In Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, A Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing, Wil Haygood brings to life with immediacy and vitality the players, parents, coaches, and school leaders who worked together to rally a community during difficult and divisive times. He shows how sports can transcend mere athleticism and become a truly ennobling pursuit that brings out the best in the competitors on the court and the adults who shepherd them on their way.

Haygood creates a compelling portrait of a community that has been traditionally underrepresented in the media, showing us the most positive attributes of African American society in the form of young people who are viewed by their peers as heroes, rather than problematizing the same community by focusing only on those individuals who have gone astray. As such, Haygood's book is far more original than many other efforts to describe black America, eschewing standardized tropes and enabling the reader to see beyond stereotypes. Through his reportage, Haygood makes visible the too often overlooked everyday heroes inside our schools who forge peace at the street level every single day. He includes character studies of star players, their white coach, and the black principal who worked with them all to create a school environment where young men and women of color could thrive.

The book becomes especially moving as the main subjects redouble their positive pursuits after they absorb the shocking news of the murders of black leaders by racist opponents on the national stage, creating a deep sense of anger and betrayal in African American neighborhoods across the country. By channeling their sadness and fury into slam dunk performances on the basketball court, the team elevates themselves and all who are cheering for them to succeed, despite everything that appears to stand in their way.

- Helen Thorpe
2019 finalist judge

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Excerpt from the book

The national media came to East on the first day of school in 1979, the first day that busing and integrations were official policy. This was the school that symbolized the struggle, this was the school of the champions. The media lights shone all day. A school that had been all black in 1978, the year before, now was 55 percent white. ...

In time, Columbus proved to the nation that its citizenry could adapt to legally enforced integration. In time, the city received plaudits from head business leaders and even the Department of Justice in Washington.

In time, as the years rolled outward, local citizens would look back, swiveling against the memories of 1968-1969, when a group of high school basketball and baseball players had created their own legend. They had helped to bring hope to a city, giving it a reason to cheer and also proving that there was more than one route to Dr. King’s mountaintop.

2019 Nonfiction Runner-Up

Wil Haygood, photo credit Kathy Huang

(Click photo to see acceptance speech at awards dinner.)

Wil Haygood
1968-1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart,
and a Magical Season of Healing


“The mission that I gave myself in writing Tigerland was to excavate a forgotten story set against the America of 1968-69. Having earlier traveled the world as a correspondent to war zones, I came across a story in Columbus, Ohio, of black high school athletes set loose in that fiery year. Their peace-hungering hero, Martin Luther King Jr., had fallen to a white supremacist. The Tigers of East High School unleashed their talents not in the fires of the time, but on the basketball courts and baseball diamonds, winning two state championships in those sports that year. It was a history-making moment for them, and for the black and white coalition that supported their rise to glory. The black athlete - then as now - has never been far from the social and political swirl of America. Literature is the whistle that won’t stop blowing at game’s end; the stories go on and on.

I’m both honored and touched by the recognition given this saga by the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Committee.”

— Wil Haygood                        

Wil Haygood has spent many years crisscrossing the worlds of book writing and journalism. His biographies of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall were all critically acclaimed and garnered literary awards. His chronicle of the life of White House butler Eugene Allen became the basis for the award-winning film, The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels and starring, among others, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. A Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, Haygood, a professor at Miami University, Ohio, has also been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and is the recipient of several honorary degrees. His latest book, Tigerland, was awarded the Ohioana Book Award, and was a finalist for the Benjamin Hooks National Book Award, and the Richard Wright-Zora Neale Hurston Award, while also being long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.


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