Journalist and author Wil Haygood discusses his book "Showdown" and debuts trailer for Thurgood Marshall documentary

Written by Rachel Zurilla, CAS communications intern

Wil Haygood addresses the packed audience.

On Tuesday, February 25, award-winning author and journalist Wil Haygood '76 shared his writing process for his 2015 biography Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America, and debuted the trailer for an upcoming documentary based on the book. Marshall was the first African-American justice on the United States Supreme Court.

The event, "Wil Haygood: The American Presidency and Thurgood Marshall," took place in Armstrong Student Center and began with university ambassador Dr. Renate Crawford introducing Haygood, who is also the Boadway Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence in the Department of Media, Journalism & Film.

After the audience viewed the world premiere of the trailer for Haygood's documentary, Showdown, he took the stage and demonstrated some of his well-known humor.

"I love that line, 'Thurgood is coming!'" he said with a chuckle, referring to the trailer. "No one ever says that about me!"

With February being Black History Month, Haygood discussed the ties Miami University has to the Civil Rights Movement.

"It is amazing, this nexus of Western College," he said, referring to the original name of Miami's Western Program. "It opened in 1964, and they opened their arms and their hearts to Freedom Summer workers, and now because of the muscle and the might of Miami University, that whole saga has been lifted up into the national limelight."

Inspiration for Showdown

Haygood delved into the process of writing his book on Marshall, starting with a captivating story of the one time he saw Thurgood Marshall in person — at New York City's Penn Station, for just a brief moment.

"That right there set Thurgood Marshall inside of me," he said.

When asked by his editor why he wanted to write about Thurgood Marshall, Haygood said his answer was  that it took 5 days to complete his confirmation hearings — but for every other justice, who was white, it took about 3 hours.

While researching for his book, Haygood visited 7 different presidential libraries. This led him to former Arkansas senator John McClellan, one of the opposers of Marshall's appointment. Haygood went to Arkansas to look through the senator's files and happened upon a letter from Barbara Ross, a teenage college student and constituent at the time urging the senator to support Marshall.

"I was so touched by the letter and the hope that it embodied, that I decided to include it in my book and even got in contact with Barbara Ross herself," Haygood said.

The Long Road to Civil Rights

Haygood gave the audience a timeline of what American civil rights looked like parallel to what was happening in Marshall's life. When Marshall's parents were newlyweds, he said, President Theodore Roosevelt was called an "n-word lover" by the national media for inviting esteemed educator and author Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House.

When Marshall was 5 years old, President Woodrow Wilson premiered the deeply racist film Birth of a Nation at the White House — the first premiere of any movie at the White House.

Haygood summarized Marshall's professional career, including some of the landmark cases he won, including Brown v. Board of Education. Marshall was then appointed as a federal appeals judge by President John F. Kennedy and later Solicitor General of the United States. Eventually, Marshall was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson.

"It was amazing to study this moment in history and the senators who tried to stop Thurgood Marshall," Haygood said.

The talk then turned to connecting Thurgood Marshall's work with the current political atmosphere. Haygood talked about how the people running for the presidential election this November are all connected to Marshall, whether that be through lawsuits filed against them for civil rights violations or policies allowed to be carried out during their term as an elected official.

"I really liked how [Mr. Haygood] tied this book and topic into the current political climate," said Sam Baker, a senior majoring in political science and global and intercultural studies. "With a presidential election coming up, it's important to remember the people who did so much for the country in the past, and I feel like [Thurgood Marshall's] work is more relevant now than ever."

The evening ended with a question and answer session with the audience.

"Race has this nation in a stranglehold," said Haygood, "and I'm hopeful we can come out of this, because we must."

Wil Haygood is a former Washington Post reporter who wrote the article that became the hit movie, The Butler. He  has also authored a number of books throughout his career. This event was sponsored and made possible by Miami's Department of Media, Journalism & Film.