Alex Haley was born on this day in 1921. Haley was an artist dedicated to his craft. Burning, internal questions about his heritage fueled his work. After the success of his first book, the international bestseller The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Haley had tons of freelance writing offers coming in.
Determined to tell his ancestors’ story of their journey from Africa to America as slaves, Haley spent the next 10 years examining slave ship records at archives in the US, Europe and recording oral accounts of his ancestor’s captivity in Gambia, West Africa.
Distanced from his ancestors by generations, Haley attempted to relate to their experience during the Middle Passage by boarding a ship from Liberia to America, spending nights lying in the ship’s bowels in nothing but his underwear.
Haley has been credited for inspiring a nationwide (perhaps even international) interest in genealogy and years after his passing in 2009, the genealogy website Ancestory.com was credited with proving Haley’s Scottish roots.
Qiana Mestrich 2012
When I visited my dear friend in Oakland last year, I was surprised to find a signed copy of Haley’s seminal book Roots (1976) in her home. My friend didn’t remember she owned the book and thought perhaps she’d gotten it through an estate sale, but as I felt the weight of history in my hand I immediately wanted to photograph the book.
Happy Birthday Alex Haley!
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