How America Recalls – and Distorts – Its Slavery Past


How the word is passed
A reckoning with the history of slavery across America
By clint smith

Where, exactly, are we in the great American slavery calculations? Like a poorly written series only seen on random weekends, it begins to lose coherence, even – or even especially – when you pay attention. In one episode, protesters are breaking the Sangh statues and the nation is on the verge of compensation; Until the next, the federal government has condemned basic education about slavery as totalitarian brainwashing. Harriet Tubman 20 Flutters from season to season like an unresolved subplot. Are we in the backlash of backlash, whitlash or whitlash, and when will the White Liberals lose interest? This is enough to dodge anyone, especially those of us who, as descendants of slaves, cannot stop watching endless shows.

Perhaps the only way to get a clear picture is to visit individual communities where the national culture war calms down, yet there is no less monumental conflict over the meaning of particular historical sites. An increasing number of books include such analyzes – for example, Ethan J. “Denmark Vasey Gardens” by Kital and Blaine Roberts focuses on Charleston, SC – but no one has attempted to make such a detailed or intimate assessment as “How the Word Is”. Passed, “A Cross-Country Survey of Slavery Remembrance by Poet and Atlantic Staff Writer Clint Smith. Generous, scholarly and engagingly open-minded, this book meets America where it is on the subject – that is, everywhere.” Starting in New Orleans, the hometown, Smith visited nine locations that commemorate or distort his links to the legacy of slavery, from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to the African burial ground in Lower Manhattan. He skillfully interviews scholarly And that binds with personal observation, asking, “How different could our country look if we all fully understood what had happened here?”

The result is a tour of tourism and a reckoning with reckoning, influencing and profoundly affecting the human cartography of America’s historical conscience. The book’s extraordinary quality is the extent and honesty of its encounters. Smith walks with tourists, guides, teachers, scholars, ex-convicts, local historians and heritage enthusiasts, managing to capture almost all of them in a moment without written clarity. His spontaneity with strangers is fascinatingly apparent. After a visit to Monticello the focus was on Jefferson’s nemesis, a conservative Southerner says, “It really snatched that man’s shine.” In the chapel of Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, VA, which honors each rebel state with a Tiffany Stained Glass Monument, a nervous dust confesses that “we try and get back to the beauty of the windows” whenever slavery The subject of this arises. Later, Smith attends a Memorial Day event at the cemetery organized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, where a member tries his best to convince them that blacks have served as officers in the Confederacy.

Never lost in his story pile, Smith confidently interweaves the history of American slavery with his subjects with diverse ties to the institution’s evolving heritage. (For example, we learn that the Black Confederate officers’ myth originated in the 1970s as part of a propaganda campaign to protect the reputation of the SCV.) In Monticello, Nia Bates, who was then African American She was the director of the site of history, telling him that she decided to enter her area after identifying relatives in a photo of servants in another local plantation, which she had gone on a school trip and realized That Black Virginians were excluded from the decision to exhibit their heritage. She also tells Smith that in the early 20th century, when Monticello was first open to the public, many guides were black men in the dress of servants, many of whom were direct descendants of those enslaved by Jefferson.

Smith finds an even more formidable style of re-enactment when he accompanies a former criminal on a trip to Angola, Louisiana State Peninsula, a former plantation where prisoners pick up cotton on the horse under the supervision of correctional officers. “There was no need for metaphor,” they write; In its early days, the prison warden still lived with his family in an antebellum-style large house. Smith visits the Angola gift shop, where inmate-made souvenirs are available; Tours Death Row – where prisoners’ lack of privacy gives them a “rancid” sense of collusion – and depicts a terrible episode of the 1990s, when the prison tricked inmates to build a new death bed for the execution room Was. Despite the painfully obvious descent, the prison tour leaves his plantation past entirely. However, the convicts have often given similarities to themselves in their prison magazine, The Angolite.

Smith presents a more encouraging portrait of Galveston, Texas, visiting a Junthean celebration at a place where it is widely believed that Union forces entering the state declared liberation. There he meets Al Edwards, a Black State legislator who led the official recognition of the holiday in 1979. Another success is the House of Slaves on Gori Island in Senegal, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, which Smith envisions as a counterpoint to America’s misinformation. At a local boarding school, he interviews girls who demonstrate an impressive knowledge of the slave trade, and who roll their eyes at the mention of the German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who defamed Africa with the concept of history.

Yet the victory of remembrance poses its dilemmas of truth and untruth. Smith confronted the curator of the House of Slaves about the long exaggeration of the number of persons sent from the site of Senegal’s tourism officials. After visiting a small holding cell and the famous Door of No Return, which looks over the Atlantic, he thinks: “Does it matter if the enslaved people were actually kept there or does it matter Was that what bonding means to millions of people. People were irrevocably elevated? Can a place that misinforms a certain set of facts still be a memory site for a greater truth? Similar questions arise about the artifact at Whitney Plantation, Louisiana, The first such site dedicated to the memory of slaves in the United States; The founder, a white trial lawyer named John Cummings, controversially cultivated the original premises with historic buildings relocating from elsewhere.

Conversely, in New York City, the remains of slavery are present everywhere, yet rarely marked. On a tour of the Financial District – where the offices were built almost above the separate colonial cemetery that is now the African Burial Ground National Monument – we learn that slave workers helped vacate the land for the construction of Broadway, and the Statue of Liberty may have been intended by Edouard RenĂ© de LaBoule to celebrate Well not as a celebration of immigration but as an abolition. The link between past and present conflicts is exposed by a plaque marking the site of a former slave market at the corner of Wall and Water streets, founded after an expedition by an Occupy-affiliated artist Was. Smith’s friend on the tour, a young German visitor with whom he extensively discusses Bundesliga soccer, has never heard of slavery in New York.

Smith has a penchant for awakening people and places, and occasionally garlanding his text with descriptions of voices, scenarios, and course life that distract from the essence of his research. The generosity of his soul also leads him to corroborate some examples of remembrance that may deserve more scrutiny. When I visited Whitney Plantation in 2018, I was amazed by its non-critical commemoration of 1811 German Coast Rebellion, Which Smith uses to open a chapter. It “honors” those participating in the slave rebellion by displaying them as heads on the pike, like their killers.

But it is certainly a sign of strength when a book’s shortcomings also confirm its larger project. Smith’s unimpeachable subjective map of American memory is an extraordinary contribution to the way we perceive ourselves. As the great Haitian scholar Michel-Rolf Trouillot once wrote, “The inability to step out of history to write or rewrite history applies to all actors and narrators.” Statues, curriculum, banknotes and symbols mean a lot, but in the end what we have is the sum of our calculations.

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