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The author Alex Haley has roots in East Tennessee

6:18 PM, Feb 8, 2013   |    comments
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Video: The author Alex Haley has roots in East Tennessee

  • Alex Haley sculpture
  • Alex Haley photograph
  • Alex Haley's hand written notes

An African American author opened the eyes to many people about the realities of slavery.

He is Alex Haley who wrote roots.

As a boy he lived in Henning, Tennessee.

A visit to the world's fair in 1982 and a friendship with the founder of the Museum of Appalachia and Senator Lamar Alexander sparked his interest in moving to the Knoxville area.

His connection to East Tennessee and his legacy live on.

The mini-series Roots was based on the book by Alex Haley.

"It was on all week and everybody in my family watched it. Everybody was talking about it. It was sort of a cultural phenomena at the time," Jennifer Beals with UT Special Collections said.

The original screenplay is part of the University of Tennessee Library Special Collections.

"It was back around 1990 or 1991 when Alex Haley decided he wanted to donate his materials to the University. He was friends with Lamar Alexander, he had some ties here, he was an adjunct professor of Journalism in the College of Communication and he had been involved in the Tennessee Homecoming in 1986," Beals said.

Jennifer Beals says that transfer was going on when Alex Haley died in 1992. The University of Tennessee purchased the rest from his estate.

"The Library of Congress did want it so that tells you it is a pretty significant collection. It's a huge collection. It's about 120 linear feet. It spans from about 1870 to 1991," she said.

The collection includes letters, photographs, and scripts for published and unpublished materials.

The author donated a drum from Gambia where he traveled to research his family's African heritage.

The collection includes an early draft of Roots featuring his hand written notes.

"You see all the different editions, you see the handwriting where he crosses things out and changed them, and I think being able to examine that working process is incredibly useful for researchers," she said.

The collection is a priceless treasure preserving Alex Haley's literary contributions.

"You can kind of see the creative process and how it evolved into the final product," she said.

Alex Haley spent his final decade living in a house on his farm in Clinton. He added building to the property to host writers and to entertain."

"Fascinating how many people come to tell us that Alex Haley was sitting at the S&S Cafeteria, they walked in and said Alex Haley and at that moment he said, well, come on sit down and have lunch with me. Three, four, five days later we'll have a party out at my place and I want you to come out for supper with us," Kenneth Libby with the Children's Defense Fund said.

Libby explained that the Children's Defense Fund bought the property about twenty years ago to use as a retreat. The group's mission fits Alex Haley's vision.

"We have our Freedom Schools reading program which we create the curriculum, we provide it to organizations throughout the nation, and then we want those instructors those literacy coaches to come here and understand the legacy of Alex Haley: telling stories, bringing those stories to life," he said.

Those stories live on in East Tennessee and across the country.

Alex Haley shared his family's history and hope for the future.

"That's something else that we need to remember going in to Black History Month, we want to open up the potential for all those children and all the potential for all Americans and I think that's something else Alex Haley helped us understand," Libby said.

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