Celebrated writer, journalist donates collection to Miami University

Celebrated writer and journalist Wil Haygood plans to donate thousands of items and documents collected during his storied career to Miami University, his alma mater.

The Wil Haygood Collection aims to give readers what Miami University officials called an “extraordinary view into the writing room of the story of America” and beyond.

A former Pulitzer Prize finalist, Haygood’s collection contains items such as drafts of his books, including comments from editors; behind-the-scenes production notes from the 2013 movie “The Butler;” authored but not-produced film scripts; letters from political leaders and public figures and rare photographs from his world travels.

The donation also includes interviews from veterans of the Vietnam War, which is the topic of his next book. He’s published 10 books so far on topics such as Sammy Davis Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell and the century-long lifeblood of Black cinema.

Wil Haygood speaks at the 2023 Freedom Summer of ’64 Award reception.

“It is my goal that students, scholars from Europe or Africa or anywhere are able to come to Miami and look at this collection,” Haygood said of his gift.

Haygood graduated from Miami in 1976. Since then, his career has taken him to esteemed publications such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Boston Globe and Washington Post.

As a journalist, he’s covered some of the biggest stories of his era – the 20th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington, the Berlin Wall, the 1990 release of Nelson Mandela and the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.

“If I hadn’t made it at Miami, there’s no telling what route my life would have taken,” Haygood said.

Haygood’s work has won the Ella Baker Social Justice Award in 2013, the Miami University President’s Medal in 2018 and the Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award in 2022.

His latest award was the Freedom Summer of ’64 Award from Miami University, which he received Nov. 14 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

The award is given each year to a distinguished leader or organization that has helped advance civil rights and social justice. It recognizes the spirit of the 800 volunteers who trained at Oxford’s Western College for Women, now part of Miami’s Western Campus, to register Black voters in the South.

Haygood’s first national assignment was on the 20th anniversary of the deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, civil rights activists who were murdered during Freedom Summer in Mississippi.

The decision to donate his collection was done in honor of those three men and as a tribute to Rick Momeyer, Miami professor emeritus of philosophy and the other Freedom Summer ‘64 activists, Haygood noted.

“When I stepped on campus in 1972, I did not know anything about Freedom Summer,” he said during his acceptance speech on Nov. 14. “As I became a reporter and as I was going to the South, I started reading the civil rights giants — Bob Moses, Dorothy Height, etc. — and the conversations so often turned to Freedom Summer. I knew I had gone to school and lived in a town that had a connection to Freedom Summer.”

During the Freedom Center event, Miami President Gregory Crawford stressed that the university plans to showcase the collection in a dedicated space. He called it a “Wil Haygood room.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Wil and his extraordinary work,” Crawford said. “It’s been such an inspiration to our students. We are truly excited about this collection. … Thank you, we’re so grateful.”

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