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tv   Author Discussion on the Legacy of Slavery in America  CSPAN  November 26, 2021 11:29am-12:13pm EST

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cox is committed to providing eligible families access to affordable internet, through the connect and compete program, bridging the digital divide one connection and engagement at a time. cox, bringing you closer. cox along with these television company support "c-span2" as a public service. >> book tv's coverage of the boston book festival continues. >> my name is la manning from the boston book festival and thank you for joining us for this important conversation about the way our country talks about the past and especially like to thank the county foundation for sponsoring the session and think everyone for the donations with a registered for this event and would like to welcome it does viewers joining us on c-span book tv pretty currently evaluating the existing programs and the organizations directions pretty in the shape of this festival
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will look like the next five years. and please take about five minutes after tonight's event it to complete our brief survey and you have a chance to win great prizes and the most importantly, you can let us know what you value braided and how we can better serve our community of leaders rated doubly can the check in to chat and will also send it to you in a follow-up e-mail if you would like to purchase the book by today's presenters while also supporting the bookstores and we've made it easy just click the buy the book link at the bottom of the screens and now i would like to hand things over to clint smith and annette gordon reed rated. >> thank you so much for that. this is our third or fourth or fifth event and this is i think of it indicate sort of how the subject matter both of our books are really tailor-made for the moment that we are living in and
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thinking about history and arguing about history rated and what history is the kind of stories that we could help and one of the things that i thoughf one is reading your book is how to dig entered how did you come to this, give a wonderful section about where i spent a lot of time to myself and all of the places that i have heard of and how you decided to take story and what is motivating for you. >> thank you for asking me and thank you for being here with me again and what people might not know that annette was incredibly generous with me with her time in a debate very very beginning of this pandemic, when we thought that we would not be zooming. and annette gordon reed in a group of other historians got together with us and i will remember this for the rest of my life and assure the menus with me in the gimme generous and thoughtful and remarkable feedback that really helped me
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think through a lot of the questions i was asking in the book. and annette gordon reed's work, like which won every award under the sun, rightly so was invaluable to me in terms of thinking through some of the questions that have been asking. considerably about monticello jefferson which is the first chapter my book but also about how the role of public memory and history is shaping sort of a larger public consciousness to to answer your question i came in this book because in 2017, i was watching federal confederate leaders come down in my hometown in new orleans and robert e. lee and justin davis and i was watching the statutes and down from lifestream and maryland and thought about what event that i grew up in a majority black city in which they work more always to the slave slavers in the same two people. and means i had to go down the
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boulevard to get to the grocery store and i had to go down jefferson davis boulevard. my middle school was named after them and my parents lived on the street because of the things we knew, the names and economic so they were just symbols and reflective of the stories that people tell. in the stories shape the narrative the narratives shape the policies and the policy shapes and materials and conditions in people's lives in this not to say that taking down and all statute of robert e. lee are making federal holidays going to suddenly wake you up, but it is to say that all of these things are part of an ecosystem of stories and ideas and narratives that help shape how we understand what is happening over the course of american history and what sort of decisions we need to make in order to make amends to the harm that is been done to the people across generations. so i was thinking about how different and how new orleans of my own hometown is reckoning for failing to reckon the people who are telling the stories.
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and the walter johnson's rate has written about, new orleans the whole city is a memorial to slaves like the levees rose and buildings constructed by the labor of enslaved people printed new orleans was one of the largest labor markets in the country, and for much of that. and were thinking about how the story is been told to me and how it's not been told to me. and it started think about how do other cities or historical sites and monuments and memorials tell the story, or not tell the story of slavery and what is that tell us about sort of the nature of the public consciousness of this country with regard to understanding or failing to understand histories of slavery and ending with the cummins rate of the actual impact on this country. so those are questions that i would reckon with and think about. i visited dozens of places that
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could've written about but i did and ultimately the book is about essentially but if you include the epilogue about the national culture and for my grandparents, so it's - i could've written about a hundred thousand because as far as the slavery in the landscape of this country's everywhere and part of what i wanted to do with what i could've written about mount vernon, george washington's and james madison homes really fascinating stuff there but ultimately i thought that the history beginning at monticello, given in the central role that jefferson played a unique role that he played in the formation of the american experiment and the way that monticello, arguably was most famous plantation in the country if not
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the world in some ways. >> it is on a nickel. >> indeed the only problem on the back of the u.s. print, i think, maybe the white house. >> i think the private home. >> was etched into our memory of the country and sort of exists but i was interested in and part of stem from renewable, hundred we know the monticello and monticello told the story of the families who live there now versus how they might've told it ten or 20 or 30 years ago. and we think that you've obviously, been to monticello and the work that you have done with thomas jefferson and the original work on the controversy of the hemmings jeffersons and
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the origin stories if you will. in your new book juneteenth is doing a different working operating it in a different with the sort of may be a different literary assents in your previous work and how did you sort of move from more maybe traditional historical text into something that was more personal than anything i've ever read. >> blows good change for me in terms of my public writing and when i was growing up, i was something i wanted to be a writer and the kind of writing that i am doing on juneteenth is the kind of writing that i thought that i would be doing it that's i didn't think i would go up to be a historian when i was a teenager and write about enslaved families but i was interested in reading about those kinds of things. but i thought that my writing would be somewhere else. a lot of the desire to talk
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about a place that is very much and is now, two things happened with these books that i didn't expect, number one i thought there would be a national holiday i thought that would come in a few years and texas kind of going off of the rail. history, censorship in all of this kind of stuff is going on down there now i did not anticipate this and i wanted to get back to the kind of writing that i originally wanted to do and i wanted to explain texas and having lived in the north since i was 18, came up appear for college and i stayed in law school and harvard in cambridge, massachusetts, new hampshire than moving to new york rated by spent a lot of time exciting texas because i had to do that a lot now as well as a matter of fact. and i wanted to do a book that talked about something that people don't tell the stories
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about how people tell the stories and the story is slavery in texas is not something that i think that people know much about it because when you think of texas you think about cowboys and cattleman and oil and those kinds of things, the west, texas is southwest with the south part of it gets blocked off. and it is very much like the east texas is the old south. it was a plantation it society and i wanted to remind people of that and a lot of now that can seem inexplicable can have their origins and be explained in the fact that even if boston, the father of texas comes to texas following actually is father had a mandate that his father died he took up the mantle to bring settlers into, people came into
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texas from louisiana. , alabama mississippi and the stories in my family on my father side that my ancestors were brought as enslaved people from georgia into texas. in my mother's family, from mississippi and alabama, my mother's family i can date back to the 20s. and texas is a republican belong to mexico at this point. so slavery is at the roots of my family stories most of my family said that i wanted to try to tell that story in a way that explains some of the voter suppression and very similar to louisiana. people go back and forth from east texas and in those places and very much alike and they don't have as much influence. but the plantation societies are
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very similar and i just wanted to tell that particular story and i thought i could do that. on wanted to do it in their personal way to tell the history texas through my family story pretty. >> so this is for a project that you been interested in for a long time are born during 14 are how did it come about in terms because i know you've got have your hand in different projects teaching and all sorts of stuff going on all of the time. what was the catalyst. >> the pandemic was part of it, it was here in new york to go and forth between cambridge, and new york and when the harvard when virtual, there is no reason for me to sit in my home and in cambridge and with my husband here in new york and the online so stayed here in new york pretty think the isolation, i had done, that was a part of it
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and i had done a piece for the new yorker about juneteenth. an essay about being a kid joining up with juneteenth and i also did it review of five books about texas in the so texas is on my mind and my editor praised the question that may be doing a book about texas and he wanted me to do a big book about it. and i thought why not, i was thinking it also i had been thinking about my parents no longer living and i was thinking hope they have made this extraordinary times printed the world is held captive in losing control here in the viruses and bacteria in the world is involvd with this thing and what would they think about it. i really wanted to try to make a connection to them through this book rated and tell her story my
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grandparents story my great-grandparents story and all of this came back to me. and i really wanted to have them live in history some way without pushing it too much. it is not just my family story, it is really a story of texas i wanted to do that through the deep texas lens through the african-american people in the struggles we had their in the struggle the hopes that we gather. and that comes through a lot in your book as well, and i really wanted to ask you, what place this may not be fair but was there someplace that kind of took your breath away. >> all of them in some ways. i think the reason that i included the places i did was because of my experience at each of them, i think i was always
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surprised. >> what surprise you in monticello. >> i had never been there and so, i think that i was struck by the level of frankness with which the dose and spoke about how jefferson's legacy in history and the identity of the enslaved was deeply entangled in the identity was a statesman and a philosopher and a family man and how i think i think sometimes maybe before i went there, i thought of them in the statesman he's over here in jefferson the enslavers of appear and i think that when i was there and after hearing his story including the remarkable guy who might have been my first four after spending time with
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people who work in the sort of with mia, bates who was there for so long as a public historian monticello pretty is just truck fight how the level of clarity with which they understood the past to tell the story of the past and how to tell a story of monticello that was much more honest and new ones in any story that i had ever been presented with and i think the jefferson our public discourse, i think it is shifting now the years ago, it was a caricature on both sides. >> yes he was the. >> and i think i was moved i think ultimately, i live there the summer of 2018, is ultimately, gave me a clear sense of what i wanted to do with the because i was so moved
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by the saying that the public is trying to do where an expense graciousness and generosity pretty people many of whom especially in monticello, many of, come there they no conception of the idea that this is a plantation rated people thm in the book, and we were on the tour together and it was a 45 minute mapping of jefferson and like putting the declaration of independence and the conversation with conversation and holding all of these things together and you could determine sort see their faces welt as they heard stories about how jefferson separated families and about the violence that the sort of overseers that monticello enacted over the families there. and the women he he told stories about the children and lived
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there and went up to him after. and i was just curious how they experienced it in a member he said that while it took them shine off the guy, he's in it i had no idea that this was a plantation in these were folks who rented cars and more. and there was a pilgrimage, thomas jefferson's home, but truly had no sense as they articulated this to me that if this was a home or hundreds of people had been enslaved so that was a moment such an important moment for me as a writer of this book, because made clear this book could not only be my had tobe the experience of other people through the voices of the historians like yourself, and also the historians like maia and also people like david and also people like others come
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there so many. i guess i didn't expect it to be as forthright as it was and i think that i went on they had just opened and so to be in his place and see hemmings family, so profoundly hidden in a way that you do in your book or again not historical caricatures from other three-dimensional people and individuals braided is removed by that and so much of that love to talk a little bit more about this is so much of the feedback that have gotten e-mails the garden for people visited monticello and they were just like will i remember living there and they didn't say anything about this. nothing about the hemmings read and know you been involved a bit and intimately with the work in
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the thomas jefferson foundation it was are doing and what is happening at monticello and how do you think about the evolution of monticello is a public institution now they held this story pretty. >> it was amazing, i went first in 1994, when i was working on my first of book in a finished manuscript and i went to monticello to talk to the person whom was many years and researcher historian there. and really responsible for opening of the story about slavery at monticello. and they didn't mention any of this. and i can't go on the tour now because people know who i am an amino been on the tours since then but is not a normal experience when that happens. but they've changed it quite a bit and i think that not to
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justify monticello but the differences in public histories and take history serious. and one of the things that helps monticello that helps other places as well is the people are running it, they care about the history really and work with the historians and have to understand there has to be a translation from some of the things going in the history books to people who are going to be preparing to the people who will be hearing it. that is being big change taking the history seriously and i think because a great figure of that there's been so much written about him any had also much information himself and his people were serious about it. all of this information about slavery was there in the years past, jefferson's biographers were writing about him pretty
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but they were not interested in that, salt like new documents, it was all there the enslaved pe but they were the when people talk about jefferson coming back from paris, they say they came back with his servants. the family had named these other people start, there just like - and once you get past that you actually start to see these people, whether as monticello, and in the plantations that you visited, then they come alive and makes a big difference if you're connecting the story that they are trying to tell to the people of the everyday people who come to visit it to actual history. no physical off in the some things on their own. >> absolutely, a couple of things is one thing was how struck i was by how and so many ways my book is like public
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historian and guides and who are think are encountering more people than most books on slavery will ever reach the half million people. so like you have a place for half a million people go and i think that at least one quarter of them: slavery and monticello and monticello has a slavery to her and hemmings tour and cultural tour pretty so they have all of these different passages of who jefferson was si think of hundreds of thousands t not have ever pick up your book or my book and you'd like tom and grace are going to be presented with this information it in a context in which they might not have otherwise be exposed to and i think that is so important in part of what i
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love is the way that the public historians and academics and other historians are students of more traditional academic historians. and i went to his office and across the desk was works of many, all of the historians and i love the idea of historians also the students because there's so much that academic historians have to learn from the public historians are so many good have to learn from academic historians of i love the sort of nature of the relationship the other thing that i am thinking about is and you've about this before, i thank you so so important and i don't think that when i went to monticello, started to read about jefferson, it was so much of what is feels relative for so many people was known then. it and think about the way you
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talk about medicine, and having the interview with the newspaper writer. while he was still alive and talking about his mother, and how jefferson was his father and the one thing that you talk about was how the historical record it had not taken or not always taken seriously the things that black people and enslaved people had to say. and we didn't necessarily take medicine personal accounts in the interview seriously and ago that was so really important moment for me and what primary source document do we take seriously and not take seriously seriously. >> i think it is somewhat easier, there's so much that is been written about jefferson is a must to go to and he is always
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been a controversy of figure and one of the things on juneteenth, i have a chapter about the alamo right thing the areas of really the battle going on about the public history around the alamo and what you say. there are people that are trying to prevent them from mentioning that some of the people who were there, to be crockett, william barrett travis and most people were slaveowners and who he was involved with in slave trading and so forth. you have ten people in the public history side the take this history serious we understand that the alamo means a lot to texas. but the reality has to be there as well have be willing and people have to be willing to face the truth and to try to tell a story and it could be that the people of monticello help advantage because jefferson did also put in the declaration of independence in the
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university and he did enough things being a slave owner and you talk about. you may not be the case in texas and people at alamo. it is the alamo, it is their last stand and that is the thing that makes them who they were pretty when the texas legislature and some of them left texas to avoid the voter suppression boat and one of them said that this is our alamo, and i thought wow what an interesting thing that to say that the symbol of something can be employed in a different context than these people who were fighting for the republic of texas that protected slavery and that was part of it there were other things that they people were concerned about but you have to after the alamo, my point is that you have to have the people who work running the site have to really really be
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interested in history and i think the people at the site are in with the alamo, is just the legislatures and the people around them not ready to let go of that yet so it will be a tougher thing that i think that it may have been for jefferson. >> your this book, you mentioned that you thought that jefferson's might not of been come the holiday but as quickly as it did but i think that when you are the white house, to celebrate the signing and i forget the woman's name. opal lee, i think she was called the queen are the mother and she had been fighting for this for decades. what was a moment like to be there and to have this legislation signed make something that should've been a
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federal holiday many years ago that left the powerful moment ended share it with opal lee and what was it like. >> it was a real kind of because it all happened so quickly and one day the guy who had proposed it, relented and said and opened the door for the house and the president was overseas and then he came back and then i got an e-mail asking me to come to the white house for the signing. so this was like an 830 in the morning, so absolutely the same day and he had just gotten back from europe and he was doing this and i think that he wanted this to be a holiday and give people a holiday. so i went down and it was wonderful, it was in the middle of really not great things that have been happening, it was a happy day and everybody was happy about this.
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in the present recognized her and it was just wonderful moment in something that is a said had not anticipated when i was sitting here on my couch writing this book. and decided to do this that it would happen so quickly but that's how we go with it and i know will get to the point where there will be sales in various things, car sales and all that but i am hoping and hoping that we will keep it as a day say a family day, history date, a day about history. and to celebrate human life. it was a step forward. >> hi i am allie and i am back and i have audience questions so the first one is how do you unearth the other stories that contributing to the fabric of
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history. >> the other stories, i think that someone said this book was born out of a recognition that i did not understand the history and the legacy of slavery in a way that is actually commenced rent with the impact of this country. ... to search out this history that i knew was there but sometimes i
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didn't even know i was looking for it. sometimes i would go to a place and it would lead me to another place. i originally was going to write a a chapter civil war battlefield summer to petersburg and that sort of ended the war for appomattox. the guy was like i was telling him about my project and he said have you heard of the blandford cemetery? it's one of the biggest confederate cemeteries in the country. you should go there and they went there and there was a flyer for some confederate veterans celebration. the person in me is like i'm not going to that. but i have to go. i went on memorial day with the sons of confederate veterans. i appreciated what that sometimes you don't even know what you are looking for until you find it. so much, that is what so much history is to me. it's almost like wikipedia.
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you go on one wikipedia page and then an hour later you click on something else, something totally different but in some way related. >> for me i think you're right you just look for it. typically not if you're writing about enslaved people and people who didn't usually keep a record, records the way we typically think of as historical material, you have to use whatever you have, whatever is available, archaeology, a lot of the things that i write about come from archaeological sites or where it was with hennings lived and they found to set another kinds of things, material culture that tell you something about her life. she doesn't write a letter talking about her tea set or
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anything but those things are there. there was an injury in jefferson's memorandum books, one of the great things about jefferson as a subject is he kept a lot of records and the memorandum books, a record of all his expenditures during his life from his 20s to his 80s every day. if he bought coffee, you know, $3.50 for a cappuccino at starbucks, that kind of thing and every single moment. he didn't do double entry bookkeeping so he very often did not much he owed but he gave himself the illusion of thinking he was keeping control of the spending and reporting everything but there's one entryways in france paid for inoculating sally. that's one line and then i
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thought, i think who is doctor sutton? what's inoculation like? what's the process? i got a chapter out of that line because doctor sutton was a person who was known and i could talk about, he was a doctor, sort of a doctor to the stars in a way. he was brought in to try to save the french king who had died of smallpox. he and his brothers, the sutton brothers were famous, and paid how much? so then i could figure out how many? what is this? it turns out it's like $1000, a lot of money. i find out the reason is a lot of money is because you didn't just get a shot. you went to live in a place in isolation and you taking care. so in other words, unpacking that line gave me a lot of information but you have to think, you can't just, you can't
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be daunted. you have to say i can do something with this. there's not a lot there but i actually, this was a method they employed, i found it led me to find a book that mention the sutton method, that was a secret method and they are very, very good results. very few people died, very few people were disfigured and they had a method that was secret. there are like five books in the world that we count this and two of them happen to be in new york city. i was very fortunate to biblical look at that. i was able to tell something about sally hemmings that i had seen that before. i'd seen that reference before but it wasn't until i was in the middle of working on this book data became imperative to figure that out. so you find it by not being pessimistic. you find it by just saying
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surely, there must be something, some way to find this stuff. i think i found some pretty interesting stuff about a person, about whom very few personal things are really known. it is sticking to it and being creative. don't be afraid, historians, i've written history is an imaginative enterprise. it's just the facts but you have to let your mind, open your mind and let yourself think about what does this mean, paid for inoculation. every one of those words has to be unpacked and you might be able to come up with something. that's one of my favorite chapters in the book. >> that's wonderful. i can obviously co2 playing off each other. we do have an audience question. professor gordon-reed your historian.
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mr. smith, here are journalists. where gcr approaches overlapping and where do they diverge? >> well, he's writing the first draft, the journalism, the first draft of history. i think they are similar in the sense that, well, we have to do investigations. we have to think of things in terms of the story. those are alike. trying to think of some different -- >> i think that for me i was trying, i was not trained a historian but i was, i got my doctoral degree and trained by sociologist. while i'm not an academic, i was drinking the academy and so i think a lot about what rigorous
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research means and what it looks like and what it takes to do that. part of what i want to do with this book was take the best of the history that i read, take the best of long-form journalism and narrative journalism that i've read, take the best of the novelists and the poets that i've read, take the best and then put those things in conversation with real people. i kind of wanted to write a book of history that felt novelistic in which i was sort of the protagonist traveling through these different places and i was sharing some level, probably more so than most historians would share a level about my own responses to my own emotional reflections two different things i was seeing and experiencing. i kind of wanted to bring it all together. what is truly is my work is only possible because of the work of so many historians have done before me.
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it was just so much fun -- you hear my children coming. [laughing] and it was just so much, i mean, if i didn't have a deadline for this book i i could've kept reading and researching forever. it was just so fun. i like loved sitting down and learning. such a gift and i think for me that's what i love about journalism is that there's so many, you're just learning. you go talk to people and you read books and you put it all together and try to tell a story. >> all right. will move on to our last question, a few more minutes. speaking of children how specifically can primary school level history education be changed to tackle the dangers part truths have traditionally been taught? >> well, depends on where you are. that's a tough one now. they're having all kinds of controversies again back in
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texas about what can be taught and what teachers are doing. i think it grows out of fact teachers have begun to actually broaden the kinds of things they talk about. i think this is a backlash against that. there's so many good children's books out there about some of these things. there are wonderful books about jefferson and monticello. she talks about sally hemmings and she talks that slavery and she does it in just the right way. authors of children's books are really on this i think at a doing a very, very good job in school districts -- school districts, if legislators would get out of the way and let people really do care about children and not about trying to indoctrinate people and not trying to harm children anyway. let them do their work. i think people, these stories
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can be disseminated and put out there because there's a lot of really, really good material. >> and i think i will just add, i was a high school english teacher for a few years before went to graduate school, and there are some websites and some organizations that are doing really wonderful work, lesson plans and syllabi and classroom resources and scaffolded inability to an age-appropriate way. sofas in education project, like howard zinn, facing history and ourselves, teaching for change and then it used be called heat intolerance but now it is called learning for justice. there are, these are incredible resources that have, held webinars. the gilder lehrman center at yale, like incredible resources for educators.
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and again for elementary, middle, high school. the thing is, the thing about the pandemic that has been helpful i guess in the virtual context is that now there are all of these virtual communities that have been created with people who are thinking about so much of the stuff because sometimes people can think they are like looking for this in isolation but there are all kind of people all across the country all across the world for working hard to figure out how to tell this story and tell the truth fully and honestly. i would tap into those resources that already exist. >> lots of great places. >> wonderful. thank you both so much. i would like to thank everyone for joining us today. if you'd like to buy either annette gordon-reed or clint smith but you can do so by clicking on the buy the books button at the bottom of your screen. we hope you will stick with us today since read a full day of programs. >> booktv is coverage of the boston book festival continues. >> my

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