The powerful value of a four-leaf letter that Malcolm X wrote to Alex Haley in 1964 from a Saudi Arabia hotel room has been making headlines. Written 10 months before his assassination, the letter documents Malcolm X’s conversion that fueled, in Haley’s iconic The Autobiography of Malcolm X, one of the most profound climaxes in literary history, when Malcolm X urged the Nation of Islam to abandon its hatred toward whites. Syracuse has had the letter for more than four decades, during which scholars have been lured by its historical significance. Now Haley’s son wants it, and it’s uncertain how that tussle will be resolved.
In the meantime, an exact search for Alex Haley in ArchiveGrid turned up 88 hits for other collections around the country containing various amounts of Alex Haley material just as worthwhile for different researchers.
Here are five:
1. Most well-known among Alex Haley scholars would be the Alex Haley Papers in the special collections department at University of Tennessee in Knoxville, which is about 360 miles from Henning, Tenn., where Haley lived as a child. He donated his collection in 1991 and the university bought more materials the next year when his estate was auctioned. Now the collection about his literary life and career fills 80 boxes. In the article mentioned above, Haley explained why the university got his papers: “Now they’re not just my private works and recollections, but a part of the fabric of our state to eventually be shared with other researchers, writers, explorers and dreamers.”
2. In New York City, which is about 223 miles from Ithaca, where Haley was born, the New York Public Library has a special collection of 15 boxes of materials about the activities Haley was involved in between 1969 and 1990. According to the finding aid, the collection has files related to Malcolm X with letters he wrote to Haley. One file also contains copies of letters Malcolm X wrote from Cairo and Mecca in 1964 to M.S. Handler, a reporter who wrote the introduction to The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Photographs and audio recordings are also part of the collection but they are in the library’s photographs and prints division and the moving image and recorded sound division.
3. A recording of Alex Haley in the Stanford Program for Recordings in Sound collection at Stanford University captured his voice around the time when he was probably working on Roots: The Saga of an American Family. A graduate English student started the project in 1972 to professionally record poets and novelists reading their work, so other English literature scholars may enjoy these recordings. This collection is mostly on open reel tapes of different sizes and there are 14 boxes of them in the Archive of Recorded Sound. The recordings were also produced on six vinyl LP’s and the archive has those available for listening. There are detailed notes about the recordings in an annotated discography, but many of the master reels remain unnumbered.
4. Thoroughbred horse racing fans will enjoy a special collection at University of Virginia with annotated manuscripts and research notes by Alex Haley when he wrote “Dark Secret’s Last Race: A Drama In Real Life” in the early 1960s. During the time when Haley was working on Malcolm X, he had profiled champion thoroughbred racehorse Dark Secret and his final race at the 1934 Jockey Club Gold Cup, which he won despite broken leg. Purchased in 1995 from a Los Angeles book shop, this 19-item collection also has materials about Dark Secret’s trainer, James Edward Fitzsimmons.
5. Anyone looking to compile an Alex Haley biography need look no further than the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina. An unpublished biography of him sits among the 4,500 items in the Anne Romain papers collection about the Civil Rights activist, musician, historian, and writer who helped create the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project. Her collection includes the Haley biography she wrote yet never published, materials from her research about his life and career, and posters, photographs, and slides of him that she collected. Romain also curated the Alex Haley House in Henning, Tenn., a role she was obviously well-suited for because of her passion for and roles in bringing about social change, especially in the south. A look at this collection will reveal knowledge about the person Haley inspired.