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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Nannie was like a daughter to Alex's father, professor Simon Haley. In some ways, their relationship was warmer than her relationship with Alex.

Simon, the son of a sharecropper and former slave, earned a master's degree from Cornell University and became a college professor. Simon's wife, Bertha, died when Alex was a little boy. Simon remarried to a somewhat stern professor of English. When Alex wrote her letters in the summer, she would return them with corrections, his brothers George and Julius say.

Alex never really felt he lived up to the expectations of his intellectual parents, say his brothers, although Alex sought his father's approval.

When Alex practically flunked out of college, his disappointed parents instructed him to join the military. He signed up for the Coast Guard, where he became a cook. At night he practiced his writing.

Like his father, Simon, Alex became the "first black to . . ." when the Coast Guard named him chief journalist.

After 20 years, Alex retired and began a freelance writing career. It was then that his wife Nannie began working in department stores to keep the family fed and clothed.

It pained Simon Haley to see his son pursuing a dream of a writing career while sacrificing the financial security of his wife and children, says Alex's daughter, Ann. It was not that dreams were unimportant, it's just that three squares on the table should take precedence, the old man would lecture on his visits.

Ann recalls that before Simon Haley came to visit, Alex Haley would grimace in anticipation of the lectures that were sure to come.

Alex's brothers and sister say that Simon Haley was very proud of his son Alex and loved him. His brother Julius recalls sitting Alex down one day and telling him, "Dad loves you very much."

Alex himself remained unconvinced that his father approved of him. Alex once told My that although his father seemed to like The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex wondered if his father would have preferred him to finish his college work.

Simon Haley died shortly before Roots was published. Alex was never able to resolve the relationship between himself and his father.

Alex's brother George, on the other hand, did exactly what his father expected of him. While Alex merely wrote about racism, George endured it. George Haley was the second black to graduate from the University of Arkansas College of Law.

George was not allowed to sleep or bathe with his classmates.
When the secretarial staffers found out that a Negro student would be sharing their bathroom, they were furious.

It was only in George's third year that he ventured into the cafeteria, and on the first occasion his meal was knocked off his tray. Other students asked him how often he bathed, or whether he lusted after white girls.

But George endured, and after a successful career as a Republican legislator in Kansas, he became U.S. postal commissioner, a job he still holds today. He is very proud of his children, who are both lawyers and were graduated with distinction from Howard University and Stanford.

"I am very much like my father," says George.
Because of George's levelheadedness, he was always the sibling to be assigned the tough tasks, says his brother Julius, a retired architect.

"George was closest to Alex," he says. "We as a family always tended to give him [George] the hard tasks and tough responsibilities, and this is another one. We would lump all our troubles on him and then throw stones at him."
@rule:
@body:It is not surprising that Alex Haley elected to name George as executor of his estate. Nor is it surprising that George went about his fiduciary duties exactly as his father, Simon, might have--by making a cold business decision to auction off, to scatter forever, Alex Haley's literary legacy and personal possessions in order to pay the estate's bills. Three squares a day for the family must take precedence over dreams, is what Simon used to tell Alex. Brother George learned that lesson well, and placed greater stock in fiscal responsibility than preserving his brother's mementos.

George is acutely aware that he has drawn the ire of curators of black museums, My Haley, Alex Haley's children and Alex Haley's friends and readers. In their eyes, George Haley has sacrificed a significant portion of African-American heritage in order to preserve the estate's real estate holdings.

George says he would rather not have done it. But he simply had to make a "business decision."

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Terry Greene