Late author Alex Haley honored in 2-day hometown celebration

Free Press wire reports | 8/19/2021, 6 p.m.
Find the good and praise it. It’s a phrase the late Alex Haley, author of the 1976 novel “Roots: The …
The grave of late author Alex Haley sits outside his former boyhood home in Henning, Tenn. The home is part of the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center, which is honoring the writer of “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” on what would be Mr. Haley’s 100th birthday. Photo by Adrian Sainz/Associated Press

HENNING, Tenn. - Find the good and praise it.

It’s a phrase the late Alex Haley, author of the 1976 novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” often said during his life, from his days residing in the small West Tennessee town of Henning through his world travels as a journalist and writer. His seminal book about the horrors and injustices of slavery include messages of perseverance, courage and strength.

Now, on the occasion of his 100th birthday, Mr. Haley’s bridge-building legacy is being invoked once again as a kind of antidote to an especially contentious period of American life. A ribbon-cutting at the renovated Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center took place Aug. 13, and a community celebration featuring music, food and a fashion show oc- curred on Aug. 14.

Mr. Haley’s life was filled with examples of living by those words. There was the time he encouraged close friend Fred Montgomery to become his hometown’s first Black mayor, pushing back at resistance from some of the town’s white populace.

Mr. Haley, who died in 1992, also is remembered in this month’s re-release of a 2003 book titled “Finding the Good” by former Associated Press journalist Lucas L. Johnson II.

Mr. Johnson’s book discusses the life of Mr. Montgomery, who befriended Mr. Haley in Henning. As young boys, they would swim together and write love poems to girls. Mr. Haley had wanted to write a book about Mr. Montgomery, who was born into a family of sharecroppers and endured racism in the Jim Crow South before becoming a successful plumber, farm owner, alderman and mayor.

Mr. Johnson weaves Mr. Montgomery’s story with examples from his own life dealing with racism, family members grappling with substance abuse and incarceration, and issues of faith.

Mr. Haley is most well- known for “Roots,” which earned him a Pulitzer Prize and was turned into a TV miniseries watched by a record-setting 130 million people when it was released in 1977. Mr. Haley also wrote “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” based on interviews with the activist and human rights leader.

The Henning museum and the home where Mr. Haley lived with his grandparents from 1921 to 1929 are state historic sites.

In his book, Mr. Johnson includes examples of Mr. Haley’s influence on himself and Mr. Montgomery. In this month’s re-release, Mr. Johnson updates his book to bring Mr. Haley’s message of “finding the good” into the context of current-day issues, including the coronavirus and the global protests following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

“Prayerfully, I started looking for the good,” Mr. Johnson writes. “And I found the inspiring stories of health care workers and first responders—as well as everyday people—who risked their lives to help others.

“I saw people who had once ignored the reality of racism remove their blinders, embrace humanity, and work alongside non-whites to create change,” he continues. “I saw hope for a truly divided nation.”

“Finding the Good” has received praise from “Roots” actor Louis Gossett Jr., civil rights leader the Rev. James M. Lawson Jr., and Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The re-release also includes a timely foreword by Lamar Alexander, a former Tennessee governor and former Repub- lican U.S. senator, who was friends with Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Haley and cites Mr. Haley’s inspirational motto.