Ambassador to Revisit Roots in Gambia
  Oakland Tribune, Sunday, May 7, 2000

GEORGE HALEY, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Gambia and brother of "Roots" author Alex Haley, is returning to America from Gambia, the same country from which Kunta Kinte, Haley's African ancestor, was taken to America in chains as a slave.

Haley will "revisit his roots" and speak at 4 p.m. May 13 in Oakland at the Mormon Interstake Center on Temple Hill about the need to strengthen the family unit.

Ambassador Haley is retracing the diplomatic path his brother Alex tread in 1977. It was during that sojourn to Salt Lake City to Temple Square's Family History Library that Alex met with Mormon world leaders and received an honorary doctorate degree from Brigham Young University for his efforts to encourage family reunions as a way of ending rootlessness.

Before arriving in Oakland, Ambassador Haley also will speak in Salt Lake City, as did his brother, on the "unifying effect strong family units have on communities, nations and the world."

In 1980, Mormon Presidents N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney told Alex Haley they had "been trying for years to get people to go back to the fourth and fifth generations, and you come along with one book and they do it."

Although "Roots," which has been translated into every major language from Hebrew to Swahili, and the movie that has been seen by more than 1 billion people, traces the ancestry of a black man's family, Haley told the World Conference of Records he hoped his book would continue to spark the world's interest in genealogical research.

"The book 'Roots' has a kind of healing effect on people," Alex Haley said. "It has distressed me that mankind has a kind of built-in frailty -- a great tendency to pull apart other people, to separate them. There's something about genealogy that tends to make people think more in terms of their common denominator than previously."

Ambassador Haley demonstrated the bonds of commonality we can discover when we share our family's stories. He told me how his father, Simon Alexander Haley, taught agriculture at Langston University in Oklahoma.

I then told him how my mother had attended Langston at that time. He asked me if I knew Doris Ward, San Francisco's county assessor. Ward was his wife's (also named Doris) roommate in college at Indiana University. I told him Ward had invited me to his reception in San Francisco.

I asked him if he knew Ambassador Ruth Davis, who was my wife Gay's roommate at UC Berkeley. He said he was a close friend of Ambassador Davis. I told George how Alex had shared his wrenching stories of the difficulties in writing "Roots."

Ambassador Haley then said that exchange symbolized what "Roots," family history, reunions and genealogy is all about: "When we take the time to talk to each other, we will discover that we all know each other."

"The legacy of my brother is that our family has accepted the challenge and the mission to do as much as we can to keep families strong," said Ambassador Haley in a phone interview from his Silver Spring, Md. home.

Ambassador Haley encourages families to collect photos and histories like the photo of him, Alex and Julius at their grandmother's family home, which has been named a museum in Henning, Tenn.

Ambassador Haley will tour Temple Hill's Family History Center before he speaks next Saturday at the event, free to the public. The "Voices of Evergreen" choir will perform "I've Been Buked" and "Gonna Lay Down My Burdens," Negro spirituals that tell the story of slavery and the yearning for freedom. Recording artist Debbie Hamilton will sing "You Reached Out Your Hand to Me," the song she wrote and performed for Alex Haley in 1980 at the World Conference.

A special painting of African Americans will be given to the Family History Center by artist Wanda Groseclose and will "serve to greet all visitors who come to do their family research," said center director Hal Price.

Warner Brothers Studios has given permission to show a brief clip of the "Roots" film. Vernon Deubler, California Genealogical Society president, will introduce George Haley. After his speech, Ambassador Haley will attend the Four Seasons Concerts' W. Hazaiah Williams Memorial affair, featuring three generations of baritones singing Negro spirituals at the Scottish Rite Temple later that night.

The spirituals capture the mood Alex Haley told us he felt when he stripped down and laid on the floor of a cargo ship from Africa to understand the depths and meaning of the song's words -- "Way down yonder by myself and couldn't hear nobody pray."

After nine years, more than $100,000 in debt and contemplating suicide, Haley finally finished "Roots," after hearing the call of his ancestors' voices. Alex Haley often spoke of how his cousin Georgia said, "Boy, your sweet gran'ma and all the rest of 'em, they settin' up there watchin' you."

To emphasize the connectedness of Africa and America, George Haley will discuss his family's plans to erect larger-than-life statues of Kunta Kinte in his native village in Gambia, where he was born free, and here in America where he landed in chains.

"Americans don't have a real awareness of the African culture. I invite all Americans to come and see it, experience it to help determine how we can work together in harmony in the future," Haley said.

David Haley, his son, who's a member of the Kansas Legislature, is now running for senator to follow in George's footsteps (George served as Kansas senator from Kansas City, 1964-68).

Ambassador Haley, a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, served as chief counsel and director for several federal agencies before serving in the United Nations' UNESCO organization. He also served as a legal advisor to the Economic Community of West African States.

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