Sam Heys first saw Henry Harris play basketball in 1969 when Harris was only a teenager, but Heys could sense he might be sitting in on history, that he was watching a change agent at work. He was struck by Harris’s power and grace in the face of racial epithets spewed by front-row fans. Who is this guy, he wondered, and how did he get here from a place called Greene County Training School?
Heys’s curiosity about Harris’s life peaked five years later on the night he ripped an article from a newswire and read four paragraphs reporting Harris’s sudden death at twenty-four. But the details were vague and the story was missing all the “whys.” Heys now fills in the facts, answers the questions, and traces Harris’s extraordinary odyssey from living in an abandoned store in Boligee, Alabama, to a rooftop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a passage that helped revolutionize the South and America.
An award-winning author and journalist, Heys covered the integration of the Southeastern Conference as a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution and Columbus Enquirer in the 1970s, interviewing most of the racial pioneers in the SEC and Atlantic Coast Conference. Heys utilized that reporting and years of research to inform his commentary as an on-camera storyteller in the 2017 documentary Triumph: The Untold Story of Perry Wallace.
Heys is author or co-author of three nonfiction books, including the widely praised The Winecoff Fire: The Untold Story of America’s Deadliest Hotel Fire. Investigative reporting by Heys and Allen Goodwin found that the 1946 Winecoff Hotel fire in Atlanta was arson and tells the stories of its 119 victims.
Heys teamed with co-author Dub Taft to receive runner-up recognition in “history” in the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year Awards—for their book Big Bets: Decisions and Leaders That Shaped Southern Company.
Heys’s article on a state champion basketball team from Kentucky’s hardscrabble Clay County—“Hills of Coal, Feats of Clay”—was named the best sports feature story published in U.S. newspapers in 1988 and chosen as the lead story in that year’s Best Sports Stories anthology. The judges’ comments included: “The best journalism always has been that which helps us understand the human condition. The best sports writers have always known that. . . .”
Heys holds master’s and specialist degrees in counseling from Georgia State University. He is a licensed mental health counselor.
The series is sponsored by the Auburn Alumni Association, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Auburn University, Auburn Athletics and the Office of Communications and Marketing. For more information, go to http://ocm.auburn.edu/speaker_series.