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George Williford Boyce Haley (1925–2015)

George Williford Boyce Haley was a U.S. ambassador, politician, civil rights activist, attorney, and policy analyst. He was one of the first African-American students to attend the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) since Reconstruction. He was also one of the first African Americans elected to the Kansas Senate.

George Haley was born to Simon Haley and Bertha Haley in the small western Tennessee town of Henning on August 28, 1925. He had two brothers, one of whom, Alex, wrote the bestselling book Roots. His mother died when he was six years old. The family later moved to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), where, in 1939, Haley’s father accepted a position as head of the agriculture department at AM&N College—now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB).

In 1940, Haley’s father sent him to Bordentown High School, a military boarding school in Bordentown, New Jersey. Shortly after his graduation in 1943, he was drafted, spending three years in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He attended Morehouse College from 1946 to 1949, becoming close friends with classmates Martin Luther King Jr. and editor Lerone Bennett. After he received his BA at Morehouse, his father challenged him to attend the University of Arkansas School of Law. Haley enrolled in 1949 with another classmate from Pine Bluff, Chris Mercer, to become part of the legendary “Six Pioneers,” the first black students to attend UA since Reconstruction.

Though he was separated from the general student body and had to live in the cramped basement of one of the school buildings, he was a member of the Arkansas Law Review and graduated in 1952, just prior to the beginning of the modern civil rights movement. Following this, he joined the Kansas law firm of Stevens Jackson, which provided assistance on the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Haley served in private practice but was also a deputy city attorney from 1954 to 1964. This helped position him for election as a Republican to the Kansas Senate in 1964; he served until 1968.

Haley ran for U.S. Congress from Kansas in 1966 but was not elected. He did, however, move to Washington DC, where he started a career as a government appointee. In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed him chief counsel of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration. From 1973 to 1976, he was associate director for equal employment opportunity at the United States Information Agency (USIA).

By the 1980s, he had returned to private practice. He launched a Maryland U.S. Senate campaign, but it was unsuccessful. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush appointed Haley as chairman of the U.S. Postal Rate Commission, on which he served for eight years. In 1998, President Bill Clinton named him as ambassador to Gambia, the country to which his brother Alex Haley had traced the family’s pre-slavery roots in Roots; he served as ambassador until 2001.

Haley died on May 13, 2015, at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland. He and his wife, Doris Haley, had two children. Their son, David Haley, was elected as a Democrat to the Kansas Senate in 2001; he was a member of the Kansas House from 1995 to 2001.

For additional information:
Campbell, Matt. “George Haley, One of the First African-Americans Elected to the Kansas Senate, Dies at 89.” Kansas City Star, May 14, 2015. http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article21053835.html#storylink=cpy (accessed September 10, 2015).

“George Haley.” The History Makers. http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/george-haley-38 (accessed September 10, 2015).

“Kunte Kinte to Ambassador George W. Haley: ‘A Family Cycle Completed.’” Jack H. Olender & Associates. http://www.olender.com/articles/kunte-kinte-to-ambassador-george-w-haley/ (accessed September 10, 2015).

Valentine, Curtis. “Remembering George Haley: The Greatest American You’ve Never Heard Of.” Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/curtis-valentine/remembering-george-haley-_b_7418484.html (accessed September 10, 2015).

Jimmy Cunningham
Nashville, Tennessee

Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 5/2/2016

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