About the Alex Haley Collection

 

The Special Collections Department of the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center (AARLCC) is home to a portion of the Alex Haley Paper Collection. The Collection was acquired in September 2001 by then library director Samuel Morrison.

Mr. Morrison was in Los Angeles, California acquiring collections for AARLCC through the Heritage Book Shop, Inc., when he was offered a portion of Alex Haley’s materials in addition to what he was purchasing. The Collection itself had been acquired by the Heritage Book Shop at an auction of Mr. Haley’s estate.

To get a full grasp of the Collection, it is important to know about Mr. Haley’s life and work, because they are reflections of each other. Alex Murray Palmer Haley was born on August 11, 1921 in Ithaca, New York. He was later sent to live with his maternal grandmother in Henning, Tennessee.

Haley entered the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939, and was in active service for 20 years. This is where he started writing. Haley was the first member of the Coast Guard with a journalist designation, and in 1999, a Coast Guard Cutter was named after him. His motto, “Find the good and praise it” is on the Cutter’s emblem.

After his time in the service, Haley became a journalist and wrote for Playboy Magazine in 1962, where he interviewed notable figures such as Cassius Clay ( Muhammad Ali), Martin Luther King Jr., Miles Davis, and Nazi American Party head George Lincoln Rockwell. His interview of Malcolm X was followed by the book The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965.

While growing up in Tennessee, Haley’s childhood was filled with stories of his African ancestor, Kunta Kinte, how Kunta Kinte came to the United States, and the tale of his descendants up to Alex himself. It was from these oral memories that Alex Haley decided to track down his ancestors and research his roots all the way back to West Africa. Haley succeeded and located the origin of his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, in the village of Juffure in Gambia.

The chronicles of his years of research and the tale of his family makes up the internationally famous book ROOTS, completed in 1976, which he is best known for. It is about Haley’s ancestors coming from Africa to North America as slaves, and their descendants. The success of ROOTS generated a greater awareness for this dark period in United States history, as well as increasing interest in genealogy research by the Nation, especially among African Americans wanting to discover their African roots. Haley gained international success, won a Pulitzer Prize, and the book was printed in countless languages and sold around the world. The book was also made into a television mini-series.

Haley continued writing after ROOTS. He wrote articles; worked on manuscripts such as Queen, about his paternal ancestors; and wrote A Different Kind of Christmas; about the Underground Railroad. Haley was also a great and in-demand speaker. He toured around the country and internationally speaking at conferences, graduation ceremonies, family reunions, lectures, political events, etc. Alex Haley passed away in 1992 in Seattle while on a lecture tour.

The Alex Haley Collection consists of various materials such as eight typed unfinished manuscripts, including drafts and handwritten notes. It also includes large amounts of correspondence between Haley and aspiring writers such as Tom Feelings, students of all ages, friends, peers such as Danielle Steele, politicians, noted celebrities such as Quincy Jones, Johnny Carson and Phyllis Diller. There are several engagement contracts for commencement ceremonies, conferences and television show appearances, including the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Countless fan mail from around the world, including get well cards when Haley was hospitalized and invitations to family participate in family reunions are included. There are copies of magazine articles interviewing Haley, personal ephemera, and various photographs of Haley with celebrities such as Stevie Wonder and the ensemble cast of ROOTS.

Click here to browse the collection online.