Alex Haley, best known as the author of “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” and co-author of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” was born on August 11, 1921 in Ithaca, New York to Simon Haley, a professor of agriculture and Bertha George Haley, a teacher. Alex Haley attended Alcorn State University at 15 and then Elizabeth City State College. However, a year after, he withdrew. His father convinced him to enlist in the military and at 18 years old, Haley, as pictured, joined the Coast Guard, where he would remain for 20 years.
Having polished his writing skills in the Coast Guard, Haley moved up to chief journalist. He then retired in 1959, becoming a freelance writer. In 1962, Haley conducted an interview with Miles Davis for Playboy. Due to the success of the interview, Haley conducted more interviews with important figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., Quincy Jones and Malcolm X. Haley later wrote “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” After the success of Haley’s Malcolm X book, he wrote “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” which discussed the origins of his ancestors in Africa and their transition from slavery to freedom in America, with his ancestor and the protagonist of the book, Kunta Kinte. Haley won a Pulitzer Prize for the book and it sparked a nationwide interest in genealogy, as well as an ABC television mini-series.