Bloomsburg University celebrated its 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration on Monday February 5th in Carver Hall’s Gross Auditorium. This year’s guest speaker was Wil Haygood, an author, reporter of the Washington Post and Pulitzer finalist. Haygood was introduced Monday evening by BU’s president Bashar Hanna who described Martin Luther King Jr. as a “man who taught by example” and a “champion of racial equality.”
“He was jailed 29 times,” said Hanna, “to achieve freedom for others.”
A clip was then played from “Oprah’s next chapter” showing the set of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, where Oprah talked with Haygood about Eugene Allen, the real White House butler. The movie ‘The Butler’ was an inspiring film based off Haygood’s book and interview with Allen.
Once the film ended, the audience clapped as they welcomed Haygood to the stage.
“In America right now, we cannot sugarcoat it. We are in a moral crisis and a constitutional crisis. We see it every day in the headlines. Unarmed blacks are being shot by law enforcement and it leaves a moral stain on this country when officers are being acquitted,” said Haygood.He then continued to talk about the issue with race in America and how it is a part of the foundation of this country.“Race is in this country’s DNA. Slavery is the epic part if this country’s narrative,” said Haygood.
The speech then transitioned into how he had the opportunity to find and interview Allen which soon led into the film ‘Lee Daniel’s The Butler.’ “I wanted to find someone who worked in the White House during the era of segregation,” said Haygood. He contacted his editor about his idea and was told that he had only one week to find someone.
“I called the White House and asked for a name of any African American who worked there before segregation ended,” said Haygood.He got information days later with a name of Eugene Allen and went on a search for the man. On his 57th phone call, he got the answer he was looking for.
“I said hello my name is Wil Haygood reporter of the Washington Post and I am looking for Eugene Allen who worked in the White House under two presidents. He then said yes I am Eugene Allen, but you are wrong, I did not work under two presidents, I worked under eight,” said Haygood.He described his interaction with Allen and his wife as they watched “The Price is Right” for an hour in their home before he was able to interview them. Haygood explained the conversation he had with Allen as he described his interaction with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957 during his visit to see Vice President Nixon.
“King told Nixon ‘now take me to the kitchen, take me to my people.’ He said that because he knew blacks worked in the White House kitchen,” said Allen as he had tears in his eyes.
Haygood talked about his experience with Allen at the inauguration of President Obama in 2009. “The butler said to me, back then you couldn’t even dream that you can dream a moment like this,” said Haygood. He then talked about the power of unity in America.
“There is so much magic. There is so much strength in America. There can be so much unity in America,” said Haygood. He then ended with a story about a letter that he found written by Barbara Ross, a woman who wrote a letter to Senator McClain in 1967. The letter was about Thurgood Marshall, who eventually became the first African American justice. Ross stated in the letter that she knew the reason why the senator did not want Marshall to serve was not because of any constitutional reasons but because he was black.
She also stated that he was as qualified as any other candidate he knew. Ross stated that color does not make the person, it is character that makes the man. She then said, “one of these days the President of the United States will be a negro.” She was nineteen years old when she wrote that letter and predicted in 1967 that one day the country will have an African American president. The letter was then read by President Obama at a dinner in the White House years later. Haygood had the opportunity to find and talk to Ross who he said was her hero.
“Bloomsburg University look at the power of a dream! She was only nineteen years old!” said Haygood. “You young people matter. We must stand together.”
He then ended his speech with a quote from the Bible. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”