Wil Haygood, a Miami University alum and the reporter who wrote “The Butler Well Served by This Election,” spoke at Miami University to discuss Freedom Summer and the inspiration for his article that was recently adapted into a movie.
Haygood, dressed in a black suit, glasses and a tie adorned with a tie clip once belonging to JFK, captivated an audience of over 100 people in Hall Auditorium on Tuesday. He talked about writing “The Butler” and about the “hot summer of 1964,”‘ otherwise known as Freedom Summer.
Haygood began the 40-minute lecture talking about an experience he had as a child. It was 1964 and he was living in Ohio. He had wanted to visit his grandmother, who was living in Georgia at the time. After a great deal of waiting, his aunt and uncle decided they were going to take him. He was eight years old. The day they were going to drive down to Georgia, he recalls his uncle instructing his son to hide a gun under the front seat.
“My uncle, a peace-abiding man had to carry a gun because he didn’t want anything to happen,” Haygood stated.
Haygood continued to tell stories about the summer and the effect it had on, not only members of the south, but people all across the country.
Junior Michelle Turner, who attended the lecture, said she never knew about the role Western College played that summer.
“I thought it was interesting when he talked about the students from Miami’s Western Campus, that went down to help,” Turner said. “I never realized that [Western College] had an impact on overcoming that terrible time.”
A particularly moving moment came during the question-answer section.
One attendee asked, “How did you come into writing The Butler?”
Haygood was on the campaign trail with then presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 when, after a rally, he saw three young ladies sitting on a bench crying. He asked what was wrong and they said they were crying because their fathers didn’t want them to support this black man and they were going to defy their fathers.
Haygood said he told these ladies Obama was going to win the election, because at that moment, he had the gut feeling that he was going to win. After this interaction, Haygood came up with the idea of writing about a person who had worked in the White House for a number of years and was told about a man named Eugene Allen, who had worked in the White House through eight presidents.
“You’re sure nobody has ever written about this, your amazing life?” Haygood said to Allen.
“If you think I’m worthy you’ll be the first,” Allen said.
Junior Allison Gnaegy also attended the event.
“The story of how Haygood came up with The Butler was really moving,” Gnaegy said. “It was so interesting that he was the first person to find this amazing person and was able to portray the story in such a touching way.”