Born in Ithaca, New York, Haley grew up in the Southern U.S. and served in the Coast Guard from 1939 to 1959; during this time he started writing short stories and articles. He researched Roots for 12 years; the book was made into a TV series that aired in 1977. The same year, Haley won a Pulitzer Prize for the book and the Spingarn Medal as well.
The book and film were both successful, evidently striking a chord in the American psyche and reaching record-breaking 130 million viewers when it was serialized on television. Roots emphasized African-Americans too have a long history and that not all of that history is lost, as many believed. Its popularity sparked an increased public interest in genealogy, as well.
Haley's fame was marred by plagiarism charges, and after a trial, he was permitted to settle out-of-court for $650,000, having admitted that he copied large passages of Roots from The African by Harold Courlander.