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Alex Haley

Born: 11 August 1921

Birthplace: Ithaca, New York

Died: 10 February 1992 (heart attack)

Best Known As: Author of Roots


Alex Haley wrote Roots, one of the most celebrated novels of the 1970s. Haley spent 20 years in the Coast Guard (1939-59) then began a second career as a writer, working for magazines ranging from Reader's Digest to Playboy. Haley was a ghostwriter on his first major book: The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965 and became a hit. Haley spent years tracing his own family history and decided it went back to a single African man, Kunta Kinte, who was captured in Gambia and taken to America as a slave around 1767. That research led to Haley's epic book Roots, published in 1976 to wide acclaim. The next year the television miniseries Roots ran for a week on network TV and became a national phenomenon. Roots won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Although questions were raised about the accuracy of the history Haley described in Roots, he is still credited with inspiring interest in genealogy among African-Americans.

Actors LeVar Burton and John Amos played Kunta Kinte in the miniseries Roots; others in the cast included Maya Angelou, Ed Asner and even O.J. Simpson... Haley was played by James Earl Jones in a sequel miniseries, Roots: The Next Generations... Haley was sued for plagiarism by Harold Courlander, author of the 1968 book The Africans; Haley agreed that he had unintentionally used three paragraphs from Courlander's book in Roots and settled with the author out of court.

Haley, Alex (1921–1992), journalist and novelist. Born on 11 August 1921 in Ithaca, New York, Alexander Murray Palmer Haley grew up in Henning, Tennessee, the first of three sons to Simon Henry Haley, a professor of agriculture, and Bertha George Palmer, a school-teacher. In 1937, he attended Hawthorne College in Mississippi, and then transferred to Elizabeth City State Teachers College in NorthCarolina, which he attended for two years. He enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939 and completed a twenty-year tour of duty, first as a messboy, and then, in 1950, as Chief Journalist. He married three times, fathering three children. During the 1940s, Haley began writing short anecdotal sketches about the coast guard, some of which he published in Coronet magazine. In the 1950s, he continued to publish short, mostly biographical pieces in Coronet, as well as in Readers Digest, Atlantic, and Harper's. He retired from the coast guard in 1959 to become a freelance writer.

In the early 1960s, he continued to publish short articles, among them an exposé of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam for the Saturday Evening Post. At the same time, he began a series of interviews for Playboy magazine, including ones with Miles Davis, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), Jim Brown, and Quincy Jones. His interview with Malcolm X led to their collaboration on The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). Haley's probing questions of Malcolm X and editorial skills helped shape what has undoubtedly become the most influential twentieth-century African American autobiography.

Almost immediately after his work on the Autobiography, Haley initiated research into his own family's genealogy, eventually discovering his maternal great-great-great-great-grandfather, Kunta Kinte, who, he claims, was captured in West Africa in 1767 and transported to and enslaved in Virginia. Haley incorporated this narrative in Roots (1976), a Pulitzer Prize-winning, seven-generation family chronicle that ends with Haley's own life and research. The publication of Roots, along with two enormously popular televised versions of it—Roots in 1977 and Roots: The Next Generations in 1979—made Haley an international celebrity and lecturer. An estimated 80 to 130 million viewers watched the last episode of Roots, generating greater interest in the novel and prompting thousands of Americans to investigate their own family genealogies. The novel and the television series also provoked a national discussion about the history and legacy of racism and slavery.

In the 1980s, Haley continued to publish short pieces, although most of his creative energy was directed into television productions. He also wrote A Different Kind of Christmas (1988), a historical novella about the political transformation of a slaveowner's son into an abolitonist. When Haley died on 10 February 1992 he left several unfinished manuscripts, one of which, Alex Haley's Queen (1993), was completed by David Stevens.

Haley's ultimate historical impact has been perhaps more cultural than literary. Roots was criticized for its historical inaccuracy and lack of originality. Nonetheless, it undeniably sparked a popular interest and pride in African American history and in the African ancestry of African Americans.


  • Alfred Balk and Alex Haley, “Black Merchants of Hate,” Saturday Evening Post 236 (26 Jan. 1963): 68–73.

  • Alex Haley, “My Furthest-Back Person— ‘The African,”’ New York Times Magazine, 16 July 1972, 12–16.

  • Alex Haley, “In Search of ‘The African,”’ American History Illustrated 8 (Feb. 1974): 21–26.

  • Alex Haley, “There Are Days When I Wish It Hadn't Happened,” Playboy, March 1979, 115+.

  • Murray Fisher, ed., Alex Haley: The Playboy Interviews, 1993.

  • Harold Bloom, ed., Alex Haley & Malcolm X's The Autobiography of Malcom X, 1999

Biography: Alex Haley

Alex Haley (1921-1992) is the celebrated author of "Roots: The Saga of an American Family" (1976). By April 1977 almost two million hardcover copies of the book had been sold and 130 million people had seen all or part of the eight-episode television series. Roots is thus considered by many critics a classic in African-American literature and culture.

Haley, who was born in Ithaca, New York, and raised in the small town of Henning, Tennessee, became interested in his ancestry while listening to colorful stories told by his family. One story in particular, about an African ancestor who refused to be called by his slave name "Toby" and declared instead that his name was "Kintay, " impressed Haley deeply. Young Haley was so fascinated by this account that he later spent twelve years researching and documenting the life of "Kunta Kinte, " the character in his famous Roots. School records indicate that Haley was not an exceptional student. At the age of eighteen he joined the U.S. Coast Guard and began a twenty-year career in the service. He practiced his writing, at first only to alleviate boredom on the ship, and soon found himself composing love letters for his shipmates to send home to their wives and girlfriends. He wrote serious pieces as well and submitted them to various magazines.

Upon retiring from the Coast Guard, Haley decided to become a full-time writer and journalist. His first book, TheAutobiography of Malcolm X (1965), which he cowrote with Malcolm X, was widely acclaimed upon its publication. The work sold over five million copies and launched Haley's writing career. Malcolm X was at first reluctant to work with Haley. He later told the writer:"I don't completely trust anyone … you I trust about twenty-five percent." Critics praised Haley for sensitively handling Malcolm X's volatile life, and the book quickly became required reading in many schools. Two weeks after The Autobiography of Malcolm X was completed, Haley began work on his next project, Roots. The tale chronicles the life of Kunta Kinte, a proud African who is kidnapped from his village in West Africa, forced to endure the middle passage - the brutal shipment of Africans to be sold in the Americas - on the slave ship Lord Ligonier, and made a slave on the Waller plantation in the United States. To authenticate Kunta's life and that of Kunta's grandson, Chicken George, Haley visited archives, libraries, and research repositories on three continents. He even reenacted Kunta's experience on the Lord Ligonier. "[Haley] somehow scourged up some money and flew to Liberia where he booked passage on the first U. S. bound ship, " an Ebony interviewer related. "Once at sea, he spent the night lying on a board in the hold of the ship, stripped to his underwear to get a rough idea of what his African ancestor might have experienced."

Although critics generally lauded Roots, they seemed unsure whether to treat the work as a novel or as a historical account. While the narrative is based on factual events, the dialogue, thoughts, and emotions of the characters are fictionalized. Haley himself described the book as "faction, " a mixture of fact and fiction. Most critics concurred and evaluated Roots as a blend of history and entertainment. Despite the fictional characterizations, Willie Lee Rose suggested in the New York Review of Books that Kunta Kinte's parents Omoro and Binte "could possibly become the African proto-parents of millions of Americans who are going to admire their dignity and grace." Newsweek applauded Haley's decision to fictionalize:"Instead of writing a scholarly monograph of little social impact, Haley has written a blockbuster in the best sense - a book that is bold in concept and ardent in execution, one that will reach millions of people and alter the way we see ourselves."

Some voiced concern, however - especially at the time of the television series - that racial tension in America would be aggravated by Roots. While Time did report several incidents of racial violence following the telecast, it commented that "most observers thought that in the long term, Roots would improve race relations, particularly because of the televised version's profound impact on whites. … A broad consensus seemed to be emerging that Roots would spur black identity, and hence black pride, and eventually pay important dividends." Some black leaders viewed Roots "as the most important civil rights event since the 1965 march on Selma, " according to Time. Vernon Jordan, executive director of the National Urban League, called it "the single most spectacular educational experience in race relations in America." Speaking of the appeal of Roots among blacks, Haley added:"The blacks who are buying books are not buying them to go out and fight someone, but because they want to know who they are. … [The] book has touched a strong, subliminal chord."

For months after the publication of Roots in October 1976, Haley signed at least five hundred copies of the book daily, spoke to an average of six thousand people a day, and traveled round trip coast-to-coast at least once a week. Scarcely two years later, Roots had already won 271 awards, and its television adaptation had been nominated for a recordbreaking thirty-seven Emmys. Over eight million copies of the book were in print, and the text was translated into twenty-six languages. In addition to fame and fortune, Roots also brought Haley controversy. In 1977 two published authors, Margaret Walker and Harold Courlander, alleged separately that Haley plagiarized their work in Roots. Charges brought by Walker were later dropped, but Haley admitted that he unknowingly lifted three paragraphs from Courlander's The African (1968). A settlement was reached whereby Haley paid Courlander $500, 000. The same year other accusations also arose. Mark Ottaway in The Sunday Times questioned Haley's research methods and the credibility of his informants, accusing Haley of "bending" data to fit his objectives. Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills also challenged some of Haley's assertions. Writing in 1981 in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, they cited evidence that there was indeed a slave named Toby living on the Waller plantation. He was there, however, at least five years before the arrival of the Lord Ligonier, supposedly with Kunta on board.

Haley's supporters maintain that Haley never claimed Roots as fact or history. And even in the presence of controversy, the public image of Roots appears not to have suffered. It is still widely read in schools, and many college and university history and literature programs consider it an essential part of their curriculum. According to Haley himself, Roots is important not for its names and dates but as a reflection of human nature:"Roots is all of our stories. … It's just a matter of filling in the blanks …; when you start talking about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth." Indeed, Haley's admirers contend, Roots remains a great book because it is the universal story of humankind's own search for its identity.

Life's Work

The late Alex Haley gave America a bicentennial gift that will not soon be forgotten--his fact-based book Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Haley's account of his ancestor Kunta Kinte, who was captured by slave traders in 1767 and brought to America against his will, won a special Pulitzer Prize and a citation from the National Book Award committee. An international bestseller published in more than 30 languages with six million copies sold, Roots made its author a millionaire celebrity. It also did more to foster interest in black history and genealogy than any novel before or since. Such critics as Essence magazine correspondent Betty Winston Baye hailed the author as "a national treasure [of lasting] importance to the world."

"Few works in the post-World War II era can match the searing impact Roots had on a racially troubled land," assessed Mark Goodman in People. Indeed, the book and the subsequent television miniseries marked a watershed for the nation. The original eight-night run of the Roots television show attracted a staggering audience. TV Guide contributor Larry L. King noted, "At least 130 million Americans, more than half the country, tuned in at least one episode." The book topped the nonfiction bestseller lists for six months and has sold briskly ever since. King maintained that in both the print and screen versions, Haley "drew on the deep, natural well-spring of familial love.... Roots hardly could have missed. Alex Haley simply had one of America's, and mankind's, most powerful stories to tell."

The path leading to the publication of that powerful story was a long and painful one. Haley labored for a dozen years on the project, beginning with only the most slender leads from his grandmother's oral history of her family. In an effort to trace that history, the author searched through dozens of archives and eventually found his way to his ancestral village on the Gambia River in West Africa. There, Haley was able to link the threads of his grandmother's stories with the history of the Kinte clan through the tale of the young man captured by white-faced traders. Meeting his relatives in Gambia was a high point for Haley. Another was the overwhelming reception his book received when it was published at long last in 1976. "Do you know what it's like to go from the YMCA to the Waldorf?" he asked a People reporter. "If I'd known I'd be this successful, I would have typed faster."

Alex Haley was born in Ithaca, New York, on August 11, 1921. His father was a scholar at Cornell University, working toward a master's degree in agriculture. When Haley was only six weeks old, his mother took him south, to Henning, Tennessee, in order to live with her parents. Haley spent a happy early childhood in Henning, where his grandfather owned a successful lumber company. He and his two younger brothers benefitted from the attention of an extended family that eventually included both of his parents, his maternal grandparents, and a host of aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Haley's father eventually earned advanced degrees and began teaching at universities in the South. Young Alex, however, continued to spend his summers in Henning--even after his mother's death in 1931. At every annual family reunion Haley would hear his grandmother Palmer talk about her ancestors, including the "furthest-back person," a slave named Toby who had come from Africa. Haley's grandmother could even repeat a few African words, handed down from generation to generation--"ko" meaning banjo, and "kamby bolongo" which meant river. She also claimed that this African ancestor had arrived in America through a place called "Naplis" and had been bought by a plantation owner named Waller in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.

The stories were interesting, but young Haley tucked them into his subconscious and went about establishing a career. After graduating from high school at fifteen, he spent two years in college preparing for a teaching degree. Instead of pursuing a career in education, in 1939 Haley joined the United States Coast Guard. He was given the lowly job of kitchen messboy, but eventually worked his way up to ship's cook during the Second World War.

His work with the Coast Guard took Haley all over the world--including service in the South Pacific during the war--which served to satisfy some of his wanderlust. He remained with the Guard after the war and began serving as an unofficial chronicler of events. Using his portable typewriter he would write letters home and helped the other seamen correspond with their families as well. He read whatever he was able to find in the various tiny ship's libraries, and he gradually began to write adventure stories of his own. "The idea that one could roll a blank sheet of paper into a typewriter and write something on it that other people would care to read challenged, intrigued, exhilarated me," Haley wrote in the final chapter of Roots.

Haley received hundreds of rejection slips before anyone accepted his work for publication. Slowly, however, the situation began to change, and he found his way into print. His early works were maritime adventure stories based on events he had seen or heard about from other sailors. Coast Guard administrators were so pleased with his success that they created a new position for Haley--chief journalist.

In 1959 Haley became eligible for retirement from the Coast Guard. He decided to take a financial risk and stake his future on his ability to earn a living as a writer. The going was certainly rough. In a Publishers Weekly interview, Haley recalled that he lived in a basement apartment in Greenwich Village and was "prepared to starve. One day, I was down to 18 cents and a couple of cans of sardines, and that was it." Luckily, payment for an article arrived the next day, and the crisis was over for the moment. Later, Haley framed the sardine cans and the meager 18 cents as a reminder of his determination.

In 1962 Haley interviewed jazz trumpeter Miles Davis for Playboy. The article was the first of the now-standard and well-known "Playboy Interviews." A few months later, Haley interviewed controversial civil rights activist Malcolm X for the same publication. Haley found much to admire in the charismatic leader and was intrigued when Malcolm asked him to collaborate on an autobiography. Haley spent a year conducting exhaustive interviews with Malcolm and another year writing the book. He finished the project just two weeks before Malcolm X was assassinated.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X has sold more than six million copies since it was first published in 1965. Early editions did not include Haley's name, but he has since received credit for the work. "The book represents the best I could put on paper of what Malcolm said about his own life from his own mouth," Haley asserted in Essence. "I'm glad the book exists because otherwise Malcolm would be a pile of apocryphal and self-serving stories. I have dozens of people, usually men, who come to me and say that they were with Malcolm or did something for him, and they never did."

In 1964 Haley was about to begin a book about the civil rights era when he visited the British Museum in London. There he saw the Rosetta Stone, an ancient rock covered with mysterious hieroglyphics. Haley was fascinated by the process scientists used to decipher the messages written on the stone. He wondered if he could apply the same approach to the strange African words he had learned from his grandmother. He sought the help of linguist Jan Vansina who identified them as Mandinka, the language of the Mandingo people who lived along the Gambia River. Haley also traveled to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and located another slave ancestor in the census records for Alamance County, North Carolina. His curiosity piqued, Haley began in earnest his quest for more information concerning his forebears.

For nine years Haley traced his origins and recorded his findings in volumes of notes. He discovered the ship's log for the Lord Ligonier, which had sailed from Gambia in 1767 with a cargo of slaves and docked in Annapolis, Maryland--the "Naplis" of his grandmother's tale. He took a safari to Juffure, Gambia, and listened to the village griot--a performer whose skits tell of the tribe's history and genealogies--enabling him to locate sixth cousins who were descended from brothers and sisters of Kunta Kinte. In all, Haley visited more than fifty libraries and archives on three continents before he even began to write the story of Kunta Kinte, his proud daughter Kizzy, and their descendants who made the difficult transition from slavery to freedom.

Much of Haley's research was funded by advances from the Doubleday publishing house and Reader's Digest, but still his finances were tight, and, at times, his resolve was weakened by the magnitude of the project. At one point, on a freighter bound from Africa to America, Haley spent hours lying on a wooden plank to somehow duplicate his ancestor's suffering. On the fourth night at sea, he described in People how he had stood at the ship's stern and thought, "All I have to do is step over this railing and drop into the sea, and I'd be out of my misery forever." Then, he continued, "I heard voices--Kunta, Kizzy, Chicken George and my grandmother--telling me, 'No, you must go on and finish it.'"

While some scholars found fault with Haley's portrayal of certain aspects of the slave trade and criticized his blend of fiction and fact, the American public made Roots a bestseller and took its hard vision of slavery to heart. The book was published in 1976, just as the United States was celebrating its bicentennial, and the story reminded Americans of both races that their national history held tragedy as well as triumph. The miniseries appeared on television early in 1977 and only served to widen the audience for Haley's message. Newsweek reviewer Harry F. Waters declared, "In one swoop, ? Roots ? has demolished the myth that white America will not sit still for a black dramatic series, or for a work with a heavy socio-historic theme."

In the wake of the success of Roots, Haley and his brother established the Kinte Corporation, a foundation for the study of black-American genealogy. The author was also recruited for the lecture circuit, receiving $4000 for each appearance. "When Roots came out, I was suddenly in hot demand," Haley commented in People. "One calendar year, I spent 226 nights in motels." The pace took its toll. "It's been just about near impossible for me to find the time to write the way I used to," Haley admitted in an Essence interview shortly before his death. "For the last decade, I haven't been a writer. I've been the author of Roots, and I need to turn that around. I've got to write."

Haley was developing several projects in the early 1990s, including a history of Henning, Tennessee; a biography of Madame C. J. Walker, founder of a black hair care products company and the first female millionaire in America; and the story of his grandmother, a slave named Queen, set in the post-Civil War years. (The miniseries Alex Haley's Queen was broadcast on CBS-TV one year after the author's death.) Haley even moved his home base from Los Angeles back to rural Tennessee in order to have more time to work. He continued to accept speaking engagements, however. He died of a heart attack en route to one such engagement in Seattle, Washington, on February 10, 1992, at the age of 70. After a funeral service in Memphis, Tennessee, he was buried in the front yard of his grandparents' home in Henning.

Wanderlust and the urge to write made family relations difficult for Haley. He confessed in Essence that writing contributed to the breakup of two marriages, his first to Nannie Branch and his second to Juliette Collins. "In both cases," he pointed out, "the 'other woman' was a typewriter." At the time of his death Haley was separated from his third wife, Myra Lewis, a television script writer. He is survived by three children and several grandchildren. As Mark Goodman noted in People, however, Haley left his own children--and millions of Americans, black and white--"a profound sense of family continuity that transcended racial strife."

For his part, Haley never took complete credit for his vast success and for the impact his book had on the American conscience. He was always inspired, he maintained in People, by "little people who did whatever they did and died and would never be thought about again if I didn't write about them." To emphasize that his was not a singlehanded rise to fame, Haley concluded in People: "Whenever you see a turtle up on a fence post, you know he had some help."


Spingarn Medal, NAACP, 1977; special citation from National Book Award committee and special Pulitzer Prize, both 1977, both for Roots; nominated to Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, 1981; numerous honorary degrees.



  • (With Malcolm X) The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Grove, 1965.

  • Roots: The Saga of an American Family, Doubleday, 1976.

  • A Different Kind of Christmas, Doubleday, 1988.

  • Alex Haley's Queen (miniseries), broadcast on CBS-TV, beginning February 14, 1993.

Later Years

In the late 1970s, Haley began working on a second historical novel based on another branch of his family, traced through his grandmother Queen—the daughter of a black slave woman and her white master. Haley died in Seattle, Washington of a heart attack with the story unfinished and was buried beside his childhood home in Henning, Tennessee. At his request, it was finished by David Stevens and was published as Alex Haley's Queen; it was subsequently made into a movie in 1993.

Late in his life, Haley acquired a small farm in Norris, Tennessee, adjacent to the Museum of Appalachia, with the intent of making it his home. Subsequent to his death, the property was sold to the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), which calls it the "Alex Haley Farm" and uses it as a national training center and retreat site. An abandoned barn on the farm property was rebuilt as a traditional cantilevered barn, using a design by architect Maya Lin. The building now serves as a library for CDF.

The main galley at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Base at Petaluma, CA is named "Haley Hall" in his honor.

In 1999, the U.S. Coast Guard honored Haley by naming the cutter Alex Haley after him.

Haley was also posthumously awarded the Korean War Service Medal from the government of South Korea ten years after his death. This award, created in 1999, did not exist during Haley's lifetime.

Plagiarism and other criticism

Alex Haley claimed he spent ten years researching his heritage for his historical novel, Roots, which in 1977 was adapted as a TV miniseries. That same year he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the Spingarn Medal for the book, but a year later his reputation was marred by an accusation of plagiarism. After a trial, Haley settled out-of-court for $650,000, having been accused of plagiarizing more than 80 passages from The African by Harold Courlander. Haley claimed that the appropriation of Courlander's passages had been unintentional. In 1978, Courlander went to the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, charging Haley with plagiarism of The African. Courlander's pre-trial memorandum in the copyright infringement lawsuit stated: "Defendant Haley had access to and substantially copied from The African. Without The African, Roots would have been a very different and less successful novel, and indeed it is doubtful that Mr. Haley could have written Roots without The African. . . . Mr. Haley copied language, thoughts, attitudes, incidents, situations, plot and character."

In his report submitted to the court in this lawsuit, Professor of English and expert witness on plagiarism, Michael Wood of Columbia University, stated: "The evidence of copying from The African in both the novel and the television dramatization of Roots is clear and irrefutable. The copying is significant and extensive....Roots...plainly uses The African as a model: as something to be copied at some times, and at other times to be modified; but always, it seems, to be consulted. . . . Roots takes from The African phrases, situations, ideas, aspects of style and of plot. . . . Roots finds in The African essential elements for its depiction of such things as a slave's thoughts of escape, the psychology of an old slave, the habits of mind of the hero, and the whole sense of life on an infamous slave ship. Such things are the life of a novel; and when they appear in Roots, they are the life of someone else's novel."

After a five-week trial in federal district court, Courlander and Haley settled the case, with Haley making a financial settlement and a statement that "Alex Haley acknowledges and regrets that various materials from The African by Harold Courlander found their way into his book Roots."

During the trial, presiding U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Ward stated, "Copying there is, period." In a later interview with BBC Television, Judge Ward stated, "Alex Haley perpetrated a hoax on the public."

During the trial, Alex Haley had maintained that he had not read The African before writing Roots. Shortly after the trial, however, Joseph Bruchac, an instructor of black literature at Skidmore College, came forward to swear in an affidavit that in 1970 or 1971 (five or six years before the publication of Roots) he had discussed The African with Haley and had, in fact, given his "own personal copy of The African to Mr. Haley."

Haley has been accused of fictionalizing true stories in both his book Roots and The Autobiography Of Malcolm X. Malcolm X's family and members of The

Nation of Islam accused Haley of changing selected parts of his story. He left out three chapters from the Autobiography which have only been seen by several people. These chapters reportedly expand on the two organizations that Malcolm had created, and offered more evidence into the role the FBI and CIA possibly had in his death. This information was made public on Pacifica Networks "Democracy Now.

In addition, the veracity of those aspects of Roots which Haley claimed to be true has also been challenged. Although Haley acknowledged the novel was primarily a work of fiction, he did claim that his actual ancestor was Kunta Kinte, an African taken from the village of Juffure in what is now The Gambia. According to Haley, Kunta Kinta was sold into slavery where he was given the name Toby and, while in the service of a slavemaster named John Waller, went on to have a daughter named Kizzy, Haley's great-great-great grandmother. Haley also claimed to have identified the specific slave ship and the actual voyage on which Kunta Kinte was transported from Africa to North America in 1767.

Alex Haley - *****Experience Gambia*****

Historical marker in front of Alex Haley's boyhood home in Henning, Tennessee

However, genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills and historian Gary B. Mills revisited Haley's research and concluded that those claims of Haley's were false. According to the Millses, the slave named Toby who was "owned" by John Waller could be definitively shown to have been in North America as early as 1762. They further said that Toby died years prior to the supposed date of birth of Kizzy. There have also been suggestions that Kebba Kanji Fofana, the amateur griot in Jufureh, who, during Haley's visit there, confirmed the tale of the disappearance of Kunta Kinte, had been coached to relate such a story..

To date, Haley's work remains a notable exclusion from the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature, despite Haley's status as history's best-selling African-American author. Harvard University professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of the anthology's general editors, has denied that the controversies surrounding Haley's works are the reason for this exclusion. Nonetheless, Dr. Gates has acknowledged the doubts surrounding Haley's claims about Roots, saying, "Most of us feel it's highly unlikely that Alex actually found the village whence his ancestors sprang. Roots is a work of the imagination rather than strict historical scholarship."


  • Alex Haley Tells the Story of His Search for Roots (1977) - 2-LP recording of a two-hour lecture Haley gave at the University of Pennsylvania. Released by Warner Bros. Records (2BS 3036).

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