis of family tradition and research, Haley travelled by safari to the village of Juffure, to trace his own ancestor and to meet with a native griot, oral historian, who could name Haley's own ancestor Kunta Kinte.
When Roots appeared in 1976 it gained critical and popular success, although the truth and originality of the book faced criticism. James Baldwin considered in his New York Times review, that Roots suggest how each of us are vehicle of the history which have produced us. On the other side - representing a minority opinion - Michael Arled viewed the book and television series as Haley's own fantasies about 'going home.' The story starts from Juffure, a small peaceful village in West Africa in 1750. It ends in Gambia, in the same village, after several generations. Haley depicts realistically his ancestor's life - the villagers suffered occasionally from shortage of food. "But Kunta and the others, being yet little children, paid less attention to the hunger pangs in their bellies than to playing in the mud, wrestling each other and sliding on their naked bottoms. Yet in their longing to see the sun again, they would wave up at the slate-colored sky and shout - as they had seen their parents do - 'Shine, sun, and I will kill you a goat!'" Haley doesn't imagine that it is possible to return to some Paradise. In Juffure, among the villages, he realizes in shock that the color of his skin is much lighter that theirs. Skeptics claimed that the griot, Kebba Kanji Fofana, an old man, was a well-known trickster and told Haley just what he wanted to hear. However, Haley donated money to the village for a new mosque. He had also founded in the early 1970s with his brothers the Kinte Foundation to collection and preservation of African-American genealogy records.
In 1977 Roots won the National Book Award and a special Pulitzer Prize. The book sold in one year more than million copies and became the basis of courses in 500 American colleges and universities. It challenged the view of black history as explored in such works as Stanley M. Elkin's Slavery (1959). Slaves did not give up all their ties to African culture, but humor, songs, words and folk beliefs survived. The book showed that the oppressed never became docile: Kunta Kinte suffered amputation of a foot for his repeated attempts to run away. He valued his heritage so much that he never accepted the ways of his slave masters and insisted on being called by his real name Kinte, not by his slave name Toby.
Roots, the television miniseries, run from January 23 to January 30, 1977, and attracted some 130 million viewers - the largest audience up to then. More people have seen the series than read the book. The idea of miniseries had not been used widely in the United States except on public television. ABC had in the 1975-76 success with Rich Man, Poor Man, which encouraged the network to finance additional miniseries, including Roots. The show was shown on eight consecutive nights, an hour or two each night. During the time it played a heavy heavy blizzard snowed up one third of America. Each episode was complete within itself, ending in positive, hopeful note, exempt the sixth and seventh. - Roots was produced by ABC, written by William Blinn, Ernest Kinoy, James Lee, and M. Charles Cohen, directed by David Greene, John Erman, Marvin J. Chomsky, Gilbert Moses, and starring Ed Asner, Chuck Connors, Carolyn Jones, O.J. Simpson, Ralph Waite, Lou Gossett, Lorne Greene, Robert Reed, LeVar Burton (as Kunta Kinte), Ben Veeren (as Chicken Geroge), Lynda Day George, Vic Morrow, Raymond St Jacques, Sandy Duncan, John Amos, Leslie Uggams, MacDonald Carey, George Hamilton, Ian MacShane, Richard Roundtree, Lloyd Bridges, Doug McClure, Burl Ives. - A second series, Roots: The Next Generations, was shown in 1979. It spanned the period from 1882 to the 1970s. The show run in six 96 minutes episodes.
Among Haley's later literary projects were the history of the town of Henning and a biograph of Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in. In television series Palmerstown, USA (1980) Haley collaborated with producer Norman Lear. The series was based on author's boyhood experiences in Henning. A DIFFERENT KIND OF CHRISTMAS (1988) was a short novella in which a slave esacapes and the son of slaveholding Southern parents slowly realizes that the practice of slavery is wrong. QUEEN (1993), a strong epic novel, examined the roots of his father's side of the family. The book was completed by David Stevens. In 1987 Haley left his home in Beverly Hills, California, and moved to Tennessee, his family's home state. Haley died of heart attack on February 10, 1992, at Swedish Hospital Medical Center in Seattle.
Haley's Playboy interviews with Malcolm X, Johnny Carson, Martin Luther King, Miles Davis, and others, written in the years between 1962 and 1992, have been published in an anthology. MAMA FLORA'S FAMILY (1998), based on Haley's writings and written by David Stevens, is a story of Flora, a black girl born to a sharecropping family in Mississippi. Flora's life is followed from her childhood in the pre-World War I period to the present. The Civil Rights-Black Power paradigm, that caused disagreements in many black families, is one of the central themes of the book.
For further reading: American History, American Television, ed. by John E. O'Connor (1983); Alex Haley's Roots Revisited by Betty Winston Baye in Essense 22 (February, 1992); Alex Haley, ed, by Nathan I. Huggins (1993); 'Alex Haley: Chronicler of Roots', in Great Black Writers by Steven Otfinoski (1994); Alex Haley & Malcolm X's the Autobiography of Malcolm X, ed. by Harold Bloom (1996); Great African Americans in Literature by Pat Rediger, et al. (1999)
* THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X, 1965 (reprinted 1992) - written with Malcolm
X - suom. - film 1992 , dir. by Spike Lee, starring Denzel Washington, Angela
Bassett, Albert Hall - "Despite Washington's powerful performance in the
title role, an overlong and somewhat subdued treatment that seems anxious not
to offend." (from Halliwell's Film & Video Guide, ed. by John Walker,
* ROOTS: The Saga of an American Family, 1976 - tv films in 1977 and 1979 - Juuret
* A DIFFERENT KIND OF CHRISTMAS, 1988
* QUEEN, 1993 (with David Stevens)
* MAMA FLORA'S FAMILY, 1998 ("cowritten" by David Stevens)