Author Alex Haley (pictured), best known for his works “Roots” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” is one of the most-celebrated African-American authors of all time. After achieving success as a military journalist, Haley’s hard work catapulted him to the top of the literary world. Unfortunately, Haley died of a heart attack on this day in 1992.
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Born August 11, 1921, in Ithaca, N.Y., Haley’s parents were educated and passed on their mental pursuits to him. Haley’s father, a professor of Agriculture, and his mother, a teacher, were sources of great inspiration for him. Haley was particularly fond of his father’s journey, who as a young husband, completed graduate studies and faced heavy racism in order to provide a life for his family.
At age 15, Haley entered Alcorn State University, but didn’t fare well there. A year later, he enrolled in Elizabeth City State College in North Carolina. Haley eventually left school, and at his father’s urging, enrolled in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he remained for two decades.
As a steward in the Coast Guard during World War II, Haley took on the task of writing letters on behalf of his fellow enlisted men to their loved ones. The soldiers paid Haley for his work, and he later transferred to the field of journalism. Haley achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer and held this rank until his retirement from the service. He was also named the first Chief Journalist in the Coast Guard.
Times were tough for Haley as a freelance writer in the early 1960s, but his big break came when Playboy asked him to do an interview with Miles Davis as part of its “Playboy Interviews” series, becoming one of the magazine’s most-popular features. After interviewing civil rights leader Malcolm X in 1963, two years later Haley ghostwrote and published “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
Although Haley could have cashed in on his fame using Playboy as his canvas, he decided to examine the story of slavery from Africa to America, and later the freedom of those enslaved. Haley researched slave ship records in the United States and England and later traveled to Gambia. Haley traced his roots to West Africa as many who were descendants of slaves did as well.
Haley’s research morphed into the sweeping epic tale “Roots,” landing him a Pulitzer Prize and accolades from every corner of the literary universe. A year later, ABC turned the book into a mini-series, and it still remains one of the most-watched television programs of all time.
In his later years, Haley published “A Different Kind Of Christmas: in 1988. The release of his book, “Queen,” happened posthumously in 1993.
Haley was in Seattle, Wash. at the time of his death.