Alex Haley, one of the best-selling African American authors in history, said the most powerful moment of his life happened when he stood at the site where his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, arrived from Africa in chains exactly 200 years before. Today, that site, in Annapolis, Maryland, is marked with a statue of Haley reading (presumably from his book Roots, a fictionalized story of his ancestry) to young children.

Photograph by Alexmar983, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

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  • On August 11, 1921, Alexander Murray Palmer Haley was born in Ithaca, New York. Alex Haley would become one of the best-selling American authors in history.
    Haley wrote about the struggles and triumphs of the African American experience. He conducted extensive interviews with influential leaders such as Miles Davis and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was also the ghostwriter for the groundbreaking Autobiography of Malcolm X, about the legendary civil rights leader.
    Haley is most well-known for his monumental novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, a fictionalized account of his own ancestry. Roots traces Haley’s family from its origins in what is now Gambia; through kidnapping, transport, and enslavement in the United States; the Civil War; Reconstruction; and the establishment of the ancestral Haley family home in Tennessee.  
    Roots was developed into a phenomenally successful television miniseries. It also inspired a passionate interest in genealogy and American history. The novel ends with "the hope that this story of our people can help to alleviate the legacies of the fact that preponderantly the histories have been written by the winners."
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    account Noun

    oral or written description of events.

    alleviate Verb

    to relieve, unburden, or make easier.

    ancestry Noun

    family (genealogical) or historical background.

    author Noun

    person who writes.

    civil rights Plural Noun

    set of fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all individuals, such as participation in the political system, ability to own property, and due process and equal protection under the law.

    Civil War Noun

    (1860-1865) American conflict between the Union (north) and Confederacy (south).

    conduct Verb

    to transmit, transport, or carry.

    develop Verb

    to expand or grow.

    enslave Verb

    to totally control.

    establish Verb

    to form or officially organize.

    family Noun

    group of organisms that come from the same ancestors and share similar characteristics. Family is also a classification in chemistry and math.

    Encyclopedic Entry: family
    fictionalize Verb

    to make up or turn into imagination.

    genealogy Noun

    study of a family's ancestry, origins, and history.

    ghostwriter Noun

    person who writes material attributed to another person.

    groundbreaking Adjective

    innovative or pioneering.

    influential Adjective

    important; having the ability to lead the opinions or attitudes of others.

    kidnap Verb

    to hold a person hostage, usually for ransom.

    legendary Adjective

    famous, heroic, or celebrated.

    Malcolm X Noun

    (Malcolm Little, 1925-1965) American civil rights leader.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. Noun

    (1929-1968) American pastor and civil rights leader.

    Miles Davis Noun

    (1926-1991) American jazz trumpeter and composer.

    monumental Adjective

    very large, serious, and important.

    novel Noun

    fictional narrative or story.

    phenomenal Adjective

    very impressive.

    preponderant Adjective

    prevailing, or greater in force or influence.

    Reconstruction Noun

    (1865-1877) period during which the states formerly belonging to the Confederate States of America were transformed and integrated back into the United States following the Civil War.

    transport Verb

    to move material from one place to another.