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tv   Clint Smith How the Word Is Passed  CSPAN  August 18, 2021 2:11pm-3:11pm EDT

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media comports ready. we never slowed down. schools and businesses closed and we power a new reality. media, we are built to keep you ahead. >> media, supports c-span2 as a public service. >> hi, everyone. welcome and evening. my name is mel pepper on behalf of harvard bookstore, i am thrilled to introduce virtual event with smith presenting his new book, how the word is passed, reckoning with the history of slavery across america, which debuted at number one on the new york times bestseller list tonight he's in conversation with benjamin lee. thank you for joining us virtually tonight through virtual event tonight, we continue to bring authors and work to our community. every week we host events here
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on our zoom account, this month and writer stacey abrams and conversation with nick stone. check out the event schedule on our website at and while you are there, you can sign up for our e-mail newsletters for updates. his evenings discussions will conclude with time for questions. if you have a question for our speakers at any time during the talk tonight, click on the q&a button on your screen and we will get through as many as time allows. this will have closed captioning available. defendant on diversion of zoom you are using, you may need to enable captions yourself clicking on the closed caption button on your screen. in the chat i will post a link to purchase copies and how the word passed on as well as a link in support of this series and are score.
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your participant financial contribution makes event like tonight possible and help ensure the future of a landmark independent source in harvard square. we thank you all so much for showing up and tuning up in support of the authors and the truly incredible -- harvard. we sincerely appreciate your support not always end by me as you may have experienced in virtual gatherings, technical issues may arise and we hope they don't but if they do, we will do our best to resolve them quickly. thank you for your patience and understanding and now i'm delighted to introduce our speakers. clint is a staff writer at the atlantic author of the poetry collection county defense which one the 2017th literary award for best poetry book from the black caucus of the american library association and was a
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finalist for an naacp image award. his writing has been published in the new yorker, new york times magazine, poetry magazine, the paris review and many other publications. his novel was a finalist for the national book award for fiction, run up for the dayton literary peace prize winner of the book club ten best books of 2017. free food for billionaires was a national best seller and top ten books of the year list for the times of london npr's fresh air and usa today. they will discuss clint smith's groundbreaking new book, how the word is passed, reckoning with a history of slavery across america. in the book, doctor smith recounts his visits to nine sites that memorialized or evade their connection child slavery.
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from the african burial ground monument of lower manhattan confederate memorial capitol petersburg virginia good juneteenth celebration in texas, how exploring the ways in which america commemorates itself the oral research and clarity. the new york times smith's unapologetically subjective maps of american memory is an extraordinary contribution to the way we understand ourselves. i am honored to turn over to our speakers to the digital podium, it is yours. >> hi, how are you, clint? >> i am so glad to be here. i can't think of any way to celebrate what's happened in the last 24 hours better than being in conversation with one of my favorite writers.
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>> folks, clint is number one at the new york times bestseller list, pretty incredible". be, when we built the monument, we're going to put that on modern. [laughter] how is that. >> oh man. [laughter] >> it's wonderful to be here, i'm so happy having this is happening because i think book is just amazing. it's a really amazing, and it's also moving to read, it is beautifully written, incredibly important primary document as well as a secondary force because you are writing about your experiences of what it's like to understand the way slavery is understood today in 2020 and 2021. how long did it take you to write this book? >> for years. i started in may 2017, again to
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be conceptualized, watching the confederate actors come down in new orleans, i was watching the statues of robert e lee, jefferson davis i'm back in my hometown and your eyelids and thinking about, what does it mean that i grew up in a majority black city in which there were slavers and enslaved people? i started thinking about how the city reckoned with its own relationship to the history of slavery, a history that's ingrained and embedded in the physical infrastructure of the city in a profound way and opened up and started thinking about other places across the country and ocean and how they were telling that story so much of this, i have been writing it for four years but so much is animated trying to write into the gap and fill the gaps i felt like i had experienced and was carrying from a young age and trying to answer a lot of
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questions and fill void in my own education that i have answers to the book was almost processed to fill those gaps. >> i memorized your book so i was wondering if you could read this one paragraph on page 171 when you talk specifically about what you just said and the reason i want you to read it is because i want those were here today to see how dutifully he renders the emotion and memory and inspiration of this book so it starts with i was born page 171, just that paragraph. >> i was born and raised in the city filled with statues confederate sculptors, white men on pedestals and black children link beneath them. black people play trumpets and trombones, to drown out the songs that build the wind. my hometown and norman's, there are at least 103 statues, parks and schools named after
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confederate figures, slave owners defenders of slavery. for decades, black children have walked into buildings named after people who saw them as property. my own middle school, named after robert pressure, confederate and former louisiana superintendent of education who fought against segregation and believed the premises of the caucasian race. every time i returned home, i would drive on street named after those who thought of me as this. >> i read that paragraph and it right here because what kills me is this idea that all these little children have no idea. i'm positive your teachers are talking about it, i positive the principal is saying isn't it wonderful that everything your thinking i have to go to gloucester or do this pass by certain streets and without
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knowing or being taught that history because it's either shameful or we revise and think of it as something as just part of it but the reality of the troop history quit just not even feuded his people because of the center, it means a certain body. so at what time did you make that connection between luster and who he is and how you feel about it? >> for so many of these statues and buildings, so much of the memorials and around new orleans, i had no idea. i used to beat it in city parks under the literal statute, a man who first attacked the civil war. on the way to school everyday had to go down robert e blvd. to
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get to the grocery store jefferson davis highway. again, my parents live on a street today named after somebody who enslaved 1150 people. i didn't know those things at all growing up. i have no real conception of who these folks were and to the extent that i did, i was just told that they were important men in my louisiana history and what's interesting is like robert e lee isn't even an important man and louisiana history. he's from virginia. their multiple levels to this certainty. >> so why are we told these things? by our children told these men are important to us and why should we revere these monuments? what you say to your kids about this? >> the reason so many of these confederate statues to
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slaveholders were erected with this specific intention of distorting their legacy and to mold their legacy and a way that was much more favorable than the reality of the project they were type two so this confederacy is by historical fact grounded in this document, a territory treating fist territory from the united states and raised an army predicated on maintaining and expanding the institution of slavery. this white supremacy is that it turns that statement from an empirical one into an ideological one and it attempts to say me saying that is reflective of my political sensitivity instead of being something grounded in primary source documents like the declaration of the confederacy were 1851 they said verbatim our position is poorly aligned for the institution of slavery so
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they want they why they were competing, they were clear about why the civil war was about to begin so the idea that we would have statues of robert e lee jefferson davis and schools named after lesher represents the 19th century, early 20th century attempt to essentially gas like this country into thinking who these men were is not who they actually were. we see that in like alexander stephens, 1861 of the cornerstone speech, the infamous cornerstone speech were he's at the confederacy founded on the principle of african superiority and the attempt to engage in child slavery in perpetuity. 1855 he comes back and people are like what you have to say for yourself? you lost the war the vice president of the country that
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attempted from the union and you said all of these things about slavery and he was like i never said that. they were like what are you talking about? week were there, we saw you, it was in the paper. he said no, you must have been mistaken. i never said that. it's merely paralleled two things we see now where we are not seen things we just, and attempt to tell us that things are not about what the people who were engaged in that behavior say they are so i learned about these things, many of the stuff i learned in the process of writing the book, i don't think i knew lesher was named after confederate leader until maybe two years ago and this was my middle school but i think part of what happens when you learn this history is that it provides a clarity about why
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society collectively looks the way they do today and i think why one creates a reason one community is one flight another community is another way is not because simply it's the people in the communities often it's because of what's been done to the communities generation after generation, they are not just symbols, they are reflective of the stories we tell stories about themselves into narratives, narratives shape public policy and public policies shape people's lives so it's not to say taking down a statue of prop robert e lee is going to reduce the racial wealth gap that is to say it's part of a much larger ecosystem factors and ideas and stories that shape how we feel about what communities deserve or don't deserve. >> yes, quickly when you talked about the empirical turning into ideological, it's a powerful idea when we take real facts and make them into opinions or theories which are very different things.
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but i was curious about, what really upsets me, i guess what really upsets me about your book and what's going on, not just in america but around the world is this profound resistance and reckoning, profound resistance to the empirical and when i see that holding onto something, when i was reading your book i kept focusing on should i focus on the individuals who don't want the history taught is literally what's happening concerning legislatures in america right now or should i focus on the fact that we have public historians, well-intentioned guys willing to tell the truth about their community and ancestors works i was really moved by the monticello and what he's trying to do in new york, these are individuals, the way the book is structured, clint goes to all
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these different places and often there's an individual will be kind of a guide, literally a guide who will walk with clint and then we become both a guide as well as clint, is a fictional dramatic aspect in the way the book is structured which i found appealing and inclusive of our experience and emotional tenor or how to feel about history which i admired. i want to ask you, who do you focus on? you focus on the individuals willing to confront the truth or do you dwell on the fact that there is a humongous pockets of people saying no, that's part of my history, too bad for you? to back your little boy and go to a school named lesher, that's too bad? >> i am fascinated by and part of the reason is because being one of the longest confederate territories in the country in petersburg, virginia, 30,000
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confederate soldiers buried, i called for memorial day celebration and i don't go to a place like that because i have hopes of convincing those people to believe what is true, i go there because i think as a researcher, a reporter and journalist, a curious person, i am genuinely trying to understand how they come to believe what they believe. it so it was important for me to go to that place not in an antagonistic stance or attempting to prove them wrong or suggest -- i have an update happening on my computer right now. virtual worlds. it's not an attempt to convince them of something they don't
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want to believe. it's an attempt to gain clarity and i think i do, i've got clarity for so many people history is not empirical evidence, it is a story they've been told, a story that they tell. an heirloom passed down across generations, something deeply entangled in emotional sense of who they are and their family is so providing them, showing them declaration of confederate confession isn't going to necessarily move worship how they think because it's not about evidence or things they know or don't know about their relationship to the people who have told them certain stories. and for me, i do think part of what is evident in the book is there are a lot of people who are not interested antagonistic necessarily to the truth but literally just don't know. i think about the donna and grace who i met who are two
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women, the tour guide at monticello who had given the hour-long tour that was really quite direct about jefferson's moral consistency about jefferson relationship to slavery and the fact that the enslaved 600 people in his lifetime and these women were really unsettled what they were hearing i went up to them after they were like i have no idea jefferson owned slaves, i had no idea monticello west these are folks who are authentic, a car and got a hotel room and came to monticello as a pilgrimage and no conception of the idea that this place was a plantation and the person who lived there enslaved hundreds of human beings but i think microcosm for how so many people in this country have such little
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understanding of what slavery was, how it shaped the founding of the country and how it continues to shape every part of our social, political and economic infrastructure. >> it's funny to say that because i was thinking about that a lot, i was really thinking very hard about those two women have been reading the book and their innocent shock about what is going on, i feel compassion for them but almost seems to be hard to believe. it's hard to believe and the privilege of saying i will not see that about that world and i continue to do so, why are you telling me? and i thought okay, let's assume these are innocent people who just didn't know because they didn't teach it to them and it was shocking to me because when i was 16 years old, part of my history class was to read the
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particular institution. i read the entire book when i was 16 and i was a new american, i came to america when i was seven to after nine years of speaking english, i read the entire book that changed the way i think about slavery and when i became a history major in college, it was an easy thing for me to understand because you quote this quite a bit in your book, he was somebody doctor king quoted in terms of understanding slavery was not an institution in which people are not the enslaved people were not happy about it. they were not treated well have you seen netflix recent show high on the hog? >> no but people keep talking about it in there like saying they read the book and are watching the show having a conversation so i haven't but i
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need to. >> there's an episode about jefferson in particular, about how he gave to the enslaved people he had so they had to grow gardens in order to have sufficient calories to do the heavy work of outdoor labor and when you think about a rich man like that was able, and you say clearly in your book, he was able to read, write and think about democracy because enslaved people were doing free labor for him and he didn't even feed them properly so when you think about it that way, how can we think about ideals of democracy, for personal hypocrisy of the architect of democracy it was so disturbing to me but i was
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wondering from resistance the emotional resistance people have not been converted and there's a beautiful passage he wrote on page 172, this one paragraph, i was wanting you to read it for us because you got everything in this one paragraph and i told you i memorized your book. >> i can tell. [laughter] i am honored. 172. this is a format i've not really done before. >> i'm just trying to keep you on your toes. >> begins with many of the people in it one paragraph. >> for many of the people i met about the stories of the confederacy is the story of their home, of their family and the story of the family is the story of them so when they are asked to reckon with the fact that their ancestors fought a war keep my ancestors enslaved, there is resistance documented by primary sources and
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contemporaneous they are forced to confront, lives they propel, forced to confront the flaws of their ancestors. greg stewart, a member of the confederate veteran told the new york times and aftermath into thousand 15 charleston, you're asking me to agree that my great grandparents and great-great-grandparents were accepting such a reality would mean the deterioration of a narrative that was long part of their lineage the disintegration so much of who they believe themselves to be in the world. >> is it possible for us to believe that george washington, thomas jefferson or monsters? is that hard for us to say? is a possible you could be a beautiful thinker and having amazing architecture and be a
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monster? >> it's interesting that formulation is fascinating because i am almost less interested for greg saying you're asking me to accept my great-great-grandfather was a monster and i'm not really interested in the inferiority of your grandfather's spirit. [laughter] it much less interesting or relevant to me if you inc. or don't think your great-grandfather was a monster. what is more important is that you accept that your grandfather fought to preserve a monstrous cause it's almost like how we think about people who are like this not a racist bone in my body, no racist blood in my heart or whatever formulation used and it's like i'm not interested in this spiritual or physiological notions of racism in relation to your body, i think it's more important to
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think about, having a much more robust conversation now of the tip to what we had before thinking about history, thinking about structure. i think all the time about james baldwin, i talked to teachers, a speech he delivered in 1963 my thinkers published in 1964, a lot of amazing things touch on slavery a lot but one thing he said that black children are told over and over and over again that they are criminals. the role of the teacher must literally but also our society, the role of the teacher is to help that child understand that although the world tells them over and over again they are criminal, that it is in fact the society in history that created the condition the black child is growing up in, that is the criminal and it's an intuitive thing for many of us and it's
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clear for many of us but i think, i know this from having been a high school english teacher and from having an black growing up in new orleans, because a lot of folks internalized the falsehood and pathology inundated with, in my case i was inundated growing up in new orleans and sometimes don't have the language or toolkit framework with which to push back against it, it can be a psychological and emotional paralysis where you know what you're hearing is wrong but you don't necessarily know how to say it or why it's wrong and explain it so when people tell you things, there are things confederate veterans and confederacy literally created after the civil war in the 19th century in order to distort and confuse entirety
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society so that we don't know what to believe and the goal is not to make everybody a white supremacist, it's a project meant to make everything cloudy and foggy, maybe the civil war wasn't or maybe -- so it makes things murky and it's difficult for us to have a consensus and operate from the same foundation of knowledge and truth so you have people like confederate veterans who genuinely believe what they believe because it's entangled in this deep sense of psychological and emotional project that's kind of like couldn't care less about what the primary source documents are. >> can you talk about the lost
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cause? i think of it as one of the most important things that not in history. you and i understand i think the average person doesn't know what the lost causes, could you define that for us? >> lost cause is a multipronged effort primarily engaged with, by through the confederacy after the end of the civil war and essentially saying that slavery wasn't that bad and slavery was a civilized institution that john calhoun, senator from south carolina but it's a positive good for both black and white people alike in fact people are better off here enslaved than they were in africa. the other part is saying slavery wasn't that bad also without slavery so it doesn't really matter and then it's also saying
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the people fighting the confederacy were people who were simply fighting to defend their families and fighting to defend themselves more than a question, they literally call it the war of northern aggression and is one of the people i met, a guy named jeff if they stayed up north, everything would happen find. my mind, fine for who? clearly cannot find for the formulae enslaved black people at that time so it represents, it is simply the people who are the perpetrators so essentially it's attempting to distort and misrepresent the nature of slavery and it was fought over and the institution was. i think people take for granted, or don't even know that until
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the civil rights movement historians like kenneth with his book, and particularly kenneth, the predominant view in the early 20th century lavery was the one propagated by historians who are like slavery was a civilized situation, the plaintiff plantation was a great place. that's how most americans, through the 19 tens, 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s thought of slavery until you have historians like kenneth come and make clear that the reason the disparities between black and white communities existed in the mid 20th century and the way they did was intimately tied to an institution that ended less than 100 years ago so really rounding black and white
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inequality child slavery which seems so obvious but it really wasn't part of the public discourse of how we understood what inequality was at that time. >> i think this is so important because when i was researching, but i researched, looking into colonialism puritanism so often the christianizing force, the taking of the savages and making them noble, that is a very common ideology throughout the 17th and 18th and 19th century to justify their systematic campaign of healings. stealing and murder. rather than looking at the nations that are the criminals, they actually make the objects affect criminology into criminals themselves. that's the ultimate gas line we are speaking about. what i think is hard what we said and what we are agreeing on and documented in your book
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those hearing are saying if you are white, you feel that listening to this, you feel that reading this, i want to deal with that and i've also heard people of color, community members saying things like that was a long time ago. i've also seen within the african-american community for you have immigrants saying about slaves well, i don't know what your problem is and rather than looking at the systematic roots as to why you have less capitol to start out with, how could you possibly get somewhere? i was curious, how do you reconcile all the different voices for me, i am thinking maybe i can't reach certain groups. okay, i'll try, i will really try but if i can't, how do i reach members of my own community who reject and support the majority view?
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>> that's a great question. i would say that i am sympathetic to those who say we cannot only consume black media black literature or history graduate in our oppression or in slavery or jim crow. i absolutely believe in this country, it's a beautiful remarkable heterogeneous pluralistic centuries long project that deserves to have media and books and literature and art created that reflect the experience. >> as well as the joy. >> absolutely. so i would never, i very much agree with that and i think there are some people that you're alluding to, some
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communities were saying more underground railroad, slavery book i get the impulse but i think i can part of the white supremacy is that it makes them feel like we talk about slavery all the time when we actually don't talk about it in any way that's commenced three with the impact it had on this country. part of what i want to make clear is our physical proximity to this period of time so 1619 as a marker of the beginning of slavery, british american colonies to 1865, 250 years it's only not exit this 150 we have this institution that existed before the country was even a country existed for 100 euros marker and it hasn't. the woman who open the museum culture in 2016 was the daughter of an enslaved person, not the granddaughter or great-granddaughter, she was the
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daughter. someone born into a generation of child slavery. my grandmother's grandfather was enslaved. when my son, i imagine my grandfather sitting on his grandfather's lap and i'm reminded again history we tell ourselves was so long ago in the scope of human history, it wasn't that long ago idle to the idea that that would have no impact on what our temporary landscape looks like is disingenuous. part of what i want readers to understand and feel is that we are made to feel like slavery was something that happened in the jurassic period, flintstones slavery. [laughter] but again, i experienced transformational understanding of my proximity to this period of time in the process of writing this book, i was physically standing on the land where someone was, physically standing in a cabin where
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enslaved people themselves lived walking across plan britt cultivated, standing inside of buildings for people were told they were free. i had a different sense of intimacy and sensory expense of additional made me feel much closer to it but also aspect that felt closer, i say that to say slavery is something that has soundly shaped our country in ways i think of before writing this book, i understood it in an abstract way, the slaves built the white house and i understood but i didn't get. i think it's important for us to not run from a history that is painful because we are made to
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feel that's the only way we should resume our history. we should consume this history and where he tried to capture this book, remarkable as all that's been accomplished despite, born out of history and i think you can see examples in the united states colonized groups of people across the world, these remarkable stories of art and literature culture born out of these unimaginable stances. i think it is both, we need tv and movies and books that reflect a wide range, the painful aspects joyful aspects but we also shouldn't allow ourselves to be convinced that we talk about this too much because i tell people nobody would ever say, sump times people would be like there are so many movies about slavery and
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there's not actually. there are not that many films or television series relative to this period of time that existed in the country and nobody would ever say that about world war ii. there's a world war ii movie every year. nobody -- would be absurd. too many world war ii movies. also adjacent to offensive but we are made to feel all the time, now it got underground railroad and there is good and bad history, but that literature and back pressure. i think we should decide not to pretend this oppressive aspect of our history did not exist and simply lift up more joyous
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aspects without understanding the way so much of that joy emerged from generational pain and anything can be framed in a way that's nuanced and not by inundating people by trauma but laying out the reality of what happened. simply being honest about it and people can confront and see it on its most human term. >> i also think to not have this history even though it can be painful is to lose your superpower because i think the history of resistance and survival and workarounds and the revolution that must have existed in your heart that somehow every single day this on
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dignity, integrity like how did you not murder your and slaver? that is incredible. you have to wonder, are enslaved people the kindest people in the world? writes? >> that is important to make sure we are not talking about resistance eagerly and in some ways like gender terms. slave rebellion but like resistance, there are millions of enslaved people who resist slavery in millions of different ways every single day. to build a family to love their children, protect your children, to build community, to find love and moments of rest, all of those things are forms of resistance in the face of a set of circumstances that so many of us are unfathomable and it's important we have a holistic
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view of what resistance looks like that isn't limited as they are like harriet tubman or frederick douglass or matt turner or any important historical figures that resistance far more subtle but no less important. >> as a matter of fact, i was thinking about particular going backwards in the book now poetry, that we were able to connect with our feelings and write responses to oppression, to hatred and we were insisting and resisting with humanity, with artistic ability to make something beautiful out of trauma. i was wondering if you could read, because you are a poet, your thoughts, i was wondering if you could share with us your incredible section on page 28. at the time, i encountered the
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passage, just that paragraph and then ended. >> at the time i encountered this passage, i was finishing what would be my first collection of poetry. i was riding in the aftermath of the uprising using poetry to process the sanctioned violence happening to black people all around the world attempting to put my life in conversation with this political moment in the history of that. i spent hours the voice in the form of my palm, revising, rearranging, adding and deleting until there were dozens of iterations on every line. i thought of how all of my work in response, stemming from a place of love, a love for my community, a love for family, a
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love for my partner, a love of those hoping to build a better world than the one we live in. >> how about that for the most sense of resistance? yes, i want back, yes, i want harriet tubman in the idea that thomas jefferson can say that poetry beneath it, it meets at the committee of responding to it critically. the fact that he dismissed the art and get have children who are black, to me i will never ever consider thomas jefferson in the same way, i can take you had very equal ideas, you spent it, took ownership of it, i'm not going to forget he took ideas from a white guy europe as well and you are able to justify your bad behavior and somehow white americans today he's a good guy.
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i want to know how far you can go back but this is important because i want to talk about you being an artist and there is a wonderful paragraph here on page 26. i am going backwards. when you start with donna and grace, they are the two women cleaned meets when he goes to monticello and that paragraph, that first paragraph if you could read that for us on page 26. >> donna and grace, and so many people, specifically white people have often understood slavery and those held in its grip only an abstract terms. they do not seek the faces, they cannot picture the hands, they do not hear the fear or the laughter. they do not consider that these were children like their own. these are people who had birthdays and weddings and funerals who love and celebrated
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one another just as they love and celebrated their upfront. >> for me, that is the whole reason of writing at all because we have to be specific, particular and the only way we can ever have the qualities of men beings have the drama of their lives were vacancy, how can i possibly hurt another person because the other person is a person? #i think in this work i was so moved by it. now it's going to come back because our patients -- our audience has been patiently waiting. >> thank you, oh my gosh, my head is exploding, it's an incredible conversation but yes, we do have some questions. ashley ford. >> ashley ford.
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[laughter] >> yes. >> bestseller, ashley ford remarked yes. [laughter] >> every time i see her on instagram or twitter or anywhere, my heart flutters. ashley, talking to oprah yesterday, real mvp. one of my dear friends. >> what i beautiful memoir. >> hi, ashley, we love you. >> ashley costs, which, if any, of the places you visited during your research would you want to return to? >> the question. >> probably the whitney plantation. i did return, i did my reporting, i think i went there
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in february 2019 and i went back for thanksgiving of 2019 because my family was all in new orleans for my grandmother's 80th birthday so part of what we did was we all went to the whitney plantation together and i write in my book, i was there with my grandfather who, if you read the book part of like talk to her about the way she learned about slavery carried a lot of shame because she had been taught so many lessons that everyone was running about, slavery wasn't instant institution, they were saved from the savagery of africa she was on her own journey at 80 years old my son unlearning so much of what she had been taught her entire life.
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when we were at the whitney displaced in louisiana that centers the lives of enslaved people surrounded by the plantations were people continue to hold weddings take pictures in front of where enslavers were, the whitney rejected the idea that we can understand plantation is anything other than a torturous place. ... >> watching them during this work about writing about it they wanted to preserve the moment and it was just so powerful bece what it does is what it should not be, i was told that every
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plantation so i would go there and you know, i think it's an example of a place is working really hard to do or to tell the story of the plantation and the way that it should be told i think it is a powerful place that can be a catalyst for learning and unlearning and recalibration that we understand. so actually when you come and visit me in new orleans, will go there. >> okay. [laughter] >> and we have an anonymous question, is there anything you came across in research the surprise. >> yes. i've been asked this question a couple of times over the past few weeks read i know we are running close on time. angola for example, so i have
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been looking at the prisons for the last seven years. but it was unprepared for what i saw when i was an angola and specifically, a prison built on mentation which was incarcerated black men and the caught in the fields and partially work for no pay. and with a gun over their shoulder with men on horseback. i went to the gift shop in ahead coffee mugs and baseball caps and sweatshirts in one of the coffee mugs is that, had the silhouette of a tower in angola gated community. as if to sort of the little make a mockery of the people who were the thousands of people who are being held and continue to be on the prison. i've a lot to say about angola, i could've written an entire book just about that running springs and i was deeply surprised.
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by the profound lack, it almost was crazy this just felt so wrong on so many levels. >> nineteen okay read. [background sounds]. let's see here. i'm going to read once again okay we go, don dorland. the right, could you speak about the creative process that led you to consider the history and reported problems in some of the poetry. >> yes so i was originally confused of the project i initially thought it would be a collection and that i would write poetry collections in which each form would be about a
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different monument in new orleans. i would sort of create the poetry and i thought okay well poetry is my primary form of sort release was long time. and i realized that one i think that i want to go to places and as part of it into i realized that you needed more room to breathe in a form that allowed for read and then three, i also realized that he could not be only my own sort of extended part of my experiences at these places and then had to be in conversation with the experience of other people there like it had to have voices of the garden ahead have the voices of the public historian in the voices of other people who i was encountering on these journeys. like a chapter that i write about angola, is largely shaped
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around morris henderson it was incarcerated there for almost 30 years. and was on the sort with me. in the think that i could've tried to write that chapter without speaking to him or being alongside him but like when, and i on this bus that is moving through fields or people he was once incarcerated with her literally picking crops and is looking down at his hands and he is talking about how he used to work for seven since no one fields that he said himself like his ancestors might have been working the same land. integrates an entirely different sort of literary kind of thing in support of what i wanted to do was bring the best of history and the best of poetry in the best of literary nonfiction, and i am president of this bank a club you know, here we are amazing that we come this long
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without turning this on its head. so let's talk about that predict. [laughter] turn the page. [laughter] >> in our next harvard tour event. and i wanted to do the best make it or to bring all of that together and to try to create something that almost was notified by genre. and to attempt to sort of break it apart. and then break the pieces of these pieces that i love to bring it together to create different sort of literary and historical collage and make it feel like you went along on this journey with me and they were not talk at her preach two. not a historical text but i just wanted to have it read like a normal this what i tried to do. >> i was wondering if you wouldn't mind waiting one last paragraph to close us out because one of the pieces that we have not discussed is your
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focus on education. we started out this project because you are a teacher and concerned about your students but also you are a student. i think your clearly a lifelong learner and an artist in this one paragraph on page 293, the last paragraph, it was so beautiful and i wanted to share it because i think are educators this audience right now i think they should know why you wrote this book. >> this is about the project section in the last paragraph. once it shaved my desires to write this book with my experience of high school teacher consoling county right outside washington dc. though i was needless teacher, history informed about the way i approach the text that we read, and how it made sense of the realities. and it was as a teacher that i fully accounted for the waste
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the history of this country shape the landscape of my students community and slavery and jim crow and the mass criminalization and beyond. come to realize that those conversations of my students now decade ago, about how we might begin to understand our lives in relation to the world around us. some of the earliest parts of this book. and try to write this sort of book that i would've wanted and i hope i make them proud. >> we are so proud of you and everybody go out and get this book and i believe that every american should have this book. so beautiful and you do us proud client. thank you so much harvard bookstore and everybody please support the bookstores, they are our lifeblood the maker neighborhood and they are good neighbors. their teachers and our friends. thank you client. >> thank you so much and thank you everyone.
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>> keep reading and stay safe everyone and have a good night. this is an incredible conversation, thanks to both of you. and by the book, reposted the link. >> and also by from harvard bookstore. >> yes. [laughter] >> goodbye everybody, have a good night read. >> weekend this on "c-span2" are an intellectual feast, every saturday to find events of people that his formations pass them on american history tv, on sunday, book tv bring to the latest in nonfiction books and authors. television for serious readers. learn, discover, explore rated weekends on "c-span2". american history is being replaced with a polarizing version and according to the
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founder and president, robert woodson up next on book tv, afterwards programs, mr. robert woodson discusses his critique of the 16th 19 project with harvard law professor and author, randall kennedy and afterwards a weekly program interviewing top nonfiction authors about the latest work. >> i look forward to our discussion of your book "red, white, and black - rescuing american history from revisionists and race hustle". and when we began by your telling the audience what you are offering in this book and why they should wanted. >> this was in response to the new york times publication of a series of essays 1619 by black journalists and others goodbye nicole where in essence, every


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