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The Alex Haley Roots Foundation

Alex Haley

Alex Haley: The Man Behind Roots

Jeffrey Elliot: Finally, I recently read that you donated a great deal of money to establish a special foundation to fund research in the area of African studies. Can you say something about the foundation?

Alex Haley: Yes. The Foundation is a reflection of the responsibility I feel as a result of the success of Roots. I very much want to do something constructive with the profits from the book. I have no desire whatsoever to own a yacht, or a mansion, or a limousine, or anything else like that. I'm just not interested in those things. Instead, I've established the Alex Haley Roots Foundation. It only bears my name because of the shoe company which has a similar name. Basically, the Foundation is an outgrowth of my desire to put into practice what I believe. I think it's vitally important that black people, particularly those in positions of responsibility, do what they can to help others who aren't quite as fortunate. As a result, I've set into motion this Foundation. It's arranged so I can donate the legal maximum to insure its continued operation. I was fortunate to secure the assistance of my friend, Mr. James Dyer, to head the Foundation. Mr. Dyer, who is a Harvard graduate, worked previously for both the Urban League and the Carnegie Corporation. With the blessings of the Carnegie Corporation, he became Director of the Alex Haley Roots Foundation, which is headquartered in New York, and which began operation in October, 1977. The purposes of the Foundation are still evolving. However, we hope to provide scholarships for post-graduate students who are working in the thematic area which encompasses Roots. In addition, we would like to help disseminate course materials at the primary and secondary levels, on a national basis, dealing with solid information concerning black history. Finally, we want to work in connection with Africa, and, in particular, with The Gambia, to help build bridges between black Africans and black people in this country. As you can see, we have an ambitious agenda before us.

(Excerpted from Alex Haley: The Man Behind Roots. © 1980 Jeffrey M. Elliot. © 2011 Wildside Press LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

Find The Good And Praise It

Ann Hawthorne: When you are asked to speak, what is expected of you?

Alex Haley: I think largely what people ask is the author of Roots. And that may take many forms. I often speak about one phrase: "find the good and praise it." It's on every piece of stationery with my name. I saw it on a bumper sticker on a car in Los Angeles. And it so symbolized what I feel. I expect I have just sort of seized on that. It is, in essence: there are many problems; many, many difficulties we have in this country across the board, but if you travel a lot you become aware that we are much better off than most countries in the racial area. We have things which involve, as a rule, much verbal exchange. People get into arguments and there is all this rhetoric—racial rhetoric—going from the Klan to the NAACP and beyond. But if you go over and you see where people are literally killing each other for racial, religious or other reasons, it gives you another perspective.

My thing is simply: let's not exhaust ourselves dealing with the negatives. Let's try to find a way to improve things. Let's try to find a way to make it better. That's what I mean by "find the good and praise it." I really believe that.

(Excerpted from Alex Haley At Home In The Hills Of East Tennessee. © 1992 Appalachian Regional Commission. All Rights Reserved.)

Thanks, Brother Alex Haley

by Bill Turner

In the course of the activities surrounding the funeral of Alex Haley, Bishop William H. Graves (presiding prelate of the Christian Methodist Episcopalian Church) noted that Roots was a Godsend to America and to the world. His text for the eulogy, Psalms 78:2-8, spoke clearly and precisely of the life destiny, the calling and the mission of Alex Haley:

O' My people, listen to my teaching. Open your ears to what I am saying. For I will show you lessons from our history, stories handed down to us from former generations. I will reveal these truths to you so that you can describe these glorious deeds of Jehovah to your children, and tell them about the mighty miracles he did. For he gave his laws to Israel and commanded our fathers to teach them to their children from generation to generation.

Through Roots, a deservedly celebrated work, Alex not only lionized himself; but, more importantly—surely to Alex—he captured the essence of the experiences of his beloved Country's most visible though reluctant immigrants: Americans of African descent.

Thus, from the moment that Omoro and Binta Kinte decided on the name "Kunte," and ending as Alex Haley was lowered into the ground (spitting distance from the porch of his boyhood home, where his maternal kin told the stories to him), this world is a better place for the fact that he passed this way. I am a better person for having come under the canopy of this man; and in time, all thinking Appalachians will rejoice that Alex Haley chose the place we call home as his own final roots. He was "sure," he once told me, that "my people passed through this part of Tennessee en route to Henning, I can tell!" Vintage Alex.

Alex was fascinated by Appalachia, particularly as he saw it through the lens provided by the native eyes of east Tennessee (old) folk and through his connection with John Stephenson and the Berea College family. Appalachia, for Alex—a man with deep rural roots—became his surrogate twist on Thomas Wolfe: You can go home again.

It is fitting that Alex Haley died during African American History Month. He was so spiritual, I have to believe he would have wanted it that way. But, far beyond most men, Alex stands tall—and not only as an indelible icon within his race. In his life and now in his death, Alex's consummate work, Roots, mirrors the poet's dictum:

Lives of great men all remind us / We can make our lives sublime / And, departing, leave behind us / Footprints in the sands of time.

Roots aside, all who really knew Alex Haley remember him most for his simplicity, his total altruism, his self-effacing humility and his keen sense of humor. No one should set out to try to do what he did, but there are a few things we can all do that would personify the qualities of the Alex Haley whose life I shared personally for some fleeting and precious moments. If all Americans could be as loving, and as giving, and as gentle to each other as Alex Haley was, then the Roots he gave us will not have been in vain. Thanks, Brother Alex Haley, and I know that God rests your beautiful soul. ~ Bill Turner.

Bill Turner is associate professor of sociology at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina and special advisor to the President of Berea College in Kentucky. He is also the founder of the Black Mountain Improvement Association.

(The above eulogy by Bill Turner was published in the Journal: Appalachia. © 1992 Appalachian Regional Commission. All Rights Reserved.)

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