tv Telling Americas Story CSPAN March 26, 2021 5:41pm-7:00pm EDT
academy award nominees we feature three fills that were nominated for or won awards. sunday at 2:00 p.m. eastern, civil rights activist cleveland sellers recounts the 1968 orangeburg massacre where south carolina troopers fired on students protesting segregation. and at 6:00 p.m. eastern on american artifacts we visit the national museum of the u.s. army in virginia. and smith sewngen secretary lonny bunch and documentary filmmaker ken burns, exploring the american story. watch american history tv this weekend on c-span 3. up next, lonnie bunch and
documentary filmmaker ken burns discuss the complex challenge of telling america's story. the university of virginia's democracy initiative hosted this discussion and provided the video. >> anthropologist clifford garrets once said that culture is the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. what are those stories in the united states? how have they been shaped and told, sustained and valued and by whom? and how do they affect our culture memory and our future? this afternoon we have an extraordinary group of three people who will engage in those questions and others. lonnie bunch is the 14th secretary of the smithsonian, the world's largest museum, education and research complex. and he's the founding director of the smithsonian's national museum of african-american history and culture which has attracted over 4 million
visitor, and has become a pilgrimage for so many of us. ken burns is one of the preeminent documentary film makers of our time. his work chris crosses american life from the bridge to baseball to jazz, to the civil war to country music. and today's moderator is as we think of her in our house and told her she's the thoughtful and informed sound track to our evening every single evening. she's the senior national correspondent and primary substitute anchor for pbs' news hour, a former foreign correspondent whose reporting also includes education, politics, sports and culture. and i'm nugoing to turn it over to you. thank you so much. >> melanie thank you so much for that kind introduction. i have to say i think my kids would disagree. they have a different nickname for me in this household.
i'm sort of a nagging, annoying sound track to their lives. i want to thank you for joining us and i am just honored and delighted to be in conversation both with ken burns and with secretary lonnie bunch. thank you both for being here. secretary bunch, how are you doing today? >> i am always doing well especially when i get to hang out with ken burns. >> do i have to say mr. secretary the whole time? he's been a friend of mine for so long. >> i know. i'm just from jersey trying to make it in the big city. >> just a yankee fan from jersey named lonnie. >> absolutely. >> we're going to get into the sports rivalries a little bit later. that's going to be saved for the q&a portion of this. and you can submit your questions at any time. just click on the q&a button at
the bottom. submit your questions, we will try to work them in. gentlemen, the title of this conversation is history is now. and we are sitting here talking as the second impeachment trial of the former president is unfolding in a weird split screen amendment of all of our lives. it's undoubted we're living through historic times, but i really want to talk today how we frame our history, what parts of our history we choose to hang onto, the artifacts of that historic narrative and how this story of america came to be what it is today and where it goes from here, which is dangerous question i know. but let's start with some definitions. and secretary bunch, i want to start with you, this idea of cultural memory, of america's story as we all come to learn it and know it over the years. what is the role of an institution like the smithsonian? what is the role of an
institution like that in helping to craft that cultural memory of who america is? >> i think you framed it exactly right, that we know history is as much about today and tomorrow as it is about yesterday. so in many ways what institutions like the smithsonian are about is they're helping people understand the culture, that history is the glue that holds the country together. and part of our job st. to find that right tension between history driven by scholarship and research and memory, the collective memory that people bring to an idea. so for me what i love the fact is in america our cultural memory is a kind of changing mosaic. and because of the changing mosaic, it means there are often debates and discussions and disagreements. but in a way the goal is to create a memory that allows people to be able to do something i think is really important, and that is to embrace a ambiguity.
too often our search for memory is here's the simple answer to complex questions. i think the job of people like ken and i is help people understand the complexity and the nuance and understand the questions. >> ambiguity i should say for story tellers that's not a great guidepost. you're looking for clarity, looking for a linear narrative in some cases. what about you? >> as the son of an anthropologist, let me go back to clifford garrets, it's the story we tell ourselves. but lonnie is right. that is inherent in everything. it is lawful. it's only the forms of our story telling that periodically suggests that it should be one thing or another. the binariness of our computer world, the sort of dialectic of our superficial politics meaning red state or blue state. what we know from human experience it is much more
complex and much more dynamic, changing as lonne suggests. that's lawful. we're always going to do this. so the dna of all of this is memory, and memory itself is fragile and dna has to combine and recombine in order to be something. so i think that we are watching the layers of a pearl being imperceptibly added. and remember a pearl is created through irritation, friction. and so american history is this pearl borne out of perpetual friction that at times presents itself in a very positive way and other times as of now in a not so positive way. but it's our job to collect the stuff of it and interpret, interpret, interpret and mine not that lonnie doesn't try to
find the narrative in it which tolerates which is negative capability, the ability to hold something in contradiction without making that judgment. and so where we get into trouble as story tellers and as americans as we construct and reconstruct and deconstruct our history and our culture is when we're certain, you know? the opposite of faith is not doubt. the opposite of faith is certainty. and so we ned to have a kind of faith in a process that understands as faulkner understood that history is not was but is and tomorrow as lonnie suggests, but we also have to find the processes that permit us to gather and include as much material as we can. because the only way we survive is with that abundance of indeed contradictory material. >> ken is so right, i've been
and regrettably it can still be lost. >> i think that is the example of how the work you do, to work scholars to really changes the narrative. it really is saying let us find the things that have been neglected because they were there, but complexity and the nuance, and i always think the most important contribution i could make is to help people
understand that there aren't simple answers to these questions, and that you have to grapple and wrestle of these as we go forward. >> i have said that i have made for more than 40 years, i've been making films about the u.s.. but i've also been making films about us. that is to say, to letter -- the intimacy of us, and all the majesty but the complexity, the contradiction and even the controversy of the united states. you have to exist, and i feel it's such a privilege, and i know lonnie existed in the space as well, it's a privilege to operate in the conscience state of an knowing that that represents. you have to be able to be there and sit on that undertone and tolerate it, otherwise you are going to end up making the mistakes that we always tend to make, which is to decide it's one thing or another and not often either or both. witman asked women ask kind of
moment, to contradict myself or do i contradict myself. contains multitudes, we, us contain multitudes and it's our obligation is museums and film makers to represent that, however messy it might be. however, for me as a filmmaker i see it as a lens. it's not ignoring someone's history, it's pulling back and saying this is a greater history. look at south current carolina, it's tourism now involves african american history. why? >> they were a majority black state at the time of the civil war. the south had 9 million people. 4 million of whom were owned by other people. that's an extraordinary population of the population has zero interest in the loss, cost zero interest in slavery. and yet for 100 plus years, nobody even deigned to ask some questions about what was your family like? what did your family do? let's restore this plantation,
but we don't have to re-bailed the slave cabins. let's paint the picture of the antebellum south, we can just ignore the fact, that they were and emancipated but of course they weren't. they were given freedom but that's all they were given. maybe 40 acres sometimes, but you could argue that jim crow pose post collapse of reconstruction is a worse period for african americans. there were more african americans lynched between ten and 1920 that in any other period, because he wouldn't want to let you property that had value. once that property didn't have any value, that's the reason why the great migration happen is the mother didn't have to worry every day about whether her son was coming home alive from school. >> one of the powerful things that comes out of cans work which i think i try to do not as well as canned but it's this notion of how do you humanize
this? how do you help people understand that when you're talking about the african american experience, you talking about the quintessential americans. if you look at almost every film can is made, part of it where you see at the heart of it is the african american experience that helps hold the country accountable. it's the african american experience that when we expand our notions of liberty, freedom -- for me part of the real challenges to help people understand that we're not talking about -- we're talking about stories that are essential and central to who we are, along our family has been in this country. that's one of the great strengths and contributions. >> let me put a period on that very briefly. this is february, our coldest and shortest month, which is where we put african american history. i know why it's there, and it has a legitimate reason why. but how could african american history cannot be at the
burning center? not in the outer orbit of some politically correct agenda of our national narrative but at the burning heart? because we have the memories of the people have the mercury or experience to being of being an free in a supposed freelance. they have much more to tell us than those who have bought hook, light and secure the tritely madison avenue sanitized version of our past. you don't have to, if you're gonna scratch the surface of american history, you don't have to go looking forward, it's there. it's a kind of conscience of the nation, it's affirmation in the face of adversity, in a way that teaches us perpetually and not to the exclusion of anybody else, in fact it defines the best of we are. >> you've raised a couple of key ideas i want to bring together and examine in a moment in time. we are basically talking about expanding our historical narrative. making sure it is exclusive, making sure the stories that
were told previously are not ignored. there are those who say we are also revising history, and erasing parts of it. you can see this debate, just over the one place of a confederate statues in america. i think it's relevant to remind people that just a few years ago we saw these violent clashes in charlottesville over the removal of a confederate statue. i'm curious to hear from both of you, what is the place for a confederate statue in american society today? >> well let me be clear. when i helped build the national death -- of culture, race need to be center water needs to be american today. this also means that it was an opportunity to say here, are ways that this history needs to be correct. i would argue that removing
confederate statues are not erasing history at all. in fact it's helping us find more tour, accurate history. there are some statues that ought to be preserved in museums because it helps us understand this woman were in moments were in. if you're in search of accuracy, confederate statues help you understand history, but removing them does not change our historical narrative, it correct's it. >> if if you just go back, when that statue was built, it was built in the 18 eighties or nineties. what was happening? then reconstruction, which is come down to us as a bad period, and experimentation and civil, writes it's collapsed. in the vacuum of federal troops in the south, and forcing a postwar piece, you had an extraordinary influx of ku klux klan, of lynching, of jim crow laws all enshrined by 1898 in
the constitution and in accordance with plessy versus ferguson. so if you say here is a representative sample of the reimposition of white supremacy, then it doesn't have a kind of organic sense that this is the story of my people. this is the story of me deciding that you can't even enjoy the freedom that we begrudgingly gave you and that you can take the confederate flag. it's not the confederate flag! the confederate flag is a different flag. the flag that we call the confederate flag is one of many battle flags of the army of northern virginia, which was adopted by the ku klux klan. it went into the state flags, and went into mississippi in the 1890s, went into the other state flags of the old confederacy after 1954. what happened in 1954? let me see, was there a supreme
court decision that might have prompted some individual resistance. yes, that's exactly right. so it's not even the flag of the confederacy. it's the flag, it's like isis. it's like al-qaeda. it's not even the confederate flag, it's the ku klux klan's appropriation of what they thought was a confederate flag. so you can make some very simple descriptions and do -- mitch landrieu was the one who struggled a lot over it, talked to me, to wynton marcellus, and he did the right thing. these things aren't melted down into bullets or anything, they are in museums. we interpret, interpret interpret. this is what this man spends his life doing. that's what we have to do and nothing is been erased. nothing has been erased, and the problem is that on sometimes there is the tendency on the other side to erase. he can't say this anymore, or
you can't talk about that. we have to continue to talk about nathan bedford force, but do we have to name a high school after him,? i don't think. so >> we should also know that it was just this past year that mississippi finally changed its flag correct? >> yes. >> it took a little while. and we want to bring in the audience to a couple of questions, just to get a sense of where everyone is headed. there's this idea of being included in the narratives. audience at, there you can see this question pop up on the screen, and we love to have you weigh in. once you see a pop-up, tulsi some instructions on the bottom. vote, take part in this conversation, and we can jump off of. that the question we're asking is. what extent do you feel included in the narratives images that define american civic identities? all of these institutions, secretary buns have been talking about, the way we remember our own history. to what extent do you feel
included in those narratives and images? it's multiple choice, so it's either very, somewhat or not at all. click in, and i think will see the results pop up here as well. just take a moment. . there you have the results are overwhelmingly somewhat. secretary, when you look at these 57% of the people responded to the poll say they feel somewhat concluded narratives, 34% said very, only 9% said not at all. that means it you guys are doing your jobs pretty well. >> it tells me that over the last 20 years, the greater appreciation of history, of understanding our story. i remember receiving a letter once that somebody said i shouldn't do work on african american history, there was a line that will never forget.
america's greatest strength is its ability to forget. to me, it's the strength the ability to forget what it didn't want to talk about. so i think in a way where we're seeing here a is that people recognize that there is a more complicated narrative than we were initially taught, and people are seeing parts of themselves in that narrative. when i want to make sure is that that narrative really does reflect the complexity and the diversity of this nation. >> and as between as it may sound it actually reflects that kind of complication that lonnie as been talking about, and the desire, in a desire that we all want to have, that it's all very certain. and it's not. a lot of i know there is a bigger story, i know there's a different story, i know what i believe is being challenged, i know what i believe is finally being recognized, or it's not yet there, so you've got a
whole range of people who are feeling not totally in franchised not totally out of it who are struggling as we are. as lonnie is, as i am in the work we do to try and figure out. i'm working on a film on the u.s. and the holocaust. what we knew, when we knew, at what the antecedents were. one of the things we inherit is the 20th century is the, we are the golden door, there's another guy at the same time a poet writing, close the door saying, we don't want those sorts of people in. guess who? one that guy. in 1924, we had an immigration bill that shut the door. we made quotas that made it impossible for refugees from europe, and particularly jewish refugees from coming into the united states. not a very comfortable image. we'd still like to say that -- but it's a lot more complicated in that. >> this idea because of our
darkest chapters this is popping up in a lot of questions here. there's some weighing in on the debates between the 16 19 project, and the 1776 project which the trump administration had just put out. there are some thoughts i want to share with you i want to get to the way. in people are talking with the removal of confederate statues. very much an area of debate for folks. one person was saying, i don't think they should be destroyed as they represent and ugly part of our history, but can they somehow demonstrate the horror that those people perpetrated as a reminder, instead of just glorifying those people. there's another related question saying, that is far statues are concerned, i've heard that removing them sanitizing a dark place in our history. secretary would you make of that? >> i think it's important to realize that first of all, we definitely have to -- these statues. i think like they've done in
budapest with soviet soviet era statute, they are a wonderful era opportunity to put things together. they shape the way we think about ourselves. it's important not to lose that but it's important to say that our goal general fracking is to say the unvarnished truth. so therefore we have to have room to be able to tell the. can you actually say if you find other statues that tell a fuller, more complicated story. in essence what you're simply trying to do here is say that america has certain -- and it's important to keep those myths as our north star. let us be that more perfect union, to let us also recognize that we have a long way to get there, and in order to get their, he got have to understand your history. you have to understand the complexity, understand the dark moments. because only by seeing those
dark moments to really understand the resiliency. >> i agree, i think that the great anxiety in is not to have a kind of soviet where you throw out everything and select a new history as if nothing ever existed i don't think that is going on or i don't think it's going to go on that this was not this is a legitimate part about slavery, it wasn't about states rights, or it's not it's all about slavery if you look into south carolina articles of secession, they do not mention the other constitutional issues of the day they mentioned slavery an awful lot, and they're going to take away what turned out to be their most valuable property which are the human beings they own, in a
country which four score and five years before, said that man was created equal. we have to be able to contain and by the way the guy who wrote that sentence, owned more than 200 beings. we're not talking about tearing down not to cello, or tearing down the jefferson statue. or mount vernon, or much cello the disguised plantations. . but a plantation nonetheless, characterized as some classical hula. but we have to do the pruning. i'm not suggesting going into gettysburg, and taking down all the statues of robert e. lee. but there's appropriate places, nothing will be lost in the story, unless we have the kind of horrific wholesale soviet style cleansing of the system. we are not about that. americans are strong enough to
figure out how to tolerate the good and the bad. it's been varied for so long and we permitted one superficial story so it's good to complicate it, it makes for great drama and it makes for great stories. it makes for great you know you go to lonnie's original museum, and this is by no means a picnic. and yet the fact that it produces these feelings. it is amazing. it is transformative. not just for african americans, but for all of us. we are all indebted to that museum for reminding us you know the experience got to be a part of our original sin, as historians like to say. that's a thing we have free opening our eyes to every day, and why george floyd gave us a
huge opportunity. his third fourth grade teacher and houston said he wanted to be a supreme court justice, like thurgood marshall. . he has achieved a horrible thing a horrible fate, but he's helping us in that area. remarkably. and we can't drop this one. . we can't drop this moment, this is a 402 year old fires. >> how much of this and you know we talk about inclusion and revision and so on, but how much of this is about re-centering the conversation. if you look at the work the project in, you know why we centering our project around the first arrival of the sleep people here. and now this is you not taught that growing up in america. that is not the history you are presented in a formal education. you know we talk today about even in journalism, you talk about racism in law enforcement, how it centering the role and the voices of the black law
enforcement officers who have to work in that environment. instead of talking to white officers who used to be racist and now are no longer it's those type of conversations. and how much of that, and i think as you mentioned curating part of that evidence, narration in the smithsonian. how much of that informs your work? what is at the heart of the center of the story? >> i think you put your finger on what i've shaped my whole career round. and that's race and american discourse. centering race in a way that in the sixties the key was just to discover that race was there. it's like in i did know that story or history. but it was always kind of exotic, and so for me it saying that of the kind of many creation stories in the united states the story of the notion of us as the beacon of freedom. equally important is the story of a struggling to define freedom isn't to make that more
cecil to african american women, to others. so the tension to yield the intention to say let's build upon our original creation myths and, let's enter our stories so we have a better way of understanding who we once were, which will help us understand who we are today, and maybe just maybe point us towards a better tomorrow. the thing that i take very strongly from african americans, is that i always amazed that people believe that america who believed in america to believe in them. that america would one day, live up to its promise if you struggled, channeled, made clear with the needs word, and if you sacrificed. so for me, we centering means not pushing these are the stories out of the way, but saying we can understand we can't understand ourselves, if we don't know how this
situation that has touches all, and has touched every president you know up to president biden. and we are not understanding ourselves, if we can't look at key factors that makes us so we are. >> i agree, and dr. king's dream is not it was not a dream articulated specifically for african americans, but it is about the liberation of all peoples and if you escape this specific gravity of this almost built-in racism in the world certainly in this country, everybody is enlightened. you definitely don't want to be an enslaved person, but you don't want to be a slave owner either. you know these things freed people in unusual ways, and the reframing of it that you're talking about, and as lonnie said it so beautifully, is at the heart of our survival. as a country, and it's been
it's willing to tolerate the increasing number of narratives that go into what is actually us. narratives that were always about us in the u.s.. but were left out. labor, women you know bottom up stories and individual oral histories, all of that stuff. american history for the longest time is a sequence of presidential administrations, white men punctuated by wars. and we're done. >> one of the things that can does so brilliantly, and i love the word the lens. what we're really trying to suggest, is you are using african american history, you're using story of issues of gender, and you are saying these are lenses into what it means to be an american. . these are not lenses into a community, it's a lens into a nation and i frame these stories are thinking about people's journey, but a nation
story. >> you both have now mentioned specifically gender, and the role of women in history, we've got some great audience questions coming up. and guys keep them coming up. but somebody is asking, how our institutions keep bringing jim crow into light. it's hasn't been enough concerted focus and shifting of the lens if you will, of the stories of women the gym crow. >> no i made a film on susan b anthony, and there's extraordinary trail at the start of the women's movement after the civil war. and women are told you're right, we're working on this one thing, but once we are done we will take care of you, and in fact than all the sudden you have a lot of white women saying we want the vote but we don't necessarily want to for black men and certainly not black women, but you know the movement very progressive
movement needs to splinter it starts this winter. and that's always the case. fortunately, what is happening now, is that our history is beginning to include extraordinarily stories of women and women of color into the narrative. and harriet tubman, is just 87 didn't, and ida b wells will be ascendant. and you will be able to hear about sojourner truth, and people to help put a lie to some of the conventional wisdom that american history is. there is this huge long way to go. long way to go for women period. you know i'm the father of four daughters, and i do not get it every day from them, i just understand the world through their eyes. and they are all very capable. but they are not a white male. and that still has a kind of
privileged position, that is always one lap ahead and automatic, in every race. >> in some ways to answer your question, if i were being at the museum throughout the country, i think they're doing a much better job of looking at these different stories and crossing these lies. i think there's so much work still to be done. one is the scholarship is now at a point where we can understand what's the challenge of black women versus black men. the challenges of race vis-à-vis the fight for the vote. we're getting to those stories. i'm not convinced they're given to the public in a way yet that makes them accessible and makes it central to understanding. but i think we're getting there. that's exciting. thing >> and when stacey abrams is president, then we will all have our lessons bought brought
right up today prima try to weigh. >> we are in this historic moment right away, we have a first woman of color, we have a black woman south asian descent up buying one of the most highest office in the land. i want to follow up on your statement secretary bunts how do we get there? what's incumbent on our institutions to make sure that those stories are included? >> i think it's important to make sure that we are helping the public understand that all we are trying to do is understand who we are as americans. that's all we're simply trying to do. so that even as we explore questions that people might say, will that doesn't relate to me, while it does. i think the challenges that people need to understand is that there's so much more to learn, so much more to understand from our history, and that my understanding that, that will challenge us but that will push us in a direction where as the vice president has says, she doesn't want to be the last.
i think the key is that we are telling these stories that allow us to open those doors. >> we are in the business him, and i of storytelling. i am just remounted now, you have a statement that i love my -- who said the best arguments in power won't charges saying change a single person's mind. the only thing it will do that is a good story. if you think about that, arguments are about you are wrong and i am right, let me convince you. stories if done well, and the american story that lonnie and i are both trying to add to, is one that it gets increasingly bigger and inclusive is the wrong word, it's a bigger table, and there's lots of stuff on it, and people don't and, we and that's okay, but at the end of the day, if someone feels like they have a place at that table, and are part of that story, then the sky is the limit. there is a kind of possibility ahead of us. the problem is that we are all
about dialectic we, are all about polemic, we are all about argument. that means that everything is just binary. when nothing in life is actually that binary, it just isn't. everything exists in the complicated shades of gray in between, and that's the way you have to operate. it's incremental, and sometimes it steps backwards as well as going forwards, and that i think is just a lawful. it's not american history, it's not a complicated story, it's human interaction, because of course it is human beings that lie, human beings that make conspiracies, human beings who are paranoid, human beings who have always two all-time manipulated and promoted disinformation which is one of the great on resistant forces to just being able to expand history we're talking about. >> that leaves us with this idea about one singular american narrative, which i
wonder sometimes if it does exist. you're talking about disinformation, conspiracy theories and so on, we're seeing the poll if airy cliff ration of social media. it seems like sometimes it's two different situations about who is america who she is, and what's going on, what kind of community here in. in some places you are having very real, complicated discussions about the placing of confederate statues. how we look at our very own history, other places you have other conversations was talking about amending school textbooks to include creationism. they're very real systems guiding these conversations. they cannot exist at the same time the same space right? do we still have dewey still have a single american narrative or do we put it at a diversion point depending on
who you are? >> the lad model of the united states is e pluribus unum when, out of many one. it has never been one thing and it will never be one thing the implicitness towards the civilized idea. in which i understand where i come from i understand what i believe but i understand that one where i come from and what i believe has to be in concert with other people who have perhaps diametrically opposed points of view. and that i wish to participate in this civilized hole, then to disintegrate into the tribal equivalent, which we all know where that leads to. it's just very bloody. and we don't need
that and nobody in their right minds wants that. iced it on the rim of the grand canyon, explaining to my doggies that the colorado river exposed pre-cambodian vision shifts, that is 1. 7 billion years old, nearly half the age of the planet itself, the woman next to me said, this earth was created 6000 years ago, and i just turn to her and i said, your years are longer than mine. you, know you just have to make room for her and room for me. and we may believe in the same got, i think we did. >> i think in many ways, we used to have a narrow, linear notion of what america was. where there was called and a master narrative or whatever. now we do we've expanded a like a balloon. and my sense is that it's important to do. that were still within a framework that is american, but we're now recognizing that understand, we've got to understand rule american difference, we've got to understand gender differently and we have to
recognize that maybe one day, we'll get to all these pieces and will begin to move back towards a single narrative, i believe they'll never be a single narrative. i do believe however, there is room within that room for different creation stories and that's why we try to do. >> that actually just gets specifically to one of the audience questions coming in, that is which it can we bring ourselves back to us? >> there's a great scholarly work called not a single narrative ascent, it's called a work by richard, so that paranoid style in american politics. this stuff, you know, stuff like this has been out there, ebbing and flowing since the beginning of the united states. since the beginning of time and i think what happens is, we tend to be chicken little's in our own particular
moment in which we, go disguise falling, the great benefit is history is it makes -- as much as you know all the dirt underneath the carpet that's been presented as american history, it also makes you kind of optimistic at the same time, because you understand that while the moment is unprecedented, the aspects of this are completely president it. we know that there's been this demagogue here and this demagogue there, we know when the no nothing's believe this about immigration. we know all of these things that in their aggregate sort of combine to make a moment kind of like ours. i just sort of feel these things, mccarthy is some died out, other things will happen. it's replaced by comedy, sometimes the civil wars and that's a terrible thing. but all in all, you know, george will sort of franklin roosevelt in our film on the roosevelts, he said that he thought franklin roosevelt saw american history has a rising road. that's a good image to have.
>> all of this, i think leads perfectly to another poll question which i'd like to put to the audience. which is not just a roll of arts and culture institutions. maintaining a telling mark in history but also, preserving and maintaining and even strengthening our democracy. so one of the questions we've got to put everyone out there, this is who you think arts and cultural institutions have a role in strengthening democracy? you can click yes, you can click no, we will look at the results as they come in and i want to talk a little bit more about this and about how these institutions feed into our democratic systems and narratives as well. let's wait for a moment while those pop-up and i think we have the results. absolutely overwhelmingly yes. 99.7% responded yes. gentlemen, weigh in on that. especially as we look to -- i, no can this is something that you mentioned when we spoke
before this event. the role that artifact stop prism from solves right after events, he look at the presidential takes that the center previous been going through. it was evolved our understanding of our own history and our democracy right? >> that's really true and i am glad you brought up the most because it's interesting in our film on the vietnam war, we were bending over backwards not to make kind of political judgments about people and even though after the period that our film covers both president nixon and henry kissinger wrote books that put their views in a different light. the tapes that the miller center has and have listened to and it's really important to note that all of the tapes haven't been listened to our catalog or interpreted by scholars, so this is a vast ocean of potential stories and research and further complication of the american narrative, and i think that applies to lyndon johnson as well. there is just the voluminous amount of them. important to know that all of the tapes haven't been listened we didn't to our catalog or interpreted by scholars, so this is a vast ocean of potential stories and research and further complication of the american narrative, and i think that have to say anything, we could just put the tape, the
applies to lyndon johnson as well. there is just the president could luminous amounts. we didn't have to say anything, we could just put the tape, the go out and say president to go on and say this this in public and then that afternoon said this on the tape in public and then that and, you know, it is used wonderful to have. that we live afternoon said this on the tape and, you know, it is used wonderful to have in an age of so much that. we live in an age of a so much information that no matter how information that no matter how many times somebody says something, we've lost our sort of ability to be outraged, many times somebody says which i hope we came back shortly because, things can be something, we've lost our sort said so many times. but there's something about having a tape of ability to be outraged, which i hope we came back where you hear the president of shortly because, things can be said so many times. but there's the united states talking to something about having a tape doctor kissinger about something that they have where you hear the president of the united states talking to independently together said the doctor kissinger about exact opposite. and there's something that they have independently and together said the nothing exact opposite. and there's a filmmaker has to do, you want to put your time on the scale, you could but you don't have to. we just presented so that these things are really important, really important. and i have my office leg shackles. nothing you can do they you want to put your time on the scale, you could but you don't have to. we just presented so that these things are really important, really weigh, there incredibly heavy. and you just go, this speaks more then volumes of books about -- this is an instrument for just by
important. and i have in my office leg shackles. they're incredibly heavy. and you just go, this speaks more thsn volumes of books about -- this is an instrument forced by human intelligence that has only one purpose. which is to enslave other americans and, lonnie's got all of that and it's just the accumulated weight of that. it has a kind of power to transform and rearrange or molecules and in a really positive way, so these artifacts are central to how we're going to not just fix history, that's impossible but continue to interpret and let it guide us. we sort of think the past is unknown and or our history is fixed, it's the opposite. i, mean are past is as malleable as anything and our future, at least the immediate future is rather predictable. and i love the fact that passed so malleable and each generation rediscovers and reexamines that part of the past, it gives its present new meeting so people fall out of favor and people come back into
favor, we've all seen that happen. revision-ism changes the dynamics of everything and something else is replaced, i love, even just since world war ii, the member variations of historiography that have captured the imagination of the academy. and the radically different, lonnie knows better than me all the different permutations we've been through saying, this is the only way you can see histories through this lens and at the end of the day, telling the good story and incorporating as many of those perspectives as possible gives you the best possible access. >> i think the biggest challenge of building a national museum was all the different interpretations, trying to understand them all, trying to navigate those. but i think to your question, notion of cultural institutions are crucially important because they are both the glue, because there are trusted places. their places where people will come and grapple with questions do choose that they want another
places. i find people coming to the smithsonian who wrestled with slavery or wrestle with climate change where they wouldn't in cleveland or in chicago but when they come to these institutions, they have trust. but it also means that these institutions have to also have courage. the courage to grapple with social justice. the courage to grapple with clarity, the courage to actually ensure that in their collections are things that allow us to tell complicated diverse stories. my frustration early in my career in a museum and the stories that i want to tell and there was nothing in stories that could help me tell those stories, so i vowed that it's crucially important for museums like the smithsonian to collect today for tomorrow. so i sent a response team to collect what was going on at the capitol on january 6th, with george floyd, it is important that without those stories people can then say the history did not exist. the key to the work that can and i have
done is to ensure that people have an understanding of what happened before, and how they can dip into the reservoir and be transformative. >> can i put another audience question because this pivots to something i wanted to get both of you to weigh in on, academia? one of the audience members asked specifically about oral history. you mentioned you sent people out to gather all this wonderful evidence and these stories right now. this audience member is asking if there is a distinction between storytelling and oral history? where does oral history fit into the academic model? >> first of all, there is the storytelling that's shaped by scholars that really frames the stories and questions we want to answer, and then there's oral histories that sometimes fit right into the scholarship and other times challenge it.
other times they are not as accurate. but the reality is that when you get into the order of oral history, as an academic, you learn to ask different questions, to see things differently, and it forces you to understand what are the truths you are trying to tell. i become a better historian listening to oral histories, stories of people. sometimes they are completely accurate sometimes they are memories that are wrong, but you are made better every time you hear those stories what they do is remind you to humanize yourself. they remind you that that will get people engaged, and it reminds you that there is complexity, because you are hearing different things in these oral histories, and i think that made me a better historian >> beautifully said, lonnie. i'd said earlier i thought memory was the dna, but not yet a structure. the first structure
of memory, regardless of whether it turns out an academic or other ways, is oral history. honey, how is your day is the beginning of all history. it really is and you edit. human beings edit, and in the editing is the initial subjectivity of real, actual, true human experience. but i back slowly down the driveway avoiding the garbage can at the curb is not what we say unless someone hits us and that's what we say. we are all collecting from the original oral history scholars will apply whole set of different things and they will be drawn to particulars before historiography's. narrative was out of fashion after the second world war, and you can understand why.
storytelling is really losing its edge. freudian interpretations, marxist interpretations, symbolism, deconstruction, semiotics, all sorts of things have helped the academy learn new things, but it all goes back to being able to tell a story. the story essentially goes back to answering the question, what happened today? what was your experience today? it's an oral tradition as old as human beings and as new as this conversation right now. >> i think honey, how is your day, is a dangerous question during pandemic work from home. [laughs] >> i had a conversation earlier today in which i said white people are notoriously inept at understanding what's going on, but a pandemic, at the same time we are dealing with this racial reckoning, is a good way
to understand that it has never been a problem to go to the convenience store until now, but it's always been a problem for african americans. it's not a problem to jog another neighborhoods, until now, but it's always been a problem for african americans about whether you come home alive. in some ways, the pandemic and george floyd hit at a moment where it was possible, at least, to pry open the door. you could see it shutting real quick. people are making facile decisions about what happened, but our job as museums, filmmakers, journalists, is to keep that door open. let's not let it shot with the conventional wisdom that will gloss it over and say it's brother against brother. >> i think the pandemic, as you have told the stories, covered these, i cover them. it has also revealed to us so much more about who we are. disparities are deeper than most people believe them to be. across every single institution, while a lot of
people think of the pandemic as an equalizer, it is broaden into the disparities. it's about black, latino, native american communities hardest hit, not just on the health, side but in the recession as well. i think we are at a historic moment. we say it is we say this so many so often. i would love to ask times. each of you to reflect on, it i'd love for each of you to reflect on it because obviously you deal with history, in gathering history and artifacts and evidence and stories and conserving them for future generations. how are you processing this moment right now? we're probably too close to look at it in a clear eyed view right? so how are you viewing this moment? when you have longer visual reckoning. we have a global pandemic. what is that is standing out to you continuing to tell you preserve america's story? >> i agree with you. i would say that this is the
fourth grade crisis after the civil war, the depression and world war ii. in some ways, and maybe worse, because it may be long to an existing central force, and continuation of the united states. we are dealing with i believe three viruses. obviously the covid-19 which is over a year old, which is horrific, the 402 year old virus of white supremacy and racial injustice, and that age-old injustice of lying, misinformation and all that stuff. it is kind of reached a boiling point, but at the same time let's also not forget what is happening. nurses, teachers delivery people are now the most exulted positions in the country. that's a really good thing. more people voted, almost 160 million people voted than ever before. that's a really good thing, in the safest most secure election we've ever had. people risk the virus, and more
importantly, poll workers, people had to be there all day couldn't fill in about. democratic, republican maintain a kind of american civic order at the most basic granular level in a really great way. we are having this reckoning. we have a woman of color as a vice president of south asian descent and we have the oldest president we had facing an fdr moment knowing it is gets that he has to represent everybody. these are all good things that are happening and that as much as we can't be pollyannaish about this we can't be the opposite we cannot be consistently to sandra's why are all these negatives winning. >> that's a whole another question. i'm happy to host a webinar in
that. >> but you know we actually have to be able to measure all of this just as the african american experience produced jazz music. it's the greatest expression of affirmation in the face of adversity. the blues itself is not a complaint about your condition. it is your absolute affirmation that you are going to transcend this bad situation. we always have to see this glass, however perilous it is, at least half full. that's why history makes me an optimist, despite the fact that i spent my entire life charting really bad stuff. that happens. i don't know lonnie how you feel about it, but the possibilities are as great as the threats. >> as a historian, i have
always felt history makes me hopeful because i see where we were. i've seen the changes. it also reminds me that we will probably never get to the promised land of full equality, but we keep working towards that. for me, it's that kind of journey. but i find at this moment is one of the parts of the smithsonian community museum, they went around and began to do oral histories, interviewing people what does this mean to them? what's has been wonderful is hearing people say here is what we've lost. here is where i'm sad but here is where i see this pointing us to better understanding. this is a moment of reckoning for the nation. how do we participate in that kind of moment? participating by voting, protests dig, but sharing artistic creativity to make sure moments are not lost. amazing young poets have taken us in new directions for me, this is a moment to real loss, real pain. but at the moment
that's transformative, if we if we seize the moment, and that's always the question. >> what about for our democracy? the idea about the more we look back, the more questions we may ask, the more things we may find are not necessarily as true as we believed them to be, as new evidence surfaces, as more narratives are included. does this rigorous look at our history, questioning and really holding it up to the light to shake around serve to strengthen our democracy? >> of course it does. we just came off of the last, thank god, football game of the season. i love the sport, but it's over and we get a bit of a rest. but if you think about it, the people who do it the best are the people who go back and look with very clear eyes, and not the great past they made, but the mistakes they made. a great
country does the exact same thing. it goes into the film room and it says what can i do to be better, how do i up my game, what do i need to do in order to not be beaten again by this team. the day before yesterday, we just watched 18 that was not supposed to win to a much superior team, handed to them, because they did the work, they studied the film and they understood where they had gone wrong, and the metaphor is incredibly weak. it is an important one, though, if we are going to be better. it is socratic. we all have to know ourselves, and if you don't, if you avoid it, if you coast on the bromide's or even the negative stories, you are lost. you cannot do either. you have to be constantly studying the film and understanding with the most intense self criticism what you could do better. that's the process. he doesn't
say let's have an exhibition and it's out next thursday. it's out next thursday, five years from now. and i spend that long on a film, because we have to spend all that time means testing it in order to make sure it fits into what all the variety of scholarly comments, all the sense of the bottom, up as well as the top down history, the variety of artifacts we could or couldn't use. every exhibition is not 100% of the stuff they've got, every one of my films is a 40th of the stuff we've got. all that is what we need to be doing as a republic, and then we will be figuring out that we are in pursuit of happiness. we thank gonna get there and happiness, by the way, is not an accumulation of all objects. but as our founders thought, it
was lifelong learning in a marketplace of ideas. that's what capital h. happiness was, and it is the pursuit, not even the happiness it will always be the road at the end of the day. >> i think what ken said. the truth of the matter is that is humans, we are better when we really understand ourselves, our strengths, our weaknesses, our foibles. history allows us to do that. history allows us to find those moments where we find great pride and we look at achievement and we say here is where we want to go. but it also allows us to challenge ourselves, say here is where we clear i failed. here is where we didn't live up to our honor. it's a challenge to do just that. to me, if you don't look at your history with a clear eye and look at it candidly and have those conversations, all you are doing is living in an illusion.
at some point andalusian will hurt, you not help you. >> at the very beginning of our conversation today, you implied something, lonnie, that's part of the pursuit of happiness. the man who wrote the second sentence of the declaration, our creed, the distillation of a century of enlightened thinking, owned other human beings and when he said all men are created equal he meant all white men with property, and we don't need not now. that is the herald of coming good, as well as the progress that has to be acknowledged, just as we refused to accept a status quo that still keeps some people behind. >> just checking the questions for any tom brady haters have to mention the super bowl and i don't see any. i will ask you one final question which i found on my last is there anything i haven't asked you about that you want to make sure you get a chance to say today? >> are you kidding?
it's you. you made us look good, because you ask good questions and we are just happy to be wholly owned subsidiaries of you this afternoon. >> you are both incredible gentlemen, incredible leaders. i cannot thank you enough, not just for the work that you do, but for your time and your insight and your leadership. it is an absolute pleasure to spend this time with you, so thank you, thank you very much for that. and with that, i'm going to turn it back over to melanie burns and there she is! thank you so much. >> you all reminded me yet again why i was a history major and why love it so much. that was a stunning conversation. it was really rich and wonderful, and there are so many things i remember. i just jotted out of the. things quote, we won't understand our things if we turn a blind eye to who we are. a great cast country asked what
can i do? better cultural institute institutions must have courage. and one we will take home, honey hours your day? i literally, i'm not exaggerating i have had friends around the country texting me that this is one of the best programs they've ever seen, and for that i want to thank you, can and lonnie, and anna, you have been fantastic. i want to thank your staff's, and those at the miller center of the college of arts and scientists democracy issue. and i want to thank our-ish audience for such wonderful questions and for being with us this afternoon. thank you also, so much. we are indebted to you for this conversation and our enriched by. it thank you and good afternoon. >> thank you, and go yankees! >> go red sox. >> i love you brother. >> i miss. you >> take care.
eugene bullock grew up in georgia but stowed away on a freighter for europe and eventually settled in france as an infantry machine gunner, air fighter pilot and spy in world wars one and two. today, university of georgia professor, john murrow recounts eugene bullard's story. >> you usually reserve that for people who deserve a very big introduction indeed. and let me give a brief version of that to our listeners, john. my wonderful friend of the national world war ii museum, he's the convenor of the museum's presidential counselor, oversees the franklin professor of the history department at the university of georgia and athens, where he teaches courses of the history of