May 25, 2019  

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Haygood to Students: “The Wind is At Your Back”

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Wil Haygood, author of "The Butler," was the featured speaker for the 25th annual Armstrong-Branch Lecture at The University of Southern Mississippi.

Acclaimed author Wil Haygood said finding a story like the one he made into New York Times bestseller “The Butler: A Witness to History,” is the kind “a journalist is fortunate to land.”

The book, which was the basis for the 2013 award winning film “The Butler,” is based on the story of relatively unknown African-American White House butler Eugene Allen, who served in the White House from the presidential administration of Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. Haygood discussed the making of the book and more as the featured speaker at Southern Miss Feb. 27 for the school’s 25th annual Armstrong-Branch Lecture.

The lecture series is named for Gwendolyn Armstrong-Chamberlain and Raylawni Adams Branch, who integrated USM as its first African American students when they enrolled in 1965.

“I still have to pinch myself that it even happened - it’s been an amazing five past years,” Haygood said about the journey he’s been on since the release of his book and movie.

In his address, Haygood recounted how Allen lived to see what he previously believed to be impossible – the election and inauguration of an African-American as president, Barack Obama – after living much of his life in the time of segregation, “When I worked at the White House, you didn’t even dream that you could dream this would happen,” Allen told Haygood.

Noting that he was “honored to be under the umbrella of the Armstrong-Branch Lecture, and to be in the same room with the two women who made history here,” Haygood also praised the state of Mississippi for its strong literary tradition, citing some of its famed writers, including William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Ann Moody and Richard Wright.

He challenged USM students to be engaged in their education, follow their passion and serve their communities and society at large post-graduation, to effect positive change.

“I’m testament to this – if you dream it, then you can see it, you really can. You have the wind at your back,” he said.

Angela Rascoe, a senior speech pathology major from Hattiesburg, took Haygood’s message to heart. “I felt very empowered after hearing his talk,” she said. “He’s inspired me.”