Wil Haygood- 2014
American journalist and author known for his book The Butler: A Witness to History about Eugene Allen
Wil Haygood: A Witness to History
By Patrick McCullough (Computer Science, Class of 2024)
Will Haygood is a critically acclaimed historian, journalist, and author of several books and one you may know by name, Butler: A Witness to History. He has been awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts (Wil, 1), Sunday Magazine Editors Award, New England Associated Press Award, and National Association for Black Journalist award for foreign reporting. (Wil Haygood, 1) Wil Haygood’s writing often centers around the trials and tribulations faced by black Americans before and during the Civil Rights era, and how they did not let racism hold them back from their goals and having an impact on the world. This parallels Haygood's own experience with race which he viewed as, “...more as a source of pride rather than alienation. Race was inevitable but not necessarily an obstacle.” (Cayton, 347) He remains an inspirational figure for many through his retelling of the lives of many other African American people’s hardships and triumphs. Even to today, we can remain inspired by Haygood’s writing, and find solace in the stories of marginalized black Americans creating change, seeing progress, and making it through adversity, and derive hope from their stories.
Haygood’s most famous work, Butler: A Witness to History, retells the story of Eugene Allen, a man who worked in the White House for 34 years under eight US Presidents (Haygood, 7). Written during then Senator Obama’s presidential campaign, he interviews Allen about the change in social relations across his career. As said in Butler: A Witness to History, “...but because this was America, once a land rife with Klansmen and lynching and second-class citizenship emblazoned in the laws, there really was no comparison. ...the leap felt in his (Eugene Allen) life felt epic as well. From plantation to ballot slip and a vote for Barack Obama.” (Haygood, 23) It is clear how much progress was experienced in Allen’s lifetime. Being born on a plantation in 1919, to seeing the first African American President Barack Obama, being elected in 2008. Haygood is fervent in his view that he is not an activist, however he is a prominent figure in the fight against anti-black racism in the past, and he continues to this even to today. With his latest book, Tigerland, the tale of a segregated city getting its first African-American principle, Jack Gibbs and of the white basketball coach Bob Hart, choosing to settle in an East side neighborhood he was warned against. The players, and mothers of players, who persevered in the newly developed housing projects despite overwhelming odds. Haygood may not want the title activist, but Tigerland could easily serve as guide in how to counter civil unrest, especially now, fifty years removed.
Wil Haygood remains so inspirational because he does not focus on racism in and of itself, but he writes about the triumphs against it. He writes about people beating the odds, and triumphing against a force against them. He doesn't write about how racism defined them. He writes about how they rose above it. He also reminds us that change is a process, not an immediate change. He remains relevant because of the current political climate we live in today, not unlike that of the civil rights movement. And the stories he tells are just as inspirational now, as they were then.
Haygood, Wil. The Butler: a Witness to History. 37 Ink/Atria, 2018.
L., CAYTON ANDREW R. OHIO: the History of a People. OHIO STATE UNIV PRESS, 2021.
“Wil Haygood.” Simon & Schuster, www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Wil-Haygood/425034780.
“Wil Haygood.” The Washington Post, WP Company, www.washingtonpost.com/people/wil-haygood/.
“Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing by Wil Haygood.” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/38398148-tigerland.
Providing a Witness to History
By Fausto Prezioso (Business Administration, Class of 2024)
America has been plagued throughout history with racism and hate that still exists today. Through history there have been countless hero's who fought this racism in many different ways. A living hero in this context would be Wil Haygood. Wil Haygood is important to us today for opening eyes and raising awareness for segregation, racism, and the challenges African Americans faced and are still trying to get past. Through his book, “The Butler”, Haygood gave a platform for a man to share his story who wouldn’t otherwise have had a platform. This man was named Eugene Allen and his story became huge in the media, allowing millions to hear his story and understand the fight African Americans had to put forth to get where they are today, all because Haygood gave him a platform.
It all started when Barack Obama was running for president and he witnessed something that made him certain Obama could win the presidency. “I needed to find someone from the era of segregation, and find them right now” Haygood told his editor when trying to shed light on how meaningful it would be to someone who lived through segregation to see a black man in office. (Haygood 4) Haygood also demanded that the person he finds must have worked at the white house. Why? You may ask, because he wanted someone who had “worked and scrubbed inside the white house, who had washed dishes there”. (Haygood 5) He knew nobody would appreciate a black president as much as someone who served all the white presidents that came before him. In his search, he found Eugene Allen, a butler for the white house who had served through 8 presidencies, and grew up on a plantation.
The story Haygood allowed to be shared showed “Allen's quietly extraordinary life speak[ing] volumes about a nation struggling, and succeeding by degrees, to come to terms with an ignominious history of racial inequality” said writers from popular book review website, Kirkus Reviews. (Kirkus Reviews) Allen’s story told the story of black power rising: from slavery, to segregation, to bills and laws slowly over time being passed because of fights and movements from African Americans. It shows fight! This story proves that no matter how tough of a situation you are in, you can push and fight to get out of it. Wil Haygood really brought the picture forward that showed: African Americans went from being slaves to being president of the United States. This is powerful, inspirational, motivational, and proves that anything is possible.
Haygood, Wil. The Butler: A Witness to History. 2013.
Kirkus Reviews. “THE BUTLER.” Kirkus Reviews, https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/wil-haygood/the-butler/.