Black Plagiarism: How Root’s Author Alex Haley Was a Serial Plagiarizer Who Was Protected from Exposure

Executive Summary

  • Alex Haley plagiarized most of the Roots from multiple books.
  • This story shows how he escaped accountability.


It was curious to learn that the best-selling black author in the world, Alex Haley, was a serial plagiarist. This topic introduces a general topic of the high frequency with which blacks engage in plagiarism. This article will begin with quotes regarding Alex Haley’s plagiarism and then broaden the larger topic of plagiarism among black authors.

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About Alex Haley’s Highly Misleading Depiction of Slavery

Alex Haley is the author of the best-selling book by black author of all time called Roots, which was turned into an amazingly popular television series that first aired in the US in the 1970s. Roots were designed to look like history but were written from a black-centric perspective. Black centrism means that all objectivity is removed and that historical events are presented in a way that allows the maximal degree of race scamming, specifically from white societies. The television series presented Roots as an authentic piece of history to the public. This is explained in the following quotation.

Crouch explains: “Haley came on the scene when Negroes were becoming obsessed with their African ancestry and were having overwrought reactions to a tale of slavery that always, conveniently, left out the crucial role of the cooperative and profiting Africans.”

Black thinker Thomas Sowell, who has written prolifically on race and slavery, makes the same point as Crouch — even if not quite as bluntly. Regarding the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Sowell remarks that Roots “presented some crucially false pictures of what had actually happened — false pictures that continue to dominate thinking today.”

For instance, “Roots has a white man leading a slave raid in West Africa, where the hero, Kunta Kinte [supposedly, Haley’s ancestor] was captured, looking bewildered at the chains put on him as he was led away in bondage.” Moreover, even “the village elders” likewise appeared perplexed by the sight of these “white men” who were “carrying their people away.” In glaring contrast to this depiction, Sowell correctly asserts, the location from which Kunta Kinte was taken — West Africa — had been “a center of slave trading before the first white man arrived there — and slavery continues in parts of it to this very moment.” He adds: “Africans sold vast numbers of other Africans to Europeans. But they hardly let Europeans go running around in their territory, catching people willy-nilly.” (Emphasis added.)According to Sowell, Roots did more harm than good in fueling “the gross misconception that slavery was about white people enslaving black people.” In reality, “the tragedy of slavery was of a far greater magnitude than that.” Slavery knew no racial boundaries. “People of every race and color were both slaves and enslavers, for thousands of years, all around the world.” Sowell likens slavery to cancer in that it transcends time and place. He concludes: “If reparations were to be paid for slavery, everybody on this planet would owe everybody else.” – The New American

The standard black explanation of slavery is that it did not exist before being brought to Africa by white slave traders. The reality is that slavery has existed in Africa for as long as recorded history. Just as it existed everywhere else in the world. By making the false claim that whites brought slavery to Africa, blacks in the US feel morally superior and place themselves in a unique victim category. And it also eliminates any responsibility on the part of Africans who captured and sold enslaved people to white slave traders. Furthermore, white slave traders never went beyond the port; the slaves were brought to the slave-trading port by slave capturing and trading tribes. In this way, Roots has provided a false history to blacks in the US and other countries that they have never adjusted by learning the truth about slavery.

About Haley’s Plagiarism

In addition to being a highly misleading and politically motivated (i.e., race scamming) presentation of slavery, Alex Haley plagiarized many parts of the book from other books. This is explained in the following quotation.

As Philip Nobile writes, Haley was a “literary rogue,” an “impostor” whose “prose was so inept that he required ghosts [ghost writers] throughout his career.” Upon reading Haley’s posthumously released private papers and interviewing one of his original editors for Roots, Nobile was able to determine that the Roots’ real author was Murray Fisher, Haley’s editor from his time at Playboy. Fisher was also, incidentally, white.

In the late 1960s, Harry Courlander — a white man — composed The African, a fictional work about a young African boy who is captured, made to endure the horrors of the mid-Atlantic passage, and eventually sold into slavery in America. In 1978 he sued Haley for plagiarism. Upon expressing regret that at least 81 passages were lifted virtually verbatim from Courlander’s novel and recast in Roots, and upon the Judge’s unambiguous finding that Haley was guilty of plagiarism, Haley agreed to an out of court settlement whereby he would pay Courlander $650,000 (roughly $2 million in today’s currency). – The New American

In addition, Haley created a fake genealogy where he was related to Kinte Kunte, the main character in Roots. Combined with other plagiarism and concocted information earlier in his career (plagiarists rarely plagiarize only once), a pattern is established by Haley where he continually falsifies the information in his work. This is found in the following quotation.

In 1985, Haley casually confessed to his annexation, as reported in Lawrence Grobel’s book of author interviews, Endangered Species: “After five weeks I realized I had fascinating things about his night life, but I didn’t have enough quotes from Miles. So I took a gamble: I wrote 3,000 words about the nightlife of the king of jazz, and then for the other 3,000 words I went through every quote I could find, made up questions to fit, and that was how the Playboy Interview took form.” – The New American

Notice how blithely Haley admits to the falsification. He copied from other interviews with Miles Davis and added it to his own. Ordinarily, if one did not have enough content to produce a full interview, why not reach out to Miles Davis and ask him more questions by phone? But this shows that Haley follows none of the normal writing rules.

A Fake Genealogy

The point of creating the fake genealogy to Kinte Kunte was to add fake authenticity to the story. And the fake genealogy gets even more complicated, as explained in the following quotation.

The Mills state that “there remains the inarguable conclusion that the 182 pages and thirty-nine chapters in which the Virginia lives of Haley’s ‘ancestors’ are chronicled have no basis in fact. Neither of the two relationships that are crucial to his pedigree (the identity of Kizzy as daughter of Kinte alias Toby, and the relationship of Bell as wife of Kinte and mother of Kizzy) can be established by even the weakest genealogical evidence.” – The New American

That is an amazing conclusion. Therefore, Haley produced 182 pages of fiction and presented it as a historical fact that he researched to find.

Why Was Haley’s Pulitzer Not Retracted?

Haley won the Pulitzer Prize for Roots in 1977, which you can see listed on the Pulitzer Prize website. However, not only was the prize not retracted, even though just one year after Haley was successfully sued for plagiarism, there is no note on the web page to explain that Haley was a plagiarist. Therefore, The Pulitzer Prize organization seems to pretend Haley was never caught performing extraordinary levels of plagiarism but concocting a fake history to support his connection to the main character in his book through ancestry.

On February 23, 1993, a year after Haley’s death, the Village Voice published my 9000-word analysis of Haley’s private papers and tapes bequeathed to the University of Tennessee (Knoxville). From these materials emerged the picture of an irredeemable literary scoundrel who polluted black history and genealogy with an avalanche of lies in Roots: “All of Haley’s ripping yarns about his search for Kunta Kinte and his ten year struggle to write Roots were part of an elegant and complex make-it-up-as-you-go-along scam.” – History Network

Here is the excuse offered by the Pulitzer Prize organization for why Haley was never stripped of his Pulitzer (nor did they even decide to update their website)

According to Baker, cowardice was not in play when the 1993 Board boycotted discussion of Roots. “We’re not in the business of passing judgment on the dead,” he said at the time. “We decided not to do anything. Turnover is such that I suppose people on the Board don’t feel any responsibility to judge what past Boards did. We had this problem before with Walter Duranty. Somebody came up with documents and proposed that we strip him of his medal. At that time the Board decided there was no point in trying to revise history—both sides are stuck with it. This was essentially the mood of the Board on the Haley thing. I was with those who felt that once you start taking things back, there’s no end. The history of the Board is not pure. Should we make an effort to amend the past. What’s done is done. – History Network

That is quite an excuse.

If the work in Roots is worthy of a Pulitzer, why was Alex Haley not stripped of the Pulitzer, and it was conferred to the author of most of the book, Harry Courlander, the author of The African? How can you continue to hold an award when proven that it is not your work? This means that one of the most prestigious literary awards tolerates plagiarism. All you need to do is win the award before the plagiarism is proven and the award is kept. Simply conferring the award to Harry Courlander would not be sufficient as Haley’s work had multiple plagiarized sources, as explained in the following quotation.

Plagiarists Can Be President at Harvard — If One is Black

Notice how NBC News covers this story as “accusations.” All it takes is reading its material. This is because blacks are allowed to plagiarize. After all, blacks cannot be held to standards because the argument is they have been oppressed, and this means the oppressed individual will not have standards applied to them. There are enormous numbers of black academics who have plagiarized their work, but little will be done about it. It is considered racist to hold blacks accountable for plagiarism. 

Other Sources Plagiarized by Haley

Haley burgled much more than The African in Roots. Under cross-examination he admitted copying from public domain works like Travels of Mungo Park (1816), The Story of Phyllis Wheatley (1834), the Slave Narratives compiled by the WPA’s Federal Writers Project (1938), and Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln biography (1940). – History Network

There are four separate books where Haley plagiarized material and his historical fabrications. A very large amount of The African was plagiarized for Roots, so how much of Roots was written by Haley once the plagiarism was removed?

Creating a Fake History to Increase Black Self-Esteem

This is explained as follows.

I think what Roots gave African Americans was a sense of their history as something other than a series of victim episodes,” former NPR African correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault told the BBC2. “And it’s like my own experience when I walked on the campus of the University of Georgia [in 1961] after 170 years of segregation and the first thing I hear is ‘nigger go home.’ Well, if I thought of myself as a victim, that could have been devastating. But I wasn’t brought up that way. Roots was important in helping African Americans appreciate that they had come from a rich heritage and that they had nothing to hang their heads in shame about. All of a sudden in the aftermath of Roots every baby that was born either had an African name or was named in the naming ceremony that Haley described so beautifully where the father takes the child away and whispers his or her name into the ear so that he or she is the first person to hear the name. We did that with our son. For the first time we knew our ennobling traditions. – History Network

If African Americans were so proud of their heritage that they gave their children African names, why not complete the intellectual voyage and move to Africa? It is curious that not only do “proud” blacks in the US not move to black-run countries, but African blacks exclusively desire to move to white countries. MLK, like all blacks, has a dream of living in white neighborhoods and not having to be around blacks. It is a desire for a continual upgrade so that they get all the benefits of white society while degrading that society for whites. So, saying MLK just wanted a lack of racism is not accurate. Blacks know they need to associate with white things, get access to white institutions, and get away from black people and black things. No matter how much this “black pride” swells, it never seems to impact the behavior that blacks seek to be around blacks. They inherently know that their best move is to align themselves with white societies. The quote finishes.

So that if there were things that were not quite right or historically accurate [in Roots] the overall power and message was something I’ve never seen in my lifetime. – History Network

That provides a false history that no slavery existed in Africa before whites arrived or that slavery persisted in Africa long after slavery was abolished in all white countries. The slavery that exists today in Africa was “empowering” for blacks.

This fits into a pattern on the part of blacks who are unconcerned with what is true. Claims today by BLM and by Critical Race Theory proponents are also marked by not being based in fact. Critical Race Theory even proposes that rational thinking is “white” and all statements are only made to gain power, and therefore telling any lie that helps with one’s objectives (in this case, “racial justice”) is warranted, as I cover in the article Critical Race Theory Shows the How Diversity Means Anti White Ideas.

Not Correcting Roots

Another bothersome item is that even though Haley has been exposed as a fraud and Roots is historically inaccurate and with a fake genealogy, this has not been explained to the public. Roots is re-shown without any attempt to explain to the audience that the accuracy of the program is incredibly low. This is described in the following quotation.

On Friday, NBC will air a special commemorating the 25th anniversary of the landmark miniseries based on Alex Haley’s book “Roots.” Ironically, the original series aired on ABC – but officials at that network took a pass on broadcasting the tribute.

What’s truly amazing, however, is that “Roots” is receiving a reverential tribute at all. For while the miniseries was a remarkable – and important – piece of television, the book on which it was based has now been widely exposed as a historical hoax.

Unfortunately, the general public is largely unaware of how Haley’s monumental family autobiography, stretching back to 18th-century Africa, has been discredited.

Indeed, a 1997 BBC documentary expose of Haley’s work has been banned by U.S. television networks – especially PBS, which would normally welcome such a program. NY Post

Interesting, why was this banned? I looked high and low and could not find this documentary. Yet I found many complimentary videos about Alex Haley available on YouTube that have never been adjusted.

How many people have watched this video since 1991? Haley is lying in this interview; he was barely a writer and was not a researcher. 

Who Will Normally Tend to Plagiarize

People who plagiarize have average intellect but aspire to be something more. They want to know as experts in a domain but are unwilling to invest the time and effort or lack the mental abilities to master the material. That is, they are poseurs. A perfect example of a poseur is Joe Biden. Here is an example of Biden posing in the video below.

Joe Biden is incurious and can only participate in complicated topics by skimming the subject. He wants to be seen as equal to people who can think creatively and work with concepts, which is the perfect example of a plagiarizing personality. 

Joe Biden has been plagiarizing other people for decades. He plagiarizes very well-known work and is repeatedly caught for this plagiarism. 

My work has been plagiarized several times; in each case, it was a person who was again a poseur. They cannot do the work they want to project to the world. I don’t have a problem plagiarizing or giving credit to others. Note how I liberally use quotations. This is because ideas come to me naturally due to my ability. All people who create know this. All creative people have to do is sit down and begin reading on a topic, and ideas come to them.

Plagiarizers usually don’t stop at plagiarizing — they are natural-born liars and make up false information about themselves. This is called being a fabulist.  

Creatives Versus The Typical Person

Not everyone can do this. If you debate different people, you often find that they have not questioned the information provided. They are not working with concepts or providing information but accepting them. They cannot move beyond the status quo because their knowledge is like a copy machine. Their thoughts are a restatement of what they were told. That is, in a way, a type of plagiarism. It is not unethical, and it does not even require copying or writing anything, but it uses the brain as a copy machine. I know these distinctions because I have found my articles from this site plagiarized over the years on several occasions, and the pattern is apparent. I covered one person’s work who plagiarized my material in the article How Scott Bickley Engaged in Mosaic Plagiarism from Brightwork on SAP HANA?

I have found that plagiarists will come up with a story they did not know they were plagiarizing, even when the material is copied verbatim. However, the most talented plagiarists don’t copy material verbatim but alter the writing while keeping the same content.

Even outstanding students who get As in school can come up with original ideas or think independently. I once knew someone in a Ph.D. program who had a phenomenal memory. She was an A student from undergraduate to her Ph.D. program. However, she could not think independently. Restatement of information and building new information or insights are not necessarily related. These observations of the shortcomings of the plagiarist are reinforced in the following quotation, which explains King’s poor English skills as measured by standardized testing.

Even those who condemn plagiarism claim to have no idea why King should have done it. Mr. Pappas drops us a hint when he writes, “[W]e know from his scores on the Graduate Record Exam that King scored in the second lowest quartile in English and vocabulary, in the lowest ten percent in quantitative analysis, and in the lowest third on his advanced test in philosophy — the very subject he would concentrate in at B.U.” People steal ideas when they are too lazy or unoriginal to come up with their own. – American Renaissance

This brings up how King was allowed into Boston University with these scores unless accepted under affirmative action. Interestingly, King was both a product of affirmative action (this is supposedly before institutionalized affirmative action). Boston University accepted an applicant they should not have, and he ended up having to plagiarize the work of others to graduate.


Alex Haley engaged in plagiarism because he lacked the creativity, research skills, and writing ability to write Roots. Therefore, Haley copied his material from authors that had that ability.

Although articles were written about this plagiarism, there was a general tendency to downplay the plagiarism due to Haley’s race. This plagiarism was not exposed because Alex Haley was black, and the concept is that blacks need their success symbols even if they steal their work from others. However, the fact that Haley was black increased the likelihood that he would have to plagiarize work to be successful. This is because only a very small fraction of blacks, either in the US or in Africa, can create original ideas.

The fact that Haley was not exposed for this plagiarism to serve as a beacon for blacks is the same logic as to why inserting anti-white and black “empowering” information into Roots that provide a false understanding of slavery is acceptable. Again, blacks need things that allow them to feel empowered, so the logic goes that lying is ok.

Society has now accepted black plagiarism, and anyone pointing out plagiarism by blacks will be accused of racism, meaning that we can expect blacks to be allowed to plagiarize work with virtually no consequences for many years into the future. In this way, the definition of plagiarism has been changed.

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