Wil Haygood made a joke after more than 300 people watched a brief video of Oprah Winfrey introducing him as the writer who told the story of Eugene Allen, an African-American butler who worked in the White House for three decades.
“My niece keeps asking me if I have Oprah Winfrey on speed dial,” he said to the laughing, sold-out crowd at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s main branch downtown.
Author Wil Haygood at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library Wednesday.
All eyes were on Mr. Haygood Wednesday as he told the story about he tracked down Mr. Allen and wrote a three part series for the Washington Post: “A Butler Well Served By This Election.”
“I love that man and his story and the fact he loved his country,” Mr. Haygood said.
Mr. Haygood was the second guest speaker of this season’s Authors! Authors! series, sponsored by The Blade and Toledo Lucas County Public Library. The 63-year-old Columbus native’s book The Butler: A Witness To History is the story of Mr. Allen, the White House butler who served U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. His three-part series inspired the acclaimed 2013 film The Butler, starring Oprah Winfrey, Vanessa Redgrave, Forest Whitaker, and Jane Fonda.
His newest book Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America has won an Ohioan Award, The Scribes Book Award, and a BCALA Literary Award. Mr. Haygood during his career has witnessed Nelson Mandela’s release after 27 years of imprisonment, covered New Orlean’s post-hurricane Katrina for 33 straight days without a break, traveled with Barack Obama, and was nominated for a Pulitzer prize.
Throughout the evening, Mr. Haygood centered his speech on the significance in telling Mr. Allen’s story during the moment President Barrack Obama was sworn into office. He also briefly mentioned his newest book, which tells the story about the events surrounding the heated appointment of the first African American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Before his speech, Mr. Haygood told The Blade “it’s always a good time” to remind people of Mr. Marshall’s unyielding, ceaseless fight for justice, which he tells in his 2015 biography.
“There’s a sense in the country that a lot of rights of minorities are being suppressed,” he said. [Mr. Marshall’s] rise happened in a time of a lot of racial hardships, racial murders, were going on in this country.”
His nearly hour-long story was followed by a few questions from the audience.
He said Mr. Allen’s strong love and loyalty to the U.S., especially during times of legal segregation, is reflected in the way he wants to see Americans today.
“I think of this great country of ours at this moment that we’re in,” Mr. Haygood said. “A whole lot of agitation, a whole lot of anger, the rise of the alt-right, of the Klu Klux Klan, Nazi marches. We can’t let that America win. We just can’t.”
The next speaker for the Authors! Authors! series is sociopolitical comedian W. Kamau Bell. The Emmy Award-winning host of the hit CNN show United Shades of America, and author of The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6' 4", African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian will speak at 7 p.m. on Nov. 16 at the Stranahan Theater & Great Hall, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd.
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