By Kathy Knotts
If you’ve ever spent time at City Dock in Downtown Annapolis, you’ve probably noticed the statue of Alex Haley, a familiar landmark that sits at Ego Alley. Haley’s statue sits in the Kunte Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial appearing to read his famous ancestral story to a group of children.
Haley is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book and Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody award-winning television mini-series, Roots, the Saga of an American Family, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X plus numerous articles and interviews of prominent Americans such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Miles Davis, and Muhammed Ali.
“Alex Haley’s two greatest achievements … became and remain an essential source for understanding systemic racism and race,” said Carl Snowden, convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders. “We are deeply indebted to Mr. Haley who understood the power of the written word.”
The City of Annapolis will commemorate Haley with an Alex Haley Day public ceremony at City Dock at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 14, in honor of his 100th birthday Aug. 11.
Mayor Gavin Buckley will present a Key to the City to the Haley family. Chris Haley, director of the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland at the Maryland State Archives, who is Alex Haley’s nephew, will offer remarks. Other speakers include Del. Shaneka Henson, Snowden and spoken-word poet Marcus Hayes. Erica Griswald will host the event.
Alex Haley was born August 11, 1921 in Ithaca, New York. After a 20-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard, he began writing long-form interviews and articles for national magazines. In 1965, he ghost-wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which remains one of the most influential non-fiction books in American literature.
In 1976, after a dozen years of genealogical research, Haley published a novel of his family’s story, Roots: the Saga of an American Family. Haley’s research indicated he was a seventh generation descendent of Kunta Kinte, an enslaved person kidnapped in the Gambia and sold at auction steps from Annapolis’ City Dock. Roots not only won a Pulitzer, it became a TV miniseries that reached 130 million viewers and sparked an interest in African-American genealogy that continues to grow. (The Banneker Douglass Museum hosts a genealogical workshop Sept. 18, part of its Freedom Bound Exhibit events.)
In 1992, a few weeks after Haley’s death, Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and Aldermen Sam Gilmer and Snowden created a committee to design a memorial to Haley at the location where the ship that brought Kunta Kinte to Annapolis had landed.
The statue is not Annapolis’ only memorial to Haley and his literary and genealogical legacy. The annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival (this year on Sept. 25) continues at City Dock and includes food, music, and artisan vendors along with heritage and history exhibits of the African Diaspora. The annual commemoration of Kunta Kinte’s arrival in Annapolis will occur at the beginning of that day.
“It is an honor to commemorate Alex Haley’s 100th birthday in Annapolis,” said Mayor Gavin Buckley. “He contributed brilliantly in the areas of literature, culture, and African-American genealogical research. We are proud to proclaim Alex Haley Day in the City of Annapolis.”
“Uncle Alex considered Annapolis so vital to the story of Roots as he continued to visit this City years after the book and miniseries premiered,” said Haley’s niece Andrea Blackstone.
For more on the Alex Haley Foundation, visit: kintehaley.org. For more on the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival, visit: kuntakinte.org. For details from Alex Haley’s family, visit: Facebook.com/alexhaleyfamily