Retrace ‘Roots’ at Alex Haley Museum in Henning

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Alex Haley Museum in Henning, Tennessee

Kunta Kinte. Kizzy. Chicken George. In the mid-1970s, these characters became household names thanks to author Alex Haley. His 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of An American Family, and the television miniseries Roots, which aired a year later, changed what many Americans thought they knew about African-American heritage, taking the story of slavery and the quest for freedom out of dry-as-dust history textbooks and making it come alive in our living rooms.

Haley often said his novel had its own roots in oral history, inspired by the stories he heard as a child from his grandmother and aunts on the front porch of the family home in Henning, Tenn. This 1919 Craftsman-style bungalow in West Tennessee has been transformed into the Alex Haley Museum, where visitors can sit on that same broad front porch, sharing their own stories. Inside, they’ll find period furnishings from the 1920s along with Haley family artifacts and photographs, including one of the legendary Chicken George, the former slave and patriarch who brought the Murrays, Haley’s maternal ancestors, out of North Carolina to settle in Henning in the late 1800s. A tour through the house is also a journey through the family’s history.

Alex Haley Museum in Henning, Tennessee

Chicken George’s granddaughter, Cynthia Murray Palmer, was Haley’s grandmother, and she and her husband, Will Palmer, built the Henning home. It was one of the finest houses in town and the first African-American home in Henning to have a telephone. Will Palmer owned a successful lumber company, and the spaciousness of the house and quality of the construction indeed show that the Palmers were people of means.

The son of the Palmers’ daughter Bertha and college agriculture professor Simon Haley, Alex Haley spent his younger years moving around the country with his parents as his father pursued an academic career, but he thought of his maternal grandparents’ house in Henning as home. It was there he first heard about an ancestor his elders called “the African,” who was kidnapped by slave traders in West Africa, survived the brutal Middle Passage (only one in six Africans typically did), and was enslaved in colonial America. This tale and others would fire the author’s literary imagination. Haley, who died in 1992, is buried in the front yard, not far from the porch.

Exhibit at Alex Haley Museum in Henning, Tennessee

The Haley site also boasts a new building, the Interpretive Center, dedicated in 2010. The Center houses exhibits that provide an overview of Haley’s literary career, from his early days as a journalist in the Coast Guard, through his struggles as a freelancer, to his ultimate success with Roots, a book he spent 12 years researching and writing. Additional exhibits educate visitors about other Haley writing projects, including a series of magazine interviews and his collaboration with Civil Rights leader Malcolm X, which resulted in the acclaimed book The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley. Other exhibits provide background on Haley’s family history and historical context for Roots, with information about the colonial slave trade and slavery in America. A staff genealogist is available at the Center to help inspired visitors learn something about their own roots.

Contact Information

The Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center, 200 Church St. in Henning, is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The phone number is (731) 738- 2240. Consider visiting the Murray-Palmer family gravesite at historic Bethlehem Cemetery, a short drive from the Museum. Directions are available at the Interpretive Center. For more information, go to www.alexhaleymuseum.com.

16 Comments

  1. dan fisher

    October 10, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    why the name changes between the book and the movie? which are the real names?

    • Jessy Yancey

      October 23, 2012 at 10:31 am

      Hi Dan,

      For more information on Roots, please contact the Alex Haley Museum directly at 731) 738- 2240 or http://www.alexhaleymuseum.com. Thanks!

      Jessy Yancey
      editor, Tennessee Home & Farm magazine

    • Michele Sterling

      March 29, 2019 at 1:35 pm

      I am wanting to visit the museum.. Wondering about the prices and also if I need to book a tour. If anyone can help me out with some info it would be greatly appreciated.

      • Jessy Yancey

        April 2, 2019 at 9:15 am

        Hi Michele,
        You can find more about the Alex Haley Museum and plan your visit at http://www.alexhaleymuseum.org. Thanks!
        Jessy Yancey
        editor, TN Home & Farm

  2. Louis

    October 22, 2012 at 1:15 am

    Hi, just out of interest, Was Colonel Frederick Warner a real person that was congressman of henning ? I’ve tried finding his history on google but just found the tv character. What was his real name?

    Kind regards

    • Jessy Yancey

      October 23, 2012 at 10:30 am

      Hi Louis,

      For more information on the historical accuracy of Roots, please contact the Alex Haley Museum directly at 731) 738- 2240 or http://www.alexhaleymuseum.com. Thanks!

      Jessy Yancey
      editor, Tennessee Home & Farm magazine

  3. Rick Griminger

    December 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    My wife and I fould our visit to Henning in April 1993 to be extremely inspiring! The family has always had our respect and admiration.

  4. Shelly Stevens

    December 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    I am so humble about this AWESOME story, until when i read or watch it on TV. I started doing a family tree on all the characters. Kunta Kinte was a Special and Awesome man, and never gave up on family! His baby girl KIZZY (STAY PUT) was his pride and joy! I cry because God gives us so much WISDOM to love one another and not hurt others because they hurt u!! No matter how life is WE must put GOD 1st and everthing will come together as one!! Chicken George was the backbone of the family,he himself was another KUNTA KINTE his late grandfather!! I recordered all the parts and take notes on every episodes!! Beautiful Kizzy was so precious and its ashame what Tom Moore did but look how God works she had a son that bought them out of slavery and in a million years we would have never thought a white man would bring a black family out of slavery!!,HALLEIUGH!! Kunte Kinte, wife Bell daughter Kizzy, son Chicken George wife Matilda children Tom Moore, Lewis, and vergil! Toms wife Irene!! I would like the book collections on the whole story!! Thank you Alex Haley!!

  5. tom murray

    January 2, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    hi
    When did tom murray and his wife irene pass away?

  6. Allison

    January 2, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    What country in Africa did Alex Haley’s family come from?

    • Dee

      February 23, 2013 at 8:24 am

      They came from Gambia.

  7. Topazshell

    August 11, 2013 at 2:35 am

    I love the painting.

  8. ronald towns

    December 25, 2013 at 5:36 am

    hi i was at your museum a few years ago i use to live around the corner several years ago before the movie came out,my question is how come you don’t show the actual pictures that you have in the museum of the relatives on your website?

    • Jessy Yancey

      December 30, 2013 at 11:05 am

      Hi Ronald,

      To contact the folks at the Alex Haley Museum directly, please visit their website at http://www.alexhaleymuseum.org. Hope this helps!

      Thanks,
      Jessy Yancey
      editor, Tennessee Home & Farm magazine

  9. Avalla Henning

    April 7, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    I am from the original Henning family. I was out of touch and until my adulthood I never knew this town even existed. I am excited to one day visit and learn more about my identity

  10. pat

    February 8, 2015 at 8:16 am

    as a young adult we visited aften my fathers uncle and aunt lived there queen and zeek

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