Alexander Murray Palmer Haley (August 11, 1921 – February 10, 1992} was an American writer. He is best known as the author of the 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family and the co-author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Haley was born in Ithaca, New York, on August 11, 1921, and was the oldest of three brothers and a sister. Haley lived with his family in Henning, Tennessee, before returning to Ithaca with his family when he was five years old. Haley’s father was Simon Haley, a professor of agriculture at Alabama A&M University, and his mother was Bertha George Haley (née Palmer) who was from Henning. The younger Haley always spoke proudly of his father and the obstacles of racism he had overcome. Like his father, Alex Haley was enrolled at Alcorn State University at age 15, and a year later, enrolled at Elizabeth City State College in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The following year he returned to his father and stepmother to inform them of his withdrawal from college. His father felt that Alex needed discipline and growth and convinced his son to enlist in the military when he turned 18. On May 24, 1939, Alex Haley began his twenty-year career with the Coast Guard.
He enlisted as a mess attendant and later became advanced to the rate of petty officer third-class in the rating of steward, one of the few ratings open to African Americans at that time. It was during his service in the Pacific theater of operations that Haley taught himself the craft of writing stories. It is said that during his enlistment he was often paid by other sailors to write love letters to their girlfriends. He said that the greatest enemy he and his crew faced during their long voyages was not the Japanese forces but rather boredom.
After World War II, Haley was able to petition the Coast Guard to allow him to transfer into the field of journalism, and by 1949 he had become a Petty Officer First Class in the rating of Journalist. He later advanced to Chief Petty Officer and held this grade until his retirement from the Coast Guard in 1959. He was the first Chief Journalist in the Coast Guard, the rating having been expressly created for him in recognition of his literary ability.
Haley’s awards and decorations from the Coast Guard include the Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal (with 1 silver and 1 bronze service star), American Defense Service Medal (with “Sea” clasp), American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Korean Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, and the Coast Guard Expert Marksmanship Medal. Additionally, he was awarded the War Service Medal by the Republic of Korea ten years after his death.