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Special Collections Online at The University of Tennessee

Alex Haley Papers

 Collection
Identifier: MS-2466
This collection houses notes, outlines, bibliographies, research, and legal papers documenting Alex Haley's Roots through 1977. Of particular interest are the items showing Harold Courlander's lawsuit against Haley, Doubleday & Company, and various affiliated groups.

Dates

  • 1972-circa 1977

Conditions Governing Access

Researchers wishing to access Haley materials must first obtain written permission from the trust governing his literary works.

Paul T. Coleman (Trustee) Baker, Coleman & Blanton, PLLC 9040 Executive Park Drive Suite 201 Knoxville, TN 37923 Phone: (865) 584-4686 E-mail: pcoleman@bakercoleman.com

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in this collection remain with the creator. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library.

Extent

1.1 Linear Feet

Abstract

This collection houses notes, outlines, bibliographies, research, and legal papers documenting Alex Haley's Roots through 1977. Of particular interest are the items showing Harold Courlander's lawsuit against Haley, Doubleday & Company, and various affiliated groups.

Biographical/Historical Note

Alexander Murray Palmer Haley was born to Simon Alexander and Bertha George (Palmer) Haley in Ithaca, New York on August 11, 1921. His father was a college professor, and Haley spent much of his childhood on southern college campuses and with his relatives in Henning, Tennessee. Haley finished high school at 15 and attended college for two years before enlisting in the Coast Guard in 1939. At that time all blacks had to serve in the culinary department, so Haley enlisted as a messboy. World War II lengthened his tour and Haley was promoted to steward. He also married Nannie Branch, who he had met at a North Carolina port. After Pearl Harbor, Haley was assigned to a cargo-supply ship in the South Pacific, where he was promoted from steward to signalman. In 1950, Haley was recalled to the U.S. and made the Coast Guard's Chief Journalist (a position that had been created just for him). He also began selling his stories to such publications as This Week and Reader's Digest.

In 1954, Haley began writing stories of interest to the African-American population specifically. He was also transferred to San Francisco, California, where he continued to write. Haley retired from the Coast Guard in 1959 and achieved prominence in 1965 with his The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Shortly after this work was published, he approached his publishers at Doubleday with an idea for a project that would tell the story of his family in West Tennessee after the Civil War. Haley intended it to be a story about Henning, which he considered a good example of a place where blacks and whites could live side-by-side free of the interracial violence found in many other American cities.

As Haley began research on this project (initially titled Before This Anger), he became fascinated with his family's genealogy. After travelling around the United States visiting libraries and consulting with experts, Haley hypothesized that his great-great-great-great grandfather was kidnapped from the Gambia in the mid-1760's. He traveled to the Gambia in 1967, where he interviewed a griot (an African elder who maintains a tribe's oral history) named Fofana. Fofana's mother was of the Kinte family and Fofana informed Haley that the ancestor he had identified was Kunta Kinte, who was captured by slavers in 1767.

This genealogical breakthrough made Roots one of the most anticipated books of the twentieth century. It was finally published in 1976. ABC turned it into a miniseries, and in this form it reached the top of the Nielsen ratings. Haley was sued three times in connection with Roots: once by Margaret Walker Alexander (who contended that he had plagiarized her Jubilee), once by Harold Courlander (who claimed that Haley had plagiarized his The African), and once by Leonard S. Brown, Jr.

After the initial success of Roots, Haley created a mini-series called Roots: The Next Generation(s) and a documentary called My Search for Roots. He also wrote a two-act musical called The Way (focusing on what he considered the inanity of inter-racial struggle) and the books Queen (1993) and Henning. Haley died suddenly in Seattle, Washington (where he had come for a speaking engagement) on February 10, 1992. After his death, his farm in Clinton, Tennessee (which he was renovating in order to create a place where he could host symposiums and meetings) was auctioned to pay debts incurred during the final years of his life.

Arrangement

This collection consists of eleven folders.

Acquisition Note

These materials were donated to Special Collections.
Title
Finding Aid for the Alex Haley Papers
Status
completed
Author
Elizabeth Dunham
Date
2006 July 17
Description rules
dacs
Language of description
English

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives Repository

Contact:
Knoxville USA