On Tuesday, June 29, 2021 at 1930GMT:
Unlike Germany with the Holocaust and South Africa with Apartheid, the United States has not had a proper reckoning with its slave-holding past. Poet, scholar and writer Clint Smith explains what that says about American society in his new book, “How the Word is Passed.”
In it, Smith argues that history is not taught to reflect what actually happened in the US, and this lack of truth helps explain current injustices. To arrive at his point, Smith makes a pilgrimage to several different sites, mostly in the US, that trace the arc of slavery in the country.
He begins with Monticello, the home of former president Thomas Jefferson. There, we learn that the same person who wrote “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence owned 607 enslaved human beings. One of them was Sally Hemings, with whom Jefferson fathered six children.
Smith also takes us to a cemetery for Confederate soldiers, where he talks to several relatives of the deceased. Many tell him they believe that their descendants died fighting honorably in the Civil War, and not in fact to preserve the enslavement of Black people.
He leaves these sites wondering, “How do you tell a story that has been told the wrong way for so long?”
Smith also connects these visits to present-day systemic problems such as police violence and mass incarceration, all the while reminding readers that denial, half-truths and outright lies have shaped the tone of American history – and fueled ongoing white supremacy in the country.
In this episode of The Stream we ask, is it time for America to reckon with its slave-holding past? Join the conversation.
Clint Smith, @ClintSmithIII
Author, “How the Word is Passed”