In Columbus, Ohio, the Tigers of segregated East High School win the baseball and basketball championships, defeating bigger, richer, whiter teams across the state. Now, Wil Haygood gives us an account of this improbable triumph and takes us deep into the personal lives of these local heroes.
The story is vividly told ... Tigerland is...only partially about those shimmery twin championship seasons at East High in Columbus. It is also the tale of a city in the heart of the heart of the country at a troubled time and an account of young black men struggling to make their way in a nation that was sending combatants 8,000 miles away to keep a foreign land free even as an eighth of its own citizens had yet to taste fully the sweet fruits of freedom. Behind the beauty and artistry of the East High Tigers are the harsh home conditions of many of the athletes, some of them sons of maids with no savings, some living literally on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. It is those sorts of juxtapositions that make Tigerland a haunting, unforgettable book.
Haygood triumphs through thoroughness ... His research and careful descriptions of the athletes and community distinguish Tigerlandand give it humanity...dramatic, memorable, triumphant and heartbreaking...maintains relevance today because it demands that we ask what, if anything, has been resolved.
[The book's first half is] a good tale, but not as good as the second part of the book, which is devoted to the improbable run of the baseball Tigers ... To place this rich local drama in historical context, Haygood occasionally digresses into summaries of landmark stories that in one way or another set the stage for it, from the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that sanctioned segregated schooling to an entire chapter on how Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier. Unfortunately, some of these summaries are long enough to interrupt the narrative but not long enough to do justice to important details... Yet that’s a small flaw in a book that is both highly readable and a valuable contribution to the under-appreciated history of the African American North in the wake of the Great Migration.