Haygood told the Journal-News he stumbled on the story of “Tigerland” during a visit to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
“I had been all over the world as a journalist and back in Columbus, I ran into an athlete who talked about the celebrated season of 1969 when the basketball team was undefeated. It was a touching story in the aftermath of the death of Martin Luther King,” he said.
What many people do not realize, he said, is that the school also won the state baseball title that spring.
“The baseball team played their games with three to five people in the stands. The field was a mile from the school and the athletes had to walk from the school for games,” he said.
Haygood said he was thinking of the East High story tying the racial and civil rights atmosphere of the country into the improbable story of the school winning state championship basketball and baseball titles in a 55-day span.
He urged the Class of 2022 to “exude civility” and said he hopes reading the book will give the incoming Miami University students not just a sense of history, but also a context for current times.
“All this happened in a time of political turmoil and we are back in political turmoil again. Kids can get a sense of how the country holds itself together in a period of upheaval,” he said.
Haygood is an award-winning biographer of Thurgood Marshall, Sammy Davis Jr., Adam Clayton Powell and others. A former writer for The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, Haygood wrote the story “A Butler Well Served by this Election” for The Post. The article became the basis for the award-winning 2013 film “The Butler” and for Haygood’s New York Times best-selling book of the same name.
He is a Visiting Distinguished Professor in Miami’s department of media, journalism and film.
In the days before the convocation, he was busy in a room in the Marcum Center signing all 5,500 copies of the book set to be distributed to first-year students in Oxford and at the university’s regional campuses. The book is set for release Sept. 18, but a special arrangement with his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, allowed for the early Miami debut.
Haygood plans to be back in Oxford in March for a community read of the book and will speak at a program at Oxford Lane Library as part of that effort.
For his contributions to Miami and society, Miami University President Gregory Crawford presented Haygood with the Miami University President’s Medal. In a formal proclamation, the city of Oxford declared Aug. 24 as Wil Haygood Day.
In a surprise move at Miami University’s convocation, which was held at the Freedom Summer Memorial located on Western Drive, the lane connecting Western Drive and the memorial was renamed Wil Haygood Lane in the alum’s honor.