How the Word Is Passed : A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America
by Smith, Clint

A look at how the legacy of slavery is preserved in monuments and landmarks such as Angola, a former plantation-turned-maximum-security prison in Louisiana that houses Black men working the fields for virtually no pay. 300,000 first printing.

Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the poetry collection Counting Descent. The book won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He has received fellowships from New America, the Emerson Collective, the Art For Justice Fund, Cave Canem, and the National Science Foundation. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review and elsewhere. Born and raised in New Orleans, he received his B.A. in English from Davidson College and his Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University. 

*Starred 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. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

A Black journalist and poet calls for a reconsideration of the way America teaches its history of slavery. "The story our country tells about the Civil War often flattens some of its otherwise complex realities," writes New Orleans native Smith, a staff writer for the Atlantic. He notes the U.S. is "at an inflection point, in which there is a willingness to more fully grapple with the legacy of slavery and how it shaped the world we live in today." However, while "some places have attempted to tell the truth about their proximity to slavery and its aftermath," others have refused. For this book, the author traveled to nine sites, eight in the U.S. and one in Dakar, Senegal, "to understand how each reckons with its relationship to the history of American slavery." The result is a devastating portrait with unforgettable details. At the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, historians have labored to help visitors close "the yawning gap on slavery" in their educations-"a hammer attempting to unbend four centuries of crooked nails." By contrast, the Angola Museum at the Louisiana State Penitentiary has a gift shop with such souvenirs as "a white mug with the silhouette of a guard sitting in a watchtower surrounded by fencing." When Smith asked his White tour guide to comment on Angola's role in slavery, the guide replied, "I can't change that." At these places and other sites such as Monticello, Galveston Island, and New York City, the author conducted interviews with tour guides, visitors, and others to paint a vivid portrait of the extent to which venues have attempted to redress past wrongs. Smith concludes with a moving epilogue about taking his grandparents to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The trip elicited painful stories from their childhoods, such as his grandmother recalling walking home from school as White children in buses threw ice cream at her and hurled vicious epithets. A brilliant, vital work about "a crime that is still unfolding." Copyright Kirkus 2021 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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