In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, American cities burned, protesters marched at the Democratic National Convention, and black athletes at the Mexico City Olympics brought world-wide attention to the struggle for racial justice. Amid this tumult, 27 young athletes at the segregated East High School in Columbus, Ohio, achieved triumph, winning state championships in basketball and baseball while also sending their debate team to the state finals.
This inspiring story of determination and pride, and the cultural history that surrounds it, is the basis of the upcoming book by author and journalist Wil Haygood, who will discuss Tigerland: The Miracle on East Broad Street on Wednesday, Oct 18 at 5:30 p.m. in Hynson Lounge, Hodson Hall, on the Washington College campus. The program, sponsored by the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Rose O’Neill Literary House, is free and open to the public.
Haygood is the Starr Center’s 2017-18 Patrick Henry Writing Fellow. A cultural historian and award-winning author of seven nonfiction books, he has published biographies on Sammy Davis, Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Sugar Ray Robinson. Perhaps most famously, Haygood is the author and co-producer behind the 2013 film The Butler, the story of Eugene Allen, an African American butler who served under eight U.S. presidents, from Truman to Reagan, and received—along with Mr. Haygood—a VIP invitation to President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
While researching his new book, Haygood interviewed most of the athletes, coaches, and students from East Columbus High who were grateful to share their stories. But beyond their individual stories is an epic story of life in a segregated northern city whose schools did not willingly integrate until mandated by a 1979 Supreme Court decision. Haygood relates how the student athletes were inspired by Martin Luther King’s visits to the city, and, in the aftermath of his murder, felt determined to prove that they could overcome racism and segregation through athletic and scholastic competition. Haygood, who grew up in Columbus, remembers watching the teams play, and how their accomplishments united the community.
“The story reached out to me from my past,” he says. “It keeps asking me to dig deeper and deeper into the fabric of our nation’s past. Although it’s about winning against stiff competition, it’s more than a sports book: it’s a cultural history of our country. Writing the book and bringing it across the finish line at the Starr Center means a lot to me. This story is part of the American experience that needs to be told.”
In addition to finishing his book, Haygood will teach a spring semester nonfiction writing workshop focused on memoir offered through Washington College’s English department. He will also host a viewing of The Butler, and lead a student field trip to Allen’s former D.C. row house in November.
Haygood is on sabbatical from Miami University in Ohio, where he serves as Broadway Visiting Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film. He has received fellowships from John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Alicia Patterson Foundation. Before joining the Miami faculty, he was a Boston Globe correspondent and Washington Post reporter.
While in Chestertown, Haygood resides in the restored 1730s-era Patrick Henry House. Washington College acquired the Patrick Henry Fellows’ Residence in January 2007 through a generous gift from the Barksdale-Dabney-Patrick Henry Family Foundation, which was established by the Nuttle family of Talbot County, direct descendants of the patriot Patrick Henry.
Launched by the Starr Center in 2008, the Patrick Henry Fellowship aims to encourage reflection on the links between American history and contemporary culture, and to foster the literary art of historical writing. It is co-sponsored by the Rose O’Neill Literary House, Washington College’s center for literature and the literary arts. The Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship’s funding is permanently endowed by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, with further support provided by the Starr Foundation, the Hodson Trust, and other donors. For more information on the Center and the Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship, visit http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu.