African-American History Month: Alex Haley
Posted by PA3 Meredith Manning, Wednesday, February 24, 2016
February celebrates the strides of African-Americans throughout history. Many influential figures contributed to the progress of African-American culture in the United States. One of the most well known African-American figures in Coast Guard history is Chief Petty Officer Alex Haley.
Haley, a New York native, joined the Coast Guard in 1939 as a mess attendant, one of the two rates that were open to minorities at the time. As a mess attendant and later a steward, Haley served aboard the cutters Mendota and Pamlico as well as the USS Murzim. During his years underway, Haley wrote love letters for his shipmates to send home and submitted many articles to publications such as the Coast Guard Magazine. He also started a ship’s newspaper entitled Seafarer that included editorials about life underway.
When his ship tour ended, Haley was recognized for his writing talents and assigned a position with the Outpost and later the Helmsman, both Coast Guard publications. Although Haley worked as an editor and reporter for these publications, it was not until 1949 that he was officially recognized for his talents and promoted to Journalist 1st Class, the first African-American journalist in the Coast Guard.
Although Haley had made great impact as an African-American and a journalist in the Coast Guard, his accomplishments were not complete. Haley went on to become the first Chief Petty Officer journalist in the Coast Guard. An article published about him at the time read:
“New York Newsmen Pay Glowing Tribute to Coast Guard’s Only Chief Journalist… You can call him ‘chief’ now — the amiable, industrious and ever helpful Alex Haley, the man behind the public information phone at New York City’s Coast Guard Headquarters, who has just about become ‘Mr. Coast Guard’ to the working press of the metropolis. When there’s a ship in distress along the Atlantic coast, a plane down at sea, a fishing party marooned or on any one of a hundred other mishaps, Haley’s the guy who fed the newspapers and wire services the latest information. If he’s got it, you have it. If he hasn’t got it, he’ll get it — that’s Haley. This amazing, 28 year-old dynamo, who has two phones in his home so his pretty wife can take information from C. G. headquarters while he passes it on to the papers, has just been notified that he has received the rating of chief journalist, the only such title in the service.”
As a Chief, Haley worked as the assistant to the public affairs officer in New York and wrote many articles for the Coast Guard Magazine. He transferred to the 12th Coast Guard District in 1954 and retired from the Coast Guard in 1959.
“You don’t spend twenty years of your life in the service and not have a warm, nostalgic feeling left in you. It’s a small service, the Coast Guard, and there is a lot of esprit de corps,” said Haley of the Coast Guard.
After his retirement, Haley went on to lead a successful career as a journalist, most well recognized by his book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, published in 1976. Haley passed away in 1992.
In District 17, Haley is not just a historical figure; he is a part of the family. The Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley is homeported in Kodiak, Alaska. The cutter is a 282-foot medium-endurance cutter that was recommisioned from the Navy to the Coast Guard in 1999 and named after the famous journalist. Like Alex Haley, the cutter is one of a kind to the Coast Guard fleet.
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