This Day in Black History: Aug. 11, 1921

Roots author Alex Haley was born.

Posted: 08/11/2013 12:00 AM EDT

Alex Haley, the author of American history classics like Roots and the autobiography of Malcolm X, was born on Aug. 11, 1921, in New York.

Haley graduated from high school at the early age of 15. In 1939, at the age of 17, Haley quit school and enlisted in the Coast Guard where he later served as chief journalist for 20 years.

While at sea, Haley wrote short stories and sent them to magazine publishers. Although most rejected his submissions, the few stories and articles that were published inspired Haley to keep writing.

A few years after Haley retired from the Coast Guard in 1959, he got his big break as a journalist for Playboy magazine. The magazine had contracted Haley to do a series of interviews with important African-Americans. Through the series called "The Playboy Interviews," Haley spotlighted figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., Quincy Jones and Malcolm X.

Haley later wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley, which was hailed by Time Magazine as one of the 10 most important nonfiction books of the 20th century.

Haley’s most comprehensive work however came after a decade of research. He spent time examining slavery in the U.S., England and West Africa. The outcome was the historical fiction novel, Roots, published in 1976. 

"No other novelist or historian has provided such a shattering, human view of slavery," the New York Times review of the novel stated. The book went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

On Feb. 10, 1992, at 70 years old, Haley died of a heart attack.


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(Photo: Mickey Adair/Getty Images)

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