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tv   Author Discussion on the Legacy of Slavery in America  CSPAN  November 26, 2021 11:29pm-12:13am 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 abou >> it from the boston and book festival thank you for joining us the way of the country's health especially alike to think the family foundation for sponsoring the session thank you to everyone who included a donation with ath registered for this free event. thank you for i joining us on c-span booktv. to envision our organization future direction. you can help shape what the
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festival will look like for the next five years. please take five minutes after tonight's event you have a chance to win some great prizes and most important he let us know what you value and how we can better serve our bes we drop of ink in the chat and in a follow-up e-mail. will also supporting independent bookstores we have made it easy just click the buy the book link at the bottom of your screen and now like to turn things over. >> thank you so much for that. >> but we have to start meeting like this. indicates the subject matter for both of us are taylor
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based and then to think about history arguing about history and with the stories we should tell and one of the things that i thought of when i was reading your book is how i do you come to this? it's ahi wonderful section about act place from monticello and the other places i have heard of how do you decide to tell the story what was your motivation? >> thank you for asking thank you for being with me here people may not know who are watching i was incredibly generous to at the very beginning off the pandemic when we thought we would not be on zoom for 20 months. [laughter] but then i share the manuscript then with that remarkable feedback and with
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monticello that want every word that is invaluable to think through some of those questions specifically about monticello and jefferson. and the role of public memory and history in shaping that larger consciousness. and watching the statues of confederate leaders come down in my hometown like jefferson davis and i was watching the statues come down from the lifestream and a grip and a majority black city there was more all mice to the leaders into the black people so that
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means to go to the grocery store had to go down jefferson davis parkway of my middle schools named after leader of the confederacy and my parents still live on the street named after somebody who owned enslaved people. they are reflective of the stories that people tell that shape the narrative and though shape public policy that shapes the material is not to say not to take down the statue of robert e. lee that it is to say that all of thesehi things are part of the ecosystem in shape how we understand what has happened with the course of american history and the decisions we need to make for millions of people acrossns generations and how my own hometown.
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that was new orleans the whole city. but then think of a story has been told to me with this tells us about the homogeneity of the consciousness without understanding are failing to understand with those actual impact it has had on the country. >> how did you decide we would go? >> i been in dozens of places
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that i could have written about in with american history and culture so it's about those places that with that landscape of the country everywhere and what i wanted to do is i could have written about mount vernon george washington so more mount hillier or james madison because there is really fascinating stuff there but ultimately i thought the history beginning at monticello is the central role that has been played and the formation of the american experiment and the way that monticello is arguably the most famous plantation in the
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country if not around the world that the only home on us currency i think. >> i think it is the private home with the hemmings and
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jefferson and the men are operating in different literary sense than previously soso how did you move from traditional historical text that was more personal? >> it was a big change for me when i was growing up as i thought i wanted to be lighter. now they kind of writing and etdoing with june 19 is what i thought i would be doing.
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>> but it is very much like your old self and it was a plantation society. and i wanted to remind people of that that that it is visible that can be explained. and then as the father texas comes to texas and then there was the mandates in society and then he took up the mantle to bring settlers into
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louisiana. and alabama and mississippi. and then on my father side with the enslaved people from georgia into texas and from my mother's family from mississippi and alabama and then traced back to the 18 twenties in texas. so slavery is at the root of our familymi story. but i want to try to tell that story in a way that explains some of the racial problems of voter suppression. and then people go back to east texas and is very much alike with influence and the
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plantation society is very similar. but to tell a particular story i thought i could do that in a personal way to tell the history of texas through my family story. >> is this something that has been a project you have been interested in for a long time? d how did that come about? and when it went virtual there was no reason for cambridge here in new york. and then to stay here in new york in isolation it was part
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of it and i have done a piece for the new yorker going up to juneteenth and i also have done a review of my book about texas for the new york review. and then and he wanted me to do a big book about it. but i thought why not? i was thinking also i was thinking about a parents who are no longer living in what about this extraordinary time? we are here in the world has been held captive meant to be in control here that the world was involved in listening and i miss them. and i really wanted to try to make a connection through this book and with my grandparents
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to remain great-grandparents story i really want them to have a history in some way without pushing it too much is not just my family story and with the immense of the african-american people and the struggle that we have had there and in the hopes that in your book and this may not be fair but is there someplace. >> but because of my experience on each of them i
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was always surprised by something. >> was surprised at monticello? >> and so i think that i was struck by the level that they spoke about the dow jefferson legacy and history and edidentity and it was deeply entangled in the identities as a philosopher and the statesmen and maybe before i went there i thought of them as separate but when i was there and after hearing the remarkable guy on the first two or after spending time with people who work and then
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for so long the public historian at monticello. i was just struck by the level of clarity with which they understood how to tell a story of monticello that was much more holistic and honest and he wants than any other i have been presentedin with. that years ago but looking at the caricature on both sides u and then going to monticello summer of 18. and then give me a clear sense of what i wanted to do with the book because i was so
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moved and those that they do that they extended a certain level of viciousness and generosity. many of whom come to monticello with no conception that this is a plantation. but then we were on the tour together then to put in the declaration of independence. and in conversation to hold all of these together. and you can see their faces as they heard stories of how jefferson separated families and the violence from the overseers that monticello enacted on the bodies of the enslaved families in the way he told stories about the
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children and i was just acting curious and i remember the said you really took the shine off the guy i did not know it was a plantation. >> and gave us pilgrimage. so excited to see jefferson's home that i had no sense that i had articulated it was the home it was such an important moment for you as the writer of this book because it made clear it cannot only be my own reflection of my own experience but it had to be in conversation with the experience of other people of historians like ourselves and also people like don and grace
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and i guess i didn't expect it to be as forthright as it was and when they just opened the hemmings exhibit so to be in this place and to see them humanize so profoundly in the way that you do in your book where again they are not historical caricatures but three dimensional people and individuals. i was very moved by that and i love to talk more about this but so much of that feedback i have gotten from those who are in monticello in the nineties. and i remember that they didn't say anything about slavery. i you have been involved with it with the work of the thomas
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jefferson foundation so how do you think of evolution and how they tell the story? >> it's amazing. i went first in 1984 and for many years was a reach on —- research historian there and with slavery and they didn't mention any ofth this. and i cannotd go on the tour now because people know who im. and i have beenou on tours since then but not a normal experience when that happens. that they changed quite a bit
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and that goes to something that doesn't justify only to monticello but the difference of the history sites that take history seriously. t one of the things that helps monticello and montpelier and places as well is the people who are running it care about the history then there has to be a translation to those who will be preparing those descriptions and those that will hear it. and that's a big change to take history seriously because there has been so much written and he has left so much written that them in the jefferson biographers were
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present but they were not interested in that. is not like they were recruited but that enslaved people when people talk about jefferson coming back from parents. and the family has names but the other people don't they may as well be luggage. so when you get past that whether it is monticello. are the places you visited then they come alive and it makes a big difference if you are connecting the story they are trying to tell to the people and they visit and connect that to actual history. >> and one is just how struck in so many ways my book is the
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homage to the historian. >> but at least one quarter of them go on to slavery in monticello it is the house tour the hemmings tour in a horticultural tour. >> there are other things. >> and then to experience and in those j thousands of people you might not ever pick up your book and that will be presented with that information in that context they may not otherwise but the
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work of public historians and then across the desk and all of the seminal historians and academic historians have to learn that public historians have to learn
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. >> and it is somewhat easier because so much has been written about him and he's always been a controversial
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figure. and writing juneteenth there is a chapter about the alamo. and then really there is a battle going on around the alamo what do you say? they are supposed to prevent the like tv crockett and with slaveowners and jim was involved in so far you have to have people in the public history size to take that seriously nowus understand that the reality is that people have to be willing to face the people of monticello has an advantage of the declaration of independence but other than
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being a slaveowner that you can talk about. so with the case with the alamo is that it is they lasting. that it is a funny thing when the texas legislature to avoid the voter suppression. and one of them said while this is an interesting thing. and the people who are fighting for the republic of texas so there other things they are concerned about. retaining our monticello you people were running the site have to really be interested
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british is the legislators they will not let go of and it does everything for jefferson. >> i want to ask me. you wrote this book and you mentioned —- juneteenth make not as quickly as you go back we were at the white house signing and then they college juneteenth? or something similar and she has been fighting for this for decades. so what was that moment like to have this legislation to make it a federal holiday with
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this powerful moment but then one day had a posted then he came back and then i got an e-mail for the signing at 830 in the morning. and then actually the same day. so he justt got back from europe. and he wanted the holiday to give the people holiday right away. so i went down. it wasnd wonderful. it was a happy day. everybody was happy about this. and then they recognized her
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and it was a wonderful moment and then deciding to do this we will see how we do with it. i know we will get support and car sales know that. but i'm hoping that we keep it as a day history day today about history and to celebrate andan the human rights. it was a step forward. >> i back in our audience questions. so the first one isun how do you heard the other stories not commonly told that contribute to the fabric of history?
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>> the other story? i just think that somebody's this book but it is born out of a recognition that i did not understand the history orha the legacy of slavery in the way it is commensurate with the impact it has had on this country. . . . . sometimes i didn't even know, i
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would go to a place and it would lead me to another place, i was going to write a chapter on civil war and i went to petersburg and that's where end civil war and the guys there said have you heard of the cemetery? is like it's one of the biggest and best in the country, you should go there. i went there and there was a flyer for a veteran celebration the person in me is like i'm not going to. i went to memorial day so part of what i appreciated was sometimes you don't even know what you're looking for until you find it and that's what so much of history is, it's almost
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like wikipedia you go on a wikipedia page and an hour later it something totally different but in some way related. >> for me, i think you are right. you are writing aboutut enslaved people, people whoho didn't usually keep a record, something we typically think of a as historical material. you have to use whatever you have whatever is available. archaeology, a lot of the things i write about come from archaeological sites elizabeth looked and they found things that material culture that tells youl about her life, she doesn't write a letter talking about it or anything but those things are
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there. there was an entry in jefferson's memorandum, he kept a lot of records memorandum book where a record of his expenditures during his life from his 20s to 80s every day, if you went and bought a copy coffee, $3.50 cappuccino and that kind of thing and every moment, he very often didn't know how much he owed but he gave him the illusion that he was given control of his spending but there was one where he says the amount, how many levers for a solid? one line. then i thought, who is this
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doctor? what's inoculation like? what is the process? i got a chapter out of that because he was a person who was known and i could talk about, here's a doctor, he was brought the king who died of brothers he and his were famous and oculus. they paid how much? i could figure out how many levers, what is this? it turns out like $20000, it's a lot of money. i find out the reason it is is because you didn't just get a shot, he went to live in isolation so in other words, unpacking that gave me a lot of information for you have to think, you can't be daunted, you
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have to say i had can do something like this. there's not a lot there but this is a method they employed, i found it let me to find a book that mentioned the second method and they had very good results from a very few people died in very few were disfigured and they had a method that was secret and there were like five books in the world but recounted. i was fortunate to look at that. i'd seen that reference before but it wasn't until i was in the middle of working on this book that it became imperative to figure that out so you find by not being pessimistic, by just saying surely there must be
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something, some way to find this and i think i found some interesting stuff about a person, very few personal things were really known so sticking to it and being creative, don't be afraid, history is an imaginative enterprise, is just ask but you have to let your mind, open your mind and let yourself think about what it means, every one of those words have to be unpacked and you might be able to come up with something and that's one of my favorite chapters in the book. >> wonderful. i can see you two playing off of each other, you've known each other, we do have an audience question, professor orton, you are a historian. mr. smith, you're a journalist,
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where you seek your approaches overlapping and whether they diverge? >> well, he is writing the first draft. journalism is the first draft history, i think they are similar in the sense that we have to do investigation, we have to think of h teams thingsn terms of a story, those are alike. i'm trying to think>> of some differences. >> i think for me, i was not trained as a historian but i've got my doctoral degree and and sociologists so while i am not an academic, i was trained in the academy so i think a lot about what rigorous research
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means and what it looks like and what it takes to do that. part of what i wanted to do with this book is take the best of the history i read, take the best of longform journalism. i take the best of the novelist and poet brett, 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 the protagonist traveling through these different places and i was sharing some level, probably more than most historians would sharing interiority of my own responses and emotional reflections and things i was experiencing so wanted to bring it all together my work is only possible because of the work so many historians havenl done befe me and that it was so much
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fun -- you can hear my children coming up. j[laughter] if i didn't have a deadline to the book, i just could have kept reading and researchingep forev. it was so fun, i loved sitting down and learning, such a gift. for me, that's whator i love abt journalism, there's so many, you're just learning and talking to people and read books and put it all p together try to tell te story. >> are right, we will move on to our last question for a few more minutes. speaking of children, how can primary school level history education be changed to tackle the dangerous part troops traditionally taught? >> it depends on where you are, that is a tough one now. there's all kinds off controversies again about what
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can be taught and what teachers are doing and it is d at the fat that they brought in the kinds of things they've brought from its backlash against that. there are so many good children's books out there about these things, wonderful books about jefferson and monticello that's for i think five to seven years old talking about slavery, she doesn't ingest the right way. authors of children's books are really on this and doing a very good job, school districts and not the legislators to get out of the way and that people who really do care about children, not trying to indoctrinate people or harm children, let them do theirre work.
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these stories can be disseminated and put out there, there's a lot of good material. >> i think i will just add that as a high school teacher before i went to graduate school for a few years and there are some websites and some organizations doing wonderful work and have lesson plans and syllabi and resources and it's in an age-appropriate way so the education project, facing history and ourselves, teaching forch change and that used to be called teaching toddlers but now i think it's learning for justice. these are incredible resources they hold webinars, the guilder learning center at yale, incredible resources for educators and for elementary,
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middle and high school and the thing is, i think about the pandemic that spent helpful in this context is not there are these virtual communities created with people thinking about so much ofle this, i think sometimes people think they are looking for this in isolation but there are all kinds of people across the country and world working hard to figure out how to tell it truthfully and honestly so they are resources that already exist. >> lots of greatst places. >> wonderful, thank you both so much. i'd like to thank everyone for joining us today. if you would like to buy either annette gordon reed or quince book, click on the by the book button at the bottom of your screen. we hope you will stick with us since we have a full day of programs. >> book tvs coverage of the boston book festival continues. >> my name is

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