• Neighborhood Reads

Maria's Pick: "How the Word is Passed" by Clint Smith


“The history of slavery is the history of the United States. It was not peripheral to our founding; it was central to it. It is not irrelevant to our contemporary society; it created it. This history is in our soil, it is in our policies, and it must, too, be in our memories.”


Poet and contributor to the Atlantic, Clint Smith, leads us on a journey in this book to eight different monuments and historical landmarks in an exploration into the varying views of the history of slavery in this country.


Smith begins in his hometown of New Orleans, then travels to the Monticello Plantation, where Thomas Jefferson urged the liberty of enslaved people and yet enslaved over four hundred people himself. The Whitney Plantation in Louisiana is dedicated to preserving the history of enslaved people. The Blandford Cemetery in Virginia honors the lives of tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers and focuses on a much different interpretation of history. I was also amazed to learn about the brutal history of the sale of enslaved people in Manhattan.


What Smith does with such reserve and precision is to listen to the stories of the guides, employees, and other guests of these landmarks and then follow up with deep research into the historical record of each place. But the facts are also interwoven with the personal as Smith’s grandfather’s grandfather was an enslaved person. His family members have very clear and painful memories of segregation.


This sampling of historical landmarks point toward the fact that we each look at history through our own filters. Smith’s beautiful prose, his ability to listen to varying stories and share his research made this a fascinating read and left me wanting to learn more.

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