How the word is passed : a reckoning with the history of slavery across America

by Smith, Clint,

Format: Print Book 2021
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Summary

Instant #1 New York Times bestseller. "The Atlantic writer drafts a history of slavery in this country unlike anything you've read before" (Entertainment Weekly).



Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks--those that are honest about the past and those that are not--that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation's collective history, and ourselves.



It is the story of the Monticello Plantation in Virginia, the estate where Thomas Jefferson wrote letters espousing the urgent need for liberty while enslaving more than four hundred people. It is the story of the Whitney Plantation, one of the only former plantations devoted to preserving the experience of the enslaved people whose lives and work sustained it. It is the story of Angola, a former plantation-turned-maximum-security prison in Louisiana that is filled with Black men who work across the 18,000-acre land for virtually no pay. And it is the story of Blandford Cemetery, the final resting place of tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers.



A deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of our country's most essential stories are hidden in plain view--whether in places we might drive by on our way to work, holidays such as Juneteenth, or entire neighborhoods like downtown Manhattan, where the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women, and children has been deeply imprinted.



Informed by scholarship and brought to life by the story of people living today, Smith's debut work of nonfiction is a landmark of reflection and insight that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in making sense of our country and how it has come to be.

Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "Everyone knows that African Americans were once enslaved in the U.S., but how well do we understand what that means? Atlantic staff writer and poet Smith explores this question by visiting sites emblematic of American slavery, including Jefferson's Monticello, the Whitney plantation, which rejects Old South nostalgia to focus on the enslaved, a Confederate cemetery, Juneteenth's birthplace of Galveston, and Goree Island in Senegal, embarkation point for thousands of Africans headed to slave markets in the Americas. Along the way, Smith engages with conflicted tour guides and historians, ambivalent Senegalese students, Confederate reenactors, and descendants of the enslaved and enslavers, including his own grandparents. Smith probes the contradictions of our collective memory and how deliberate miseducation, nostalgia, and denial fuel a belief in Black inferiority and white innocence. Jefferson's cosmopolitan image, for example, depended on "the people he allowed to be threatened, manipulated, flogged, assaulted, deceived, and terrorized," while Confederate apologists insist their ancestors weren't reliant on slavery, despite copious evidence to the contrary. Ultimately, Smith concludes that "in order for our country to collectively move forward," we need "a collective endeavor to learn, confront, and reckon with the story of slavery and how it has shaped the world we live in today."HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Anticipation is running high for Smith's powerful and diligent exploration of the realities and ongoing consequences of slavery in America."
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "Poet and Atlantic staff writer Smith debuts with a moving and perceptive survey of landmarks that reckon, or fail to reckon, with the legacy of slavery in America. Visiting Monticello plantation, Smith describes how Thomas Jefferson's self-perception as a "benevolent slave owner" often conflicted with his actions. On a tour of Angola prison, Smith discusses how nonunanimous jury verdicts fueled the "convict leasing system" that replaced slave labor in post-Reconstruction Louisiana, and notes that when the state switched from the electric chair to lethal injection in 1991, Angola inmates refused to build the prison death bed. At the Blandford Cemetery for Confederate soldiers in Petersburg, Va., Smith questions on-site historians about the ethical implications of preserving a place of honor for the defenders of slavery. He also checks in at the annual Juneteenth festival in Galveston, Tex., and takes an illuminating walking tour of underground railroad sites in New York City. Suffused with lyrical descriptions and incisive historical details, including Robert E. Lee's ruthlessness as a slave owner and early resistance by Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois to the Confederate general's "deification," this is an essential consideration of how America's past informs its present. Agent: Alia Habib, the Gernert Co. (June)"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Additional Information
Subjects Slavery -- United States -- History.
Slaveholders -- United States -- History.
African Americans -- Social conditions -- History.
Racism -- United States -- History.
Discrimination -- United States -- History.
Historic sites -- United States.
Plantations -- United States.
Publisher New York :2021
Edition First edition.
Language English
Description xiii, 336 pages ; 25 cm
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references (pages 299-320) and index.
ISBN 9780316492935
0316492930
Other Classic View