CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A one-time copy editor and reporter for The Charleston Gazette returned to Charleston on Tuesday night, this time to chronicle his piece on White House history.
Wil Haygood, a Washington Post reporter whose story about a long-time presidential butler led to this summer’s movie “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” kicked off the season’s speaker series at the University of Charleston.
Haygood spoke about his story, which started with an idea that came to him while on the campaign trail of then soon-to-be President Barack Obama.
“I wanted to find somebody, an African American who had worked in the White House during the era of segregation, because I thought that story—just opposed against the story of the first African American president in the country—would be pretty powerful,” said Haygood.
That idea led him on a nationwide search that eventually ended with the discovery of Eugene Allen, the butler who served eight presidents. Haywood said research made him realize Allen was a perfect fit for the story.
“He was a character that nobody had heard about and he was a character who had seen vivid American history up close,” he said. “He lived at the most powerful address in the country, and yet in the ’50s and early ’60s he could go to his native Virginia and have to use a segregated bathroom.”
After writing a feature article for the Washington Post, Haygood immediately began attracting interest from production companies regarding a possible movie, and eventually Allen became the subject of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
In praising Daniels and the rest of the cast for portraying Allen’s life, Haygood said the box office success shows it resonated with the nation. This month, North American ticket sales for the Weinstein Co. film surpassed $100 million.