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Alex Haley Papers

Identifier: MS-1888

  • Staff Only

Series I, Sub-Series A houses the bulk of the letters in this collection, organized by subject. The materials in box 4 were stored in a large metal box that was badly damaged by water. Most of these items are unusable, but all have been retained in the hope that they can be restored in the future. Sub-Series B houses materials showing Haley's writing projects other than Roots, Roots II, Search for Roots, and Palmerstown. Some of these projects were eventually published, but many never proceeded beyond the preliminary stages. Of particular interest is a musical entitled The Way (sometimes called President Nipsey or President Ritzey) that Haley worked on for many years. Sub-Series C houses works written by other people. Some were sent to Haley for review, and he purchased others for his personal library. Sub-Series D houses such items as address books, daybooks, awards, business cards, and other materials, while Sub-Series E contains financial papers.

Series II consists primarily of materials documenting Haley's best known work, Roots. Among these items are manuscripts, galley proofs, research notes and files, lists of sources, photocopies of relevant sources, and other materials. This series also houses research for The Search for Roots, which was intended to be a short book describing how Haley unearthed the genealogical information contained in Roots, and materials documenting the television show Roots II (also called Roots: The Next Generation(s)).

Series III contains materials documenting three plagiarism trials regarding Roots. Sub-Series A deals with Harold Courlander's charge that Haley plagiarized his The African (1967). Haley admitted to using two short passages from that work and the case was settled out of court for $650,000. Sub-Series B shows Margaret Walker Alexander's charge that several scenes in Roots (particularly during the trip from Africa and Kunta's escape) were taken from her Jubilee and How I Wrote Jubilee. Haley and his lawyers argued that basis of these scenes could be found in many books and the case was eventually dismissed. Sub-Series C shows Leonard S. Brown Jr.'s lawsuit against Haley and at least 18 other plaintiffs. It was, however, without merit and so was quickly dismissed.

Series IV houses materials that Haley assembled while working on his television series, Palmerstown (called Kings of the Hill during its early stages). The bulk of this series consists of research files documenting life in a small town during the 1920s and 1930s, but outlines, drafts, and scripts are also included.

Series V houses all of the collection's audio and visual materials. Many of the photographs document Haley's research (including his trip to Gambia), while others show his ancestors and the sets of Roots and Roots: The Next Generation(s). The videotapes house episodes of Palmerstown, Roots, Roots: The Next Generation(s), and Roots: 1 Year Later in addition to interviews (completed as part of the Black Filmmakers series), and a commencement speech. Finally, the cassette and reel-to-reel tapes house dictated versions of Roots and recordings of some of Haley's interviews (including his interview with the African griot who identified Kunta Kinte as his ancestor).

Series VI contains a wealth of newspaper clippings on such subjects as Haley, Roots, and African-Americans. The materials in boxes 74-76 were sent to Haley and are organized by subject. Boxes 77-78 contain entire publications that include articles about Haley. Finally, boxes 79-80 house unorganized clippings gathered by a clipping service.


  • 1870-1991

Conditions Governing Access

Collections are stored offsite, and a minimum of 2 business days are needed to retrieve these items for use. Researchers interested in consulting any of the collections are advised to contact Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

The UT Libraries claims only physical ownership of most material in the collections. Persons wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants on for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.


120 Linear Feet


This collection houses manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, cassette tapes, videotapes, trial transcripts, and other materials documenting Alex Haley's literary career. Of particular interest are those materials showing Haley's Roots and the subsequent plagiarism trials related to the book.

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 Black Americans 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, whom 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 enslavers 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.


This collection consists of eighty boxes divided into seven series:

Missing Title

  1. Series I: Correspondence, Other Projects, and Other Papers
    • Sub-Series A: Correspondence
    • Sub-Series B: Other Projects
    • Sub-Series C: Others' Manuscripts and Books
    • Sub-Series D: Other Papers
    • Sub-Series E: Financial Papers
  2. Series II: Roots, 1766-1911, November 6, 1969-1979 January 23, undated
    • Sub-Series A: Manuscripts 1969-1975, undated
    • Sub-Series B: Notes and Sources 1766-1911 November 6, undated
    • Sub-Series C: Other Materials Relating to Roots 1975 February 4-1977 January
    • Sub-Series D: Research Files and Extracted Sources
    • Sub-Series E: Search for Roots Research, Drafts, and Other Materials 1978 December 20-1979 January 23, undated
    • Sub-Series F: Roots II 1977 October 19-1978 October 27, undated
  3. Series III: Trials Regarding Roots, 1965-1980 March
    • Sub-Series A: Courlander v. Haley, 1965-1976 December 11
    • Sub-Series B: Walker v. Haley, 1977 July-1980 March
    • Sub-Series C: Other Lawsuits
  4. Series IV: Palmerstown, USA, 1929-1979 October, undated
    • Sub-Series A: Materials Regarding Small Towns, 1929-1940, undated
    • Sub-Series B: Research Materials and Extracted Sources, 1955-1978 June
    • Sub-Series C: Episode Ideas and Scripts, 1979 May-October, undated
  5. Series V: Audio and Visual Materials, 1968 July 18-1987 December
  6. Series VI: Newsclippings and Articles, 1972 March 9-1979 March 17, undated
  7. Series VII: Oversized Materials, 1977 May 20-1984, undated

Acquisition Note

Alex Haley donated the bulk of this collection to Special Collections in 1991. The Department purchased the remainder of the materials when Haley's estate was auctioned in 1992.

Related Archival Materials

Interested researchers may also wish to consult:

Missing Title

  1. AR.0420: Alex Haley Research Regarding Tennessee Anecdotal History, circa 1986-circa 1996
  2. MS.2280: Alex Haley/Waller and Elaine Wiser Collection, 1968-1996
  3. MS.2338: Alex Haley Letter, 1969 May 2
  4. MS.2378: Alex Haley Papers, 1979-1980
  5. MS.2451: Alex Haley Cassette Tape, 1981 June 27
  6. MS.2463: Alex Haley Papers, 1963-1981
  7. MS.2464: Alex Haley Papers, 1973-1974
  8. MS.2465: Alex Haley Manuscript, undated
  9. MS.2466: Alex Haley Papers, 1972-circa 1977
  10. MS.2486: David C. Moore Bibliographic Essay on Alex Haley's Roots, 1994
  11. MS.2828: Anne Romaine Collection of Alex Haley, 1920s-1990s [bulk 1980s-1990s]

Repository Details

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

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA