Longform

THE ANGUISH OF ALEX HALEY'S WIDOWWITH HER HUSBAND'S LITERARY LEGACY DISPERSED, SHE'S LOCKED IN A BITTER PROBATE BATTLE

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At the time, the book was 12 years overdue.
She was happy to organize him, to help him finish Roots. "When I saw the piles of material, and the disarray, and the way he was working, I saw how I could truly contribute to him. That's what I really wanted to do, because I felt that he was a man with a great, great mission," she recalls.

It was in Jamaica that she says Alex had first proposed. He said they would have no children, but they would write together and their books would be their children.

But after Roots, no new books were completed.
And through the years, Alex became increasingly annoyed when My would mention that his true "mission" was to write more great books.

In fact, after Jamaica she seemed to annoy him a lot. Nonetheless, they secretly married in 1977. It was, from the beginning, a marriage in which he was gone more than he was home. My frequently locked herself in her bathroom and buried her tearful face in the fur of her Yorkshire terrier. She could not stand up to the loneliness.

Once, they nearly divorced. But Alex and My could not bring themselves to break up their cerebral relationship, which became more and more distant physically until, in the end, they were no longer lovers.

For obvious reasons, the torments of this unconventional relationship were not mentioned by Dr. Myran Lewis Haley when her turn came to eulogize her husband in the Greenwood Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Memphis, Tennessee.

Afterward, the Haley family and My did not share a funeral feast. In fact, they had inadvertently insulted one another.

My maintains the Haley family had excluded her from the funeral plans, that the family hadn't even told her where the memorial service was to be. And she says she was humiliated to have to walk into the Greenwood church half an hour late.

William Haley, Alex's only son, is still irritated that Alex's "invisible woman" had made a "grand entrance" by arriving late to the memorial service. She could have picked up a schedule of the day's events when she attended the previous night's wake, he says. And he is annoyed that his father's widow was accompanied by her lawyers at the services.

"She did not come as a widow; she came with her lawyers to get his manuscripts," says William.

My insists that she brought the lawyers at William's suggestion, that he had told her over the telephone that "estate matters" were to be hammered out between funeral services, an allegation William denies.

The truth is that by the time of Alex Haley's probate, everyone except the author's children had a lawyer, 17 in all, tugging at the estate. The struggle over the will became a public spectacle covered by the national press. From the New York Times to the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town," one overriding question emerged: How could the artifacts of Alex Haley's inspirational career, a cultural bequest that would have enriched any museum or library, be squandered into the hands of private collectors?

Understanding Alex Haley's relationship to My, his relationship to his children and former wives and his relationship to his brothers and particularly his father is critical to understanding why his brother George Haley, as executor of Alex's estate, permitted the diaspora of Alex Haley's literary legacy.

@rule:
@body:The fate of what little remains of Alex Haley's fortune will be determined in a windowless courtroom in the Chancery Court in Knoxville, Tennessee.

It was the clean beauty of the hills of southern Appalachia and the character of the Appalachian people themselves that drew Alex to this corner of eastern Tennessee in the early 1980s.

He loved to drive into the mountains with his good friend John Rice Irwin, a Tennessee historian and museum curator.

Alex Haley was particularly devoted to the miners who barely survived a life of carving coal out of the hills. And the country folk clearly adored Alex Haley.

Irwin recalls that when Alex Haley decided to build a manmade lake right before the rainy season, neighboring farmers trooped over to help. Using their pickup-truck headlights for illumination, they worked until three in the morning. All night long, Alex Haley raced from the farmhouse to the lake, bringing his neighbors snacks and steaming cups of coffee. "People wouldn't be this kind in Los Angeles," Irwin remembers him saying.

He was so charmed by east Tennessee, in fact, that beginning in the mid-1980s, he bought several pieces of real estate, including two condos in Knoxville and a farm in nearby Norris. The farm became his plaything and "sandcastle," says John Rice Irwin.

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Terry Greene