Palmer, Alexander Murray “Alex” Haley was an African-American author who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” The book, which detailed his family’ roots in Africa and their journey from slavery to freedom in America, was crucial in raising awareness of African-American history in America. His seminal work piqued the attention of Americans of various ethnic backgrounds in genealogy. He grew up hearing about his father’s bravery in overcoming racism as the son of a professor in New York. When Alex Haley was 18, he dropped out of college and enlisted in the US Coast Guard. He discovered his love for writing while working there, and was paid by his fellow troops to compose love letters to their ladies. After WWII, he joined the US Coast Guard and became a journalist. Following his retirement, he worked as a senior editor for a well-known magazine. He also began writing seriously, producing works such as ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ and ‘Roots: The Saga of an American Family,’ for which he received a special Pulitzer Prize.
Childhood and Adolescence
Alex Haley was born in Ithaca, New York, on August 11, 1921, to Simon and Bertha George. Alex’s father, a World War I veteran, was a PhD student in agriculture at Cornell University when Alex was born, and went on to become a professor. His mother was a schoolteacher. Alex had one sister and two younger brothers.
He enrolled in Alcorn A&M College (Alcorn State University) in Mississippi when he was 15 years old after graduating from high school. He transferred to the Elizabeth City State College after a year there.
He dropped out of college despite being an intelligent young man who was not interested in academics.
Alex Haley’s Career
Alex Haley joined the United States Coast Guard as an 18-year-old in 1939. This was the start of a 20-year military career for me.
He began his work as a mess attendant and was quickly promoted to petty officer third-class in the steward grade.
During his service, he discovered his passion for writing. His fellow soldiers, pleased by his writing abilities, paid him to compose love letters to their ladies on their behalf. He began sending short tales and articles to periodicals as well.
After WWII, he was moved to the US Coast Guard’s media branch, where he rose to the rank of petty officer first class in the journalist rating by 1949.
He eventually rose through the ranks of the Coast Guard to become Chief Journalist, a position he held until his retirement in 1959.
He began a full-fledged literary career after his retirement. The magazine ‘Playboy’ asked him to conduct an interview with Miles Davis, the legendary trumpeter. The interview, which was published in 1962, was a major success, and he went on to interview several other notable personalities over the next few years, including Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., Quincy Jones, and Malcolm X.
In 1965, he published his debut book, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley.” The book, which detailed the life and ideas of Malcolm X, a well-known civil rights fighter, became a worldwide success and cemented Alex Haley’s reputation as a talented writer.
In 1976, he wrote the novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” Based on his family history, the novel presented the story of Kunta Kinte, an 18th-century African sold into slavery in the United States and chronicled the lives of his supposed descendants in the United States all the way down to the author.
The novel caused a stir when it was first published, and it spurred a surge in popular interest in genealogy. It also inspired an ABC television miniseries of the same name, which drew a record-breaking 130 million people in 1977.
Following the success of the novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” he was accused of plagiarism by two authors. He eventually admitted that portions of his book’s passages were plagiarized from Harold Courlander’s 1967 novel ‘The African.’ Finally, the two authors reached an out-of-court settlement.
In the late 1970s, he began work on a second historical novel, but he never finished it before his death. David Stevens finished the novel and it was released in 1993 as ‘Alex Haley’s Queen.’
His Major Projects
Alex Haley is best known for writing Roots: The Saga of an American Family,’ a key historical fiction. The book not only made him a well-known author in the world of literature, but also sparked interest in genealogy among Americans of many ethnic backgrounds. The book has been translated into 37 languages and spent months on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Achievements and Awards
In 1977, Alex Haley earned a Pulitzer Prize for ‘Roots: The Saga of an American Family.’
For his thorough study and literary skill blended in Roots, the NAACP awarded him the Spingarn Medal.
The South Korean government posthumously awarded him the Korean War Service Medal in 2002.
Personal History and Legacy
His first marriage to Nannie Branch, which began in 1941 and ended in 1964, resulted in divorce. In the same year, he married Juliette Collins, with whom he divorced in 1972.
He married Myra Lewis for the third time, but the pair eventually divorced. He was the father of three daughters and a son.
He died of a heart attack on February 10, 1992, in Seattle, Washington, at the age of 70.
Estimated Net worth
Alex is one of the wealthiest Autobiographers and one of the most well-known Autobiographers. Alex Haley’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.