Although Haley graduated from high school at the age of 15, he was not a particularly good college student and enlisted in the Coast Guard at the age of 18. During World War II he served as a mess attendant and steward while spending spare time writing short stories as well as letters for his fellow sailors. After the war he transferred to the area of journalism and served in that field until he retired as a Chief Petty Officer after 20 years of service.
Haley had been serving in New York City, and he stayed there to pursue a writing career. His first break came in 1962 with the first interview published by Playboy, featuring Miles Davis. His later interviews included Martin Luther King Jr., Jim Brown, Muhammed Ali, Johnny Carson, Melvin Belli, and Quincy Davis.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965, two weeks before the assassination of Malcolm X. The Chronology of Twentieth Century History called it "a personal witnessing by a black militant of the tenets of universal faith to which he, at least, attributed the potential to resolve the increasingly divisive struggle for civil rights all over the world.."
Haley is best known for his 1976 work Roots: The Saga of an American Family, based on stories of family history he heard as a child from his maternal grandmother. It traces the family back seven generations to the abduction of Kunta Kente from Gambia in 1767. The book was made into an ABC mini-series, drawing a record 130 million viewers, and sparked a nation-wide interest in genealogy.
|Levar Burton as Kunta Kinte|
Haley later began a third book, this time based on his father's side of the family. It was posthumously finished by David Stevens and published as Alex Haley's Queen. He died February 10, 1992 in Seattle while on a lecture tour.