Biography of Alex Haley

Alex Murray Palmer Haley was born in Ithaca, New York when his parents were students: his father Simon Haley was obtaining a master's degree in agriculture at Cornell and his mother Bertha Palmer was studying at the Ithaca Conservatory of Music. After Haley's birth, his mother returned to her childhood home of Henning, Tennessee and raised him with the help of her parents Will and Cynthia. Simon and Bertha had two more sons, George and Julius; after the latter's birth in 1929 the family moved around to wherever Simon held a professorship. Bertha died in 1931 at the age of 36, and Simon remarried two years later to Zeona Hatcher, another professor. She and Simon had Alex's half-sister, Lois.

Haley spent two decades in the Coast Guard, enlisting when he was 17 and, after World War II, becoming a journalist for the Coast Guard. He retired from duty in 1959 when he was 37 and devoted the rest of his career to writing. His conversation with Miles Davis in 1962 was the first Playboy interview ever, and in 1965 Haley published The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written in collaboration with its namesake and published shortly after his untimely assassination.

In 1976, years of work culminated in Haley publishing Roots, which he claimed told the story of his family's genealogy back seven generations to Kunta Kinte, an ancestor from The Gambia. The novel was highly acclaimed, though it soon came under fire for alleged plagiarism and falsifications. Its effect on America, however, especially on the interest of African-Americans in discovering their own genealogy, has been long-lasting.

Before his death Haley also compiled research and notes detailing one branch of his father's genealogy. He died of a heart attack in 1992 before finishing the novel, and it was completed by David Stevens and published in 1993.

Haley was married three times and had two daughters. one son, and four grandchildren.


Study Guides on Works by Alex Haley

Roots: The Saga of an American Family was published in 1976 after Alex Haley spent 12 years researching his family's origins. Haley grew up hearing oral traditions passed down through his family, describing the experiences of his maternal...