Pulitzer-Prize Nominee Wil Haygood Speaks At UD About Sports And Civil Rights

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Grace James
Contributing Writer

On Tuesday, journalist and author Wil Haygood gave a talk on his new book, Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing, in KU Ballroom to a full crowd of UD students, faculty, staff and members from the Dayton community.

The talk was the first event in UD’s Speaker Series, which brings distinguished individuals to campus to initiate purposeful conversations within our community. Haygood discussed his new book with Michael Carter, the chief diversity officer at Sinclair Community College.

Tigerland tells the story of the segregated East High School Tigers basketball and baseball teams who won two Ohio state championships in the same year during the unrest of the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Haygood grew up on the East Side of Columbus and had been fascinated by the Tigers since he was young.

“They were always the talk of the East Side,” he said in an interview with Flyer News.

As a cultural historian, Haygood was excited to take this story, which had only been known by those within the community, and make it known to the public. The characters were dynamic, and the events of the East High team lent themselves to being written about.

“I thought it was a story that was both intimate and epic,” he said.

During the time of the East High victories, the country was in a period of intense turmoil with events such as the war in Vietnam and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

“A lot of people felt that their own dreams had been shattered,” he said. “To recover from that takes fortitude.”

The students at East High contributed to the civil rights movement in their own way by standing up for themselves in the face of oppression. Bo-Pete Lamar, a basketball player, fought back when his old school told him he needed to cut his afro to continue playing basketball. Indignant with his mistreatment, Lamar and his mother moved to East High where he was accepted to play on its team exactly as he was.

“He soared, too,” Haygood said. “And he became a state champion. He was a great player.”

The relationship between sports and civil rights is a tradition that has made a monumental impact with public figures across the country fighting for what they believe in.

“You can look at Jackie Robinson, you can look at Muhammad Ali. These are all figures who stood up for their rights,” Haygood said.

Even after he finished the book, Haygood is still astonished by the athletes in Tigerland, and their remarkable stories.

“I’m finished with the book, and the book is in stores, and yet I’m still astonished at what these guys achieved.”   

Economist Richard V. Reeves, who is an expert on U.S. income inequality, is the next feature in UD’s Speaker Series. Reeves’ talk will be on Oct. 15 from 7-8 p.m. in KU Ballroom. 

Photos courtesy of Annie Denton.