Alex Haley

American biographer, screenwriter, and novelist

Alexander Murray Palmer Haley (August 11, 1921 – February 10, 1992) was an African-American writer. He also had Irish and Cherokee ancestry.[source?] He was born in Ithaca, New York. He is best known for The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which he helped Malcolm X write, and his book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which was about his family history and inspired a television mini-series. He died of a heart attack in Seattle, Washington.

Haley family lineageEdit

Members of his family lineage that can be confirmed:[1]

  • Parents: Simon Alexander Haley [1892-1973] married 1919 1st wife Bertha George Palmer [1897-1932]
  • Paternal Grandparents: Alex Haley [1845-1918] and 2nd wife Queen Jackson [1857-1941] Natural daughter of James Jackson of Alabama [1822-1879]
  • Maternal Grandparents:Cynthia Babica [Murray] [1875-1949] married to William Edward Palmer [1872-1926][Son of George Palmer and Salena Groves]
  • Maternal Great Grandparents:Tom Lea/Lea Murray [b.1833-?] married 1859 to Arena Holt [1841-1908] [Daughter of "Hillian" (b.1815)]
  • Maternal Great Great Grandparents: "Chicken George" Lea [1806-1890] married Mathilda McGreggor Murray Lea [b.1806-?]


The gist of Roots is that Haley -based Upon Oral tradition and research- is that his Great-great-great-grandfather was named Kunta Kinte was brought over from the Gambia Africa to Annapolis Maryland in 1767 and is sold in Spotslvania County Virginia to John Waller and then to his brother William Waller; that after being crippled so he cannot run way he marries a female slave cook named Bell; they have a daughter Kizzie who is sold at age sixteen who is raped by Tom Lea and gives birth to "Chicken George" Lea. Chicken George marries and has six children; the family is sold to a slave trader who sells them to the Murray family of Alamance County North Carolina. After the US Civil War of 1861-1865 rather than sharecrop, the family moves to Henning Tennessee.Chicken George's son Tom's daughter Cynthia marries Will Palmer and they become Alex Haley's grandparents.

Factual accuracy questionsEdit

Trying to confirm the facts in Haley novel in regards to Africa and the Waller; Lea; Murray families raised doubts. Ironically, the Millses discovered a better fit to the Haley oral history in the written record than Haley himself had found. Dr. William Waller's father was Colonel William Waller, who owned a slave named Hopping George, a description consistent with a foot injury. Colonel Waller also owned a slave named Isbell, who may be the Bell in Haley family legend. Tom Lea's father lived in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, and he may have purchased some of Haley's ancestors from the Wallers. When the Lea family moved to North Carolina, they would have taken their slaves with them. The Leas lived in close proximity to the Murrays and Holts, and there are three Kizzies associated with the Lea and Murray families in the post-Civil War records.[2]

Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. was a friend of Haley, but years after Haley's death, Gates acknowledged doubts about the author's claims:

Most of us feel it's highly unlikely that Alex found the village whence his ancestors sprang. Roots is a work of the imagination rather than strict historical scholarship. It was an important event because it captured everyone's imagination."[3]

Gates later hosted the TV series African American Lives and Finding Your Roots, which used DNA testing to corroborate family histories and genealogies. Haley wrote another novel in regard to his paternal grandmother Queen [Jackson] Haley but died before he could finish it; it was published posthumously as Queen: The Story of an American Family. Ironically Subsequent DNA testing of Alex Haley's nephew Chris Haley revealed that Alec Haley, Alex's paternal grandfather (and Queen Haley's husband) was most likely descended from Scottish ancestors via William Harwell Baugh, an overseer of an Alabama slave plantation.[4][5]


  1. Find a Grave memorial
  2. [Mills, Elizabeth Shown; Mills, Gary B. (March 1984). "The Genealogist's Assessment of Alex Haley's Roots". National Genealogical Society Quarterly. 72 (1).]
  3. Beam, Alex. "The Prize Fight Over Alex Haley's Tangled 'Roots'", Boston Globe, October 30, 1998.
  4. BBC News March 1,2009 accessed September 13, 2018
  5. Texas Research Ramblers Volume XXIX Number 1 Spring 2014 accessed September 13, 2018

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