The Office of Transformational and Inclusive Excellence at Miami University awarded its eighth Freedom Summer of '64 Award on Nov. 14 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. The award honors those who excel in civil rights activism within the modern era.
Wil Haygood, a renowned author and reporter for The Boston Globe and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as well as a class of 1976 Miami alum, received the award for his news coverage of the modern civil rights movement, including his coverage of the 20th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington in 1983.
According to a press release from Miami, the Freedom Summer of ’64 Award “recognizes the spirit of the 800 students who trained at the Western College for Women, now part of Miami’s Western Campus.”
In 1964, 800 young Americans gathered on Miami’s Western Campus (at the time the Western College for Women) and trained to register Black voters in the south in an attempt to increase Black votership. Among those Freedom Summer workers were three civil rights activists — James Chaney, 21; Andrew Goodman, 20; and Michael Schwerner, 24 — who were murdered in Mississippi while registering Black voters.
Haygood was 10 years old when the Freedom Riders of 1964 rode to the south to register Black voters in Alabama. When Haygood was young, he traveled to Georgia with his extended family, and questioned why his uncle was carrying a gun on the trip. It was then that Haygood was introduced to a “segregated world,” he said.
During his time after Miami, he began pursuing a career in journalism, which allowed him to carve a path of telling the stories that were, at the time, untold. It was not until his job at the Boston Globe that Haygood got the opportunity to tell the untold story of the three murdered freedom riders, an article that soon got him the reputation of a renowned journalist.
Haygood’s background covering activism around the world presented him as an ideal candidate for the award, including his coverage of the 20th anniversary of the three freedom riders being murdered by the Klu Klux Klan after leaving Oxford.
The event opened with a musical performance by Tammy Kernodle, distinguished professor of music at Miami. Welcoming remarks were given by Cristina Alcalde, vice president for institutional diversity and inclusion, and Christopher Makaroff, dean of the College of Arts and Science. Makaroff wrote the original nomination for Haygood.
“He has had an impactful presence on Miami’s campus for over two decades,” Makaroff said. “He has helped us understand many of the contributions the mainstream media has ignored … I couldn’t see anyone more deserving.”
Associated Student Government (ASG) President Nyah Smith and Vice President Jules Jefferson echoed the importance of Haygood’s work for the students on Miami’s campus.
“[Your work] is a reminder of how far we’ve come as a nation, yet all of the work that still needs to be done,” Jefferson said.
The program shifted into Haygood’s presentation titled “Why 1964 Still Matters,” where he emphasized the continued importance of promoting freedom and justice for all.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
“Freedom is a powerful thing,” Haygood said. “This country has gone through a lot of torment in the last six or seven years.”
George Floyd’s death and the anti-affirmative actions of the Supreme Court were just two “horrendous” events Haygood pointed to as turning points for civil rights in America.
“George Floyd’s [death] woke people up to the unfinished work … This word ‘patriotism’ has been mangled and twisted,” Haygood said.
At the close of the event, Haygood announced that he would be donating his entire collection of work to the university, in hopes that young scholars will come to Miami to look at the footnotes and find time to honor civil rights.
“Because of the disinformation in this country, because of the racial pain, and in honor of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, I am donating as a complete gift the Wil Haygood Collection Miami,” Haygood said.
Crawford announced shortly after that the university would make a Wil Haygood room in honor of the donation.
“This was an amazing surprise,” Crawford said. “His work will bring many people to campus.”
The lecture was closed with a few final words from Haygood and followed by a free book signing of Haygood’s newest book, “Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World.”
“You must keep the faith and spread it gently,” Haygood said in a final remark.