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Knoxville's literary legacy, mapped out.

So Dad has joined the others up there. I feel that they do watch and guide, and I also feel that they join me in the hope that this story of our people can help alleviate the legacies of the fact that preponderantly the histories have been written by the winners. (from Roots)

Alex Haley, Author of Roots
Alex Haley with Malcolm X
Alex Haley, Naval Portrait

Alexander Murray Palmer Haley was born on August 11, 1921, in Ithaca, New York, and he was raised in the town of Henning, Tennessee, a rural hamlet in West Tennessee near Memphis. After studying at Alcorn State University and Elizabeth City State College, he spent more than two decades serving in the United States Coast Guard, where he began writing in his spare time. His first book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), came out of a series of interviews he conducted with the civil rights leader for Playboy Magazine. His second novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976), was a fictionalized version of his own family’s history going back seven generations. This book won a Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into a TV miniseries of the same name, which became the most-watching TV series of all time, a record that remained for decades. Later in his life, after speaking at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Haley struck up a friendship with John Rice Irwin (founder and curator of the Museum of Appalachia). This relationship lead to Haley purchasing a farm near the museum in Norris, Tennessee, where he spent much of the time during his final years. He also had a home in Knoxville. Haley died of cardiac arrest in 1992.

Alex Haley Farm
Haley’s sprawling 157-acre farm in Anderson County, Tennessee was famous for the lavish parties and receptions that Haley would often throw for his friends. He even built, with the help of the local community, a manmade lake for fishing. While many of the buildings from Haley’s time are no longer standing, several still remain, including the “Haley Farm Lodge” and the “Haley Farmhouse.”In 1994, two years after Haley’s death, the farm was bought by the Children’s Defense Fund, which operates many educational programs from the location. The Children’s Defense Fund sees itself as continuing Haley’s dedication to civil rights. The Fund operates “freedom schools,” inspired by the Civil Rights Freedom Summer of 1964. These schools train elementary-college students in curricula dedicated to conflict resolution and social action.
Alex Haley Heritage Square
As a celebration of and tribute to Haley’s civil right and literary achievements, as well as his connections to the city, in 1998 the City of Knoxville unveiled the Alex Haley Heritage Square (1600 Dandridge Avenue). The centerpiece of this square is the Alex Haley Statue, a 4,200 pound bronze statue designed and constructed by Tina Allen. Until the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington D. C. opened in 2011, it was the largest statue of an African American in the world.
Langston Hughes Library
The most prominent new structure on the Haley Farm is the Langston Hughes Library (pictured above and below), a private, non-circulating library designed by the renowned architect Maya Lin (who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.). The library, dedicated in 1999, was built within a refurbished cantilevered barn from the 1860s. Lin explains her inspiration for the library: “The idea was to maintain the integrity and character of the old barn yet introduce a new inner layer…expressing the idea of a separate inner skin slipping inside the old barn.” She added, “I’d never seen a shape like that before and wanted to save it….Once I realized that the book collection was small and the library would be used as an intimate gathering space, I came up with the concept of an elevated reading room.”
Langston Hughes Library, a private, non-circulating library designed by the renowned architect Maya Lin
Mapping Knoxville’s literary legacy
Our map joins moments in literature with GPS coordinates. Image-rich descriptions of a place’s significance within specific works tie us to these authors in a new way as Knoxville’s literature is reawakened in the city that surrounds us.