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CGC Alex Haley History

Alex P. Haley
Chief Journalist Alex P. Haley 1921-1992

Born in Ithica, New York, August 11, 1921, Alex P Haley graduated from high school at 15, attended State Teacher's College in Elizabeth City, North Carolina for two years and, at the urging of his father, enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1939 as a mess attendant, 3rd class.

During his years of service, Haley developed and honed the writing skills that made him the first Coast Guard Journalist. He continued to write, penning the worldwide best seller Roots, which received the1977 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, based on Haley's extensive conversations with the famous minister of the Nation of Islam.

Serving as ship's cook in the Pacific during World War II, Haley spent most of his Coast Guard duty in long months at sea. While at sea on the CGCs MENDOTA and MURZIM, Haley took up letter writing, and in one week could knock out 40 letters and receive just as many replies. His mail-call success prompted shipmates to enlist his help with their letters, including love letters.

During his time at sea on various cutters, Haley set down sea stories recounted by old salts aboard. Eight years and hundreds of rejection slips later, he had his first story published. In 1944, Haley was assigned to edit "Our Post," the official Coast Guard publication. In 1945 he won the Ship's Editorial Association Award and served as an assistant to the public relations officer at Coast Guard Headquarters until 1959.

In 1952, after Haley's writing talent was discovered, the Coast Guard created the Journalist rating for him. His primary job was writing stories to promote the Coast Guard to the media. His ability to transform research into informative, interesting narrative became his trademark.

After 20 years of service, Haley retired as Chief Journalist in 1959 after serving in World War II and Korea. He never forgot the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard never forgot one of its more accomplished veterans. Their paths continued to cross as Haley spoke at various Coast Guard functions. "You don't spend twenty years of your life in the service and not have a warm, nostalgic feeling left in you," Haley said of the Coast Guard. "It's a small service, and there's a lot of esprit de corps."

After retiring from the Coast Guard, Haley continued to write professionally, including articles for Reader's Digest and Playboy Magazine and best selling books and TV mini series. Roots has been translated into 37 languages and sold 6 million copies in hardcover and millions more in paperback. The blockbuster television miniseries "Roots: The Saga of an American Family," was broadcast on ABC television in 1977 and was watched by an estimated 130 million viewers.

Since his Coast Guard days, Haley completed much of his writing at sea. He wrote A Different Kind of Christmas, the story of a slave's escape on the Underground Railroad, while on a freighter voyage from Long Beach, California to Australia in 1973. Haley was presented with the Distinguished Public Service Award and a citation from the Commandant of the U. S. Coast Guard, Admiral Bender, and Rear Admiral John F. Thompson, superintendent of the U. S. Coast Guard Academy. Haley worked to promote literacy, adult literacy especially, and participated in programs that encouraged young people to remain in school. Each year, thanks to the famous Coast Guard veteran, eight students, selected based on economic need, are supported from freshman year through graduate school by Alex Haley's Scholarship Fund.

Last Modified 2/24/2015