To United States military personnel, honor is everything. Most service men and women perform their duty anonymously, nameless, and faceless. These men and women sacrifice their lives in the name of something greater than the individual. The Secretary of the Navy and Commandant of the Coast Guard personally and carefully consider historical tradition and military protocol in the naming of vessels in their respective military services. There are not many people in this world, living or deceased that have had a ship named after them. "To memorialize his (Alex Haley) contributions to the Coast Guard and the nation, the Coast Guard named a medium endurance cutter after its first chief journalist, Alex Haley. . . "1 The United States Coast Guard Cutter, (CGC) Alex Haley (WMEC 39) was commissioned on 10 July 1999, because of Mr. Alex Haley's 20 years of meritorious service during WWII and the Korean Conflict. The commissioning comes seven years after Mr. Haley's death and the medium range cutter is today an active warship serving off the coast of Alaska as part of the United States Homeland Security's response team.
Alex Haley the distinguished African American author of Roots: The saga of an American Family, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for literature, was an active participant in life and an author that profoundly altered people's perception about slavery. His personal motto that emblazons the CGC Haley's ship emblem is a succinct expression of that attitude towards life: "Find the Good and Praise It".
"The ship's emblem is based on the Chief Petty Officer Anchor, as Alex Haley was the first Chief Journalist. The camera and quill found inside the shield reflect the rating symbol for today's Public Affairs Technicians, the follow-on rating to the original "Journalist." In the background is a deep-sea diving helmet, a tribute to the heritage of the USS EDENTON (ATS-1). (See Authors Note) Other images represent the cutter's homeport of Kodiak, Alaska. "Find the Good and Praise It" was Alex Haley's personal motto." 3
Alex Haley had an honorable and distinguished career in the US Coast Guard and he often remarked that: "(my) writing was a hobby while assigned as a steward aboard various cutters during World War II." …"In 1952, after Haley's writing talent was discovered, the Coast Guard created the first (military) rating 'Journalist, First class' (JO1c) for him, he later retired as Chief Journalist (JOC). 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." 4 In Mr. Haley's first sea tour, pre-World War II, aboard the CGC Mendota, little doubt existed amongst the crew that Haley was an outstanding writer; because they often sought him to "ghost" write their love letters. "During long patrols (at sea, aboard the CGC Mendota), Haley began writing letters to friends and relatives, sometimes sending over 40 a week. He received in reply almost as many letters as he sent out, and became somewhat famous among his shipmates. Haley soon found himself fielding offers from his fellow crewmen to help them with their letters. …the ever-eloquent Haley composed convincing love letters to objects of their (shipmates) affections, without of course, letting the 'object' know that the letter was actually written by Haley". 5 After his career in the U.S. Coast Guard, Mr. Haley furthered his writing style and research techniques in the publications Readers Digest, Playboy, Harper's, and Atlantic. "One of Haley's most famous interviews was a 1963 interview with Malcolm X for Playboy, which led to collaboration on the activist's autobiography. Haley later ghostwrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X, based on interviews conducted shortly before Malcolm's death (and with an epilogue). The book was published in 1965 and was a huge success, being later named by Time magazine one of the ten most important nonfiction books of the 20th century". 6
The former Director of the Libraries Division, Mr. Sam Morrison and staff of the African-American Research Library and Culture Center (AARLCC) recognized the important contributions and scholarly significance of Mr. Haley's life and writings and felt that after his death on February 10, 1992, if the library could acquire any material to add to its growing African-American collections, it should make every effort to do so. When Alex Haley's Estate offered his personal effects, manuscripts and writings for auction, AARLCC, along with many other institutions, including the University of Tennessee, eagerly bid for the opportunity to own this culture icon's collection.
The African-American Research Library and Culture Center will be utilizing the Haley collection to honor his accomplishments, promote literacy and encourage young people to remain in school by establishing long-term scholastic goals. These were the exact aspirations of Haley to provide the tools to children/teens so that they could compete equally with the rest of the world. "He worked to promote literacy, adult literacy especially, and participated in programs that encouraged young people to remain in school. Each year, thanks to this Coast Guard veteran, eight students, selected based on economic need, are supported from freshman year to graduate school by the Alex Haley's Scholarship Fund." 7 Several other scholarships have been established in Mr. Haley's name, all centered on his commitment to keep students in school: University of Tennessee's Alex Haley Scholarship for African American students and the Alex Haley/Playboy Interview Scholarship for students in the College of Communications' journal program.
This is the 30th year since the publication of Mr. Haley's book Roots: The saga of an American Family, and the 30th anniversary of the hit television show Roots is in January 2007. Robert E. Cannon, Director of the Broward County Libraries Division wants to initiate a public display of the Haley Collection artifacts during this period of time. Alicia Antone, Librarian IV, Assistant Director of Special Collections, Programs and Exhibits at AARLCC, will collaborate with Mr. Cannon's and introduce the collection to the public because of these notable benchmarks. And, further opportunity occurs in October 2006 as it is Library's fourth year anniversary and "Black History Month" will begin February 2007 coinciding with the anniversaries of both the book's publication and television broadcast of the Roots mini-series. This timely synergy will assist AARLCC with the continued legacy extolled by Alex Haley to promote literacy, school matriculation, and continued schooling for students through graduate (Master Degree) levels. "Our goal and public responsibility is to display the collection, interact with the community regarding educational opportunities, and perpetuate the concepts of genealogy that Mr. Haley invoked in the African-American culture from the research he did on his own family" states Alicia Antone.
The Haley collection is an eclectic resource with many detailed and varied materials, memorabilia, personnel letters, awards, photographs, and manuscripts collectively highlighting Alex Haley's life. Included in this collection are eight unfinished manuscripts that aspiring writers will be able to not only view Haley's creative process, but energize their own writing from this paradigm of a true master story-teller. Another example of Mr. Haley's cognitive writing prowess is available in the collection with a wonderful article that he wrote for Boys' Life, on John Philip Sousa. The student writer can readily see the thought pattern from Mr. Haley's notes as he develops the story in drafts, making changes and comments in his personal hand writing in the margins and then the final outcome, the article as it appeared in Boys' Life magazine.
The ultimate goal of the African American Research Library and Culture Center is best reflected in the dedication statement of the former Director of the Libraries Division, Mr. Samuel F. Morrison:
Conceptually, I view AARLCC as a bridge. The culture and historical symbolism of the library represents a bridge from the past. It recalls the civil rights march in 1965 across the Pettis Bridge from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. In that context, it is a symbol of hope---------a bridge across time and cultures---------and an introduction to a world in which knowledge is the true power. 11
Alex Haley and the "Haley Collection" at AARLCC best represent that goal as it offers the community a rare opportunity and insight into the mind of a cultural icon, historian, and writer. "The importance of Alex Haley and the impact of his work . . . should not be underestimated. To fully appreciate the contribution he made to the (television) medium, the African American community and the country, his work must be examined within the context of changing demographics, historical events at home and abroad and, most important, the centuries-long struggle of a people to be recognized as full-fledged members of the national community". 12 A profound educational bridge that started with a ships name and that now connects our community to Alex Haley and the United States Coast Guard.