Aug. 11, 1921

Credit: Courtesy of Vanguard Press, which published the 30th anniversary edition

Alex Haley, the author of “Roots” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, was born in Ithaca, New York. 

He spent much of his first five years with his mother and grandparents in Henning, Tennessee. He graduated from high school at 15, attended what is now known as Alcorn State University and eventually joined the Coast Guard, where he discovered his gift for writing, penning love letters for friends and eventually articles and short stories for magazines. 

After serving as chief journalist for the Coast Guard, he became a struggling freelance writer. His interview with Malcolm X became a highly regarded 1965 book on the civil rights leader before he experienced the immense success of “Roots”, which won widespread adulation at the time and some criticism in the years that followed. 

Harold Courlander, author of “The African”, won payment for plagiarizing portions of the novel. Haley said the copying was unintentional and apologized. 

After his death in 1992, the Coast Guard named one of its ships after Haley. The cutter has made its way to faraway ports, just like the late author, throughout the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, into the Sea of Japan and north into the Arctic Circle.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.