Appalachian neighbors gather to honor Alex Haley

Bear Stephenson, left, a member of the Museum of Appalachia Board of Directors, poses with Bill Haley, the grandson of author Alex Haley, at an event honoring Haley this month.

About 150 Alex Haley fans packed into the cozy banquet hall at the Museum of Appalachia earlier this month to see the late “Roots” author awarded the museum’s “Heroes of Southern Appalachia” honor.

Former Tennessee governor and U.S. senator Lamar Alexander presented the award. The writer’s grandson, Bill Haley, and nephew, Chris Haley, attended and accepted the distinction on their family’s behalf.

“No one told it like Alex did,” Alexander said during his remarks. “Alex Hailey changed the way people of all families talk about Black history. He died relatively young because I think we just used him up!”

Haley is best known for his 1976 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” The book sold more than 15 million copies in seven months and its television adaptation was watched by a record breaking 130 million people. Haley’s work is credited with cultivating a widespread interest in genealogy and an appreciation for African American history.

Haley spent much of his later life in East Tennessee. In 1986, then-Gov. Alexander introduced Haley to John Rice Irwin, founder of the Museum of Appalachia. After a visit to the museum, Haley decided to live in the Norris/Clinton area and bought a nearby farm from Irwin – a farm now owned by the Children’s Defense Fund.

The “Heroes of Southern Appalachia” award honors “people from the Southern Appalachian region who exemplify the characteristics of perseverance, fortitude, self-reliance, and service,” according to a museum news release.

From left, Randy Boyd, Harry Boston, Jeannette Mills, and Jenny Boyd, who is a member of the museum’s board.

Dr. Renee Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, with Kwanbe Bullard.

Sarah, Phyllis, and former Chancery Court Chancellor Daryl Fansler, who serves on the museum’s board.

Janice and Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.

Museum board member Bo Shafer and his wife, Jane.

From left, Jim Hart, board member Jack Williams, Kristin and Mark Williams.

Michael Searcy and Cheryl Light.

Jack and Rachel Davidson.

From left, Elaine Irwin Meyer, Lamar Alexander, former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, and his wife, Sandy. Meyer is the daughter of John Rice Irwin, the founder of the Museum of Appalachia. She and the Hon. Wade serve on the museum’s board of directors.

The evening’s emcee, Hallerin Hilton Hill, left, with former Gov. Lamar Alexander.

The Museum of Appalachia Band played welcoming tunes.

The banquet room at the Museum of Appalachia was packed!

Arugula and pear salad with candied pecans, smoked blue cheese crumbles, buttered cornbread crumbs, and Champagne vinaigrette. Delish. Restaurateur Jeffrey Dealejandro provided the victuals, which had a regional flair.

From left, Vincent Jones, Kwanbe Bullard, and Renee Kesler.

Dewey Roberts and Angela Dennis.

From left, Standford, Steve, and Maxine Thompson Davis.

Red wine was generously donated by Randy and Jenny Boyd from their winery in Argentina.

Logan and Johnnie Hickman. He’s a member of the museum’s board.

Entree was confit Springer Mountain Farm chicken legs with fingerling potatoes, kale, charred onion and slow-roasted cherry tomatoes with a chicken demi-glace sauce.

The centerpieces were beautiful.

Dessert was Honey Bee coffee tiramisu.

Tiffany and Chris Martin.

Multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins, a former member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Rhiannon Giddens band, provided after dinner entertainment.

Emcee Hallerin Hilton Hill in front of a bust of Alex Haley created by well-known East Tennessee artist Jim Gray.

Steve Dean, the creator of WBIR’s beloved “Heartland Series” and a member of the Museum of Appalachia Board of Directors, introduced a video about Alex Haley.

Lindsey Meyer Gallaher is John Rice Irwin’s granddaughter and the president of the museum’s board.

Lamar Alexander flanked by Alex Haley’s nephew Chris Haley, left, and his grandson, Bill Haley.

Chris and Bill Haley accepting the award.

Here’s a sample of Hubby Jenkins’ touching performance:

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2 Responses to Appalachian neighbors gather to honor Alex Haley

  1. Jack Williams, on March 9th, 2024 at 10:53 am said:

    Some great photos! Thanks for sharing. Be sure to send these to Will Meyer for his files. Thanks

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on March 9th, 2024 at 3:01 pm said:

    Thanks, Jack! OK. Will do.

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