George Haley, (right) with his brothers Alex (center) and Julius. Photo credit: Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, University of Arkansas.
We’ve got roots. Pine Bluff has families which not only underscore the literal definition of “roots” but the popularly known book Roots. George Haley, the younger brother of Roots author Alex Haley, a resident of Pine Bluff, powerfully established himself in government and social change as a skilled civil rights activist, attorney, policy analyst, politician, and ambassador.
Haley was born to Simon and Bertha Haley in Henning, Tennessee on August 28, 1925. He had two brothers, Julian and Alex. When he was six years old his mother died. The family later moved to Pine Bluff, where in 1939, Haley’s father became the head of the agriculture department at AM&N College, now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, serving there until the mid 1950s.
While a student at J.C. Corbin High School he played the French horn with the Arkansas AM&N band. He later transferred to a military boarding school in Bordentown, New Jersey. Haley attended Morehouse College from 1946-1949 becoming close friends with civil rights icon, Dr. Martin Luther King, and author/editor Lerone Bennett. After much contemplation and some prodding by his father, Haley, in 1949, enrolled with another classmate from Pine Bluff, Christopher Mercer, to become part of legendary, “Six Pioneers,” the first African American students to attend and graduate from a white Southern university (University of Arkansas at Fayetteville) since Reconstruction.
While he was restricted from the general student body and had to live in poor conditions in the basement of one of the school buildings, he became a member of the prestigious
Arkansas Law Review and graduated in 1952. He immediately thrust himself into the burgeoning civil rights movement joining the Kansas Law firm of Stevens Jackson, which provided much support and assistance for the landmark Supreme Court case,
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas. Building his own private practice, he was also the Topeka deputy city attorney from 1954-1964. This led him into elected politics as he became a member of the Kansas Legislature, serving as a state senator from 1964-1968. Unsuccessfully running for Congress in 1966, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he was appointed by President Richard Nixon as chief council of the Urban Mass Transport Administration. Haley also served as Nixon’s associate director for equal opportunity employment at the United States Information Agency (USIA).
During the 1980s Haley continued his work in private practice. In 1990, he was appointed by President George H.W. Bush as chairman of the U.S. Postal Rate Commission, serving in that capacity for eight years. In 1998, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton as ambassador to Gambia, the country to which his brother Alex had painstakingly traced the family’s pre-slavery roots.
George Haley passed on May 13, 2015, in Silver Spring, MD. He was married to Doris Moxley Haley and had two children, David and Anne. David, underscoring the roots of his father’ legacy, was elected as a Democrat to the Kansas Senate in 2001 after serving in the Kansas House from 1995-2001.
Campbell, Matt. “George Haley, One of the First African-Americans Elected to the Kansas Senate, Dies at 89.” Kansas City Star, May 14, 2015.
“George Haley.” The History Makers.
“Kunte Kinte to Ambassador George W. Haley: ‘A Family Cycle Completed.’” Jack H. Olender & Associates.
Valentine, Curtis. “Remembering George Haley: The Greatest American You’ve Never Heard Of.” Huffington Post.