An Evening for Justice and Peace
This year’s Dayton Literary Peace Prize was awarded to Wil Haygood, author of Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America. Haygood’s book played a big part in the production of the movie The Butler. He, along with Gilbert King, author of Devil in the Grove, studied and brought attention to the commotion stirred in the nation at the time of Thurgood Marshall’s Supreme Court nomination. King’s book told the true story of the Groveland Four, four African-American boys accused of raping a white woman in Groveland, Florida. Marshall played a big part in defending the young men in court and demanded an investigation be initiated after the boys had been beaten by authorities. Haygood’s book had an interesting story about how President Lyndon B. Johnson worked to get Marshall in a seat on the Supreme Court by informing Justice Tom C. Clark, whose son was running for attorney general, that it would seem unfair if his son was elected because of his position on the court. Clark stepped down so his son could become attorney general, thus allowing Marshall to take his place and become the first African-American Supreme Court justice.
Another compelling moment in Haygood’s story is when he found a letter written by a woman in 1967 to Sen. John McClellan of Arkansas, who objected to support Marshall’s nomination. She told McClellan to stop using Marshall’s race as a reason not to appoint him, and she even predicted that one day a black man would hold the office of the president. This letter, along with hundreds of others, were kept in storage and never even seen by the senator.
One of the most gripping moments of the night was when a photo was shown of a man named Rubin Stacy being lynched. In the background of the image is a young girl looking up at the hanging body with a smile on her face. Although everyone in the audience had heard of lynching and probably had seen images of the act before, the emotion of the girl brought the scene to life. It allowed us to see the reality of the circumstances in the nation at the time. Works like those done by King and Haygood tell some of the sad but true untold stories of our nation’s history, and they allow the living generations to see just how far we’ve come as a country.
written by Sydni McGee
Freshman, Professional Writing Major