Alex Haley was born in Ithaca, New York, in 1921. At the time of his birth, his parents, Bertha George Palmer and Simon Alexander Haley, were graduate students at Cornell University. When Haley was still young, the family moved back to their home in Henning, Tennessee, where Haley spent most of his childhood in the presence of an extended family, including his grandmother and several aunts. Haley and his younger brothers, George and Julius, listened to these women tell stories about their family’s history, including tales of a slave ancestor named Kunta Kinte, whom they also referred to as “the African.”
Haley attended teacher’s college in North Carolina for two years before enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939. In 1941, Haley married Nannie Branch, with whom he had two children, Lydia and William. During his first years in the Coast Guard, Haley served as a mess boy and later as a cook, and he began writing as a hobby. His romance stories were not successful, but he wrote several history articles that were published in magazines. In 1949, he began working as a journalist for the Coast Guard, a position that lasted until he retired from the Coast Guard in 1958.
His next writing work consisted of magazine articles about prominent African Americans, including jazz musician Miles Davis, boxer Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), and Black Muslim leader Malcolm X, among others. His interviews with Malcolm X led Haley to take on...
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