Race in America: 2019 National Book Festival

Race in America: 2019 National Book Festival


[ Applause ]>>Eric Deggans:
Welcome, everyone. Thanks a lot for joining us. My name is Eric Deggans. And I’m a TV critic for
National Public Radio. And we’re going to
tackle, you know, a small topic; race in America. [Laughter] Solve it in
about a half an hour, you guys will get
out of here early. So — so one thing
I did want to point out as the introducer said, we’re going to take
questions at the end of this. So, I’ll ask a question
and let you guys know, you can start lining up
at these mics over here. So, while we’re talking, start
thinking of what you might want to ask these wonderful men. And yes, we do want
questions, not speeches. So, let’s start. On the far right we have the
distinguished Henry Louis Gates Jr. [ Cheering and Applause ] Author of theStony the Road. [ Applause ] Next to him is Steve
Luxenberg, author ofSeparate:The Story of Plessy
v. Ferguson
. [ Cheering and Applause ] Next to him is Justice
Richard Gergel, author ofUnexampled
Courage: The Blinding
of Sgt. Isaac Woodard. These are three very — [ Applause ] Three very important books
that talk about the progress and the — and the
backlash against progress and civil rights in America. We’re going to get into that. But first we want to
show a little clip that will tell you a little bit about the Reconstruction
documentary that aired on PBS that Dr. Gates spearheaded, and thatStoney the
Road
is based on. This will give you a sense of
some of the stuff we’re going to talk about, and then we’ll
talk and then you’ll talk. So, this is going to be cool. Here we go. Let’s check it out.>>Most of us know that our
country fought a civil war in the 1860s. But less is known about
what came afterwards. The chaotic, exhilarating and ultimately devastating
period known as Reconstruction. Did you ever study
Reconstruction in school?>>No.>>A paragraph or two.>>We never really studied it.>>I didn’t learn anything
about Reconstruction. [ Music ]>>Reconstruction was
our shining moment. The second founding
of our country.>>Overnight, people who have
been defined as property, take leadership positions
in the South. So, this is an incredibly
heady moment, kind of like Barack
Obama becoming president. But those black folks
had no idea of the cliff they
were heading towards. [ Music ]>>Reconstruction produced
a violent backlash, a racist backlash.>>I want us to tell the
truth about our history, not to punish America. I want to liberate us, but
we can’t get to liberation if we don’t acknowledge
what we’ve done.>>This is our town now! [ Chanting ]>>Do you believe that we as a nation are still undergoing
the process of Reconstruction?>>You might almost
say it never ended. We are still trying to come
to terms with the consequences of the end of slavery
in this country.>>This is a chapter of our history that’s
been misrepresented and misunderstood. It’s time that we
acknowledge the true story and complete the work of
reconstructing America. [ Music ] [ Applause ]>>So, thank you. Skip, I want to start
with the question to you. And we’ve talked about this. People have learned about
the Reconstruction in school, but they didn’t learn
about the redemption.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Eric Deggans: And why
don’t you talk a little bit about what you’ve
discovered, both in the book and in the PBS documentary
to tell us about what we should know
about the Reconstruction and how it relates to what we’re
going through today politically.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: Well, I studied — I took my first black
history course. It’s called Afro
American history. We were Afro Americans
at that time. That was before Jesse Jackson
had a press conferences told us we were African American
[laughter] — in 1969, 1970 at Yale. And we had to read W. E. B. Du
Bois’ bookBlack ReconstructionM, followed by another
black, Harvard educated, historian Rayford Logan, who wrote a book called the
The Betrayal of the Negro
. The De Bois’ book ends in — Do you Bois’ book’s
subtitle is 1860 to 1877. Rayford Logan starts in
1877 and goes to 1950. So, my whole exposure
to Reconstruction, which I had never heard
of, till I took this course because it wasn’t
taught in my school — what my whole exposure to
Reconstruction was coterminous with its roll back, which
is called redemption. Now you might want to ask
yourself, why the rise of white supremacy would
be called redemption. But that was the metaphor that the former Confederate
states used, because they will redeeming
the purity of their movement. And in fact, they
named their movement, the lost cause of movement. And what’s astonishing to
me is that the rollback of Reconstruction
lasted far longer than Reconstruction itself. Reconstruction, most historians
date from 1865 to 1877. That’s Eric Foner’s definition. And but then the
rollback took a long time. So, in that 16 — I’m not
going to give you a lecture of Reconstruction, but just
a couple amazing things that I had no idea about. In that 12-year period,
16 black men are elected to Congress, only
men could vote. 14 to the house, two the Senate. Okay? Now, here’s the most
amazing thing that I learned. Because of the Civil Rights
Act of 1866, which is still on the books, and the
Reconstruction acts of 1866, 1867, black men in the former
Confederacy, the former slaves, got the right to vote in 1867. Okay? If you were a free black
person, you only could vote in the United States in
five of the six Confed — five of the six New
England states. Thank you, Michelle. Give it up to Michelle please
for giving me my water. [ Applause ] You could only vote if you
were a free black person and had been free
for generations. You could only vote in five of the six New England
states, not in Connecticut. And in New York State, if you
had $250 worth of property. Free black men, in other
words, got the right to vote because of the 15th Amendment,
which was ratified in 1870. Three years before, because of
the Reconstruction Amendments, the former enslaved
black men in 10 of the 11 Confederate states
got the right to vote. And here’s the punch line. 80% of these eligible —
these black men, former slaves who were eligible to
vote, 99% were illiterate, because it was illegal to teach
a slave to read and write. 80% of them registered to
vote in the summer of 1867. 80%. And in 1868, they
elected U.S. Grant, President of the United States. Now, how can I say that? Grant overwhelmingly won
the electoral college, but he only won the popular
vote by 300,000 odd votes. 500,000 black men voted
for U.S. Grant in 18 — black men had elected a
President of the United States, and they did the
same thing in 1872. So final surprise, Eric, there
were three majority black states in the United States; South
Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, majority black. Georgia, Alabama and Florida,
almost majority black. And this scared the bejesus
out of people in the South and people the North, because
it was, as someone says, in the film, the first
manifestation of black power. And the Reconstruction was
rolled back through a conspiracy by white people in the North
and white people in the South, because it was too much power. And cotton remained
the leading export in the United States
through the 1930s. That is the truth. It was about the money. Racism, fundamentally,
is about economics. That’s where the
rubber hits the road.>>Eric Deggans: Yeah.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: And we didn’t learn
any of that in school.>>Eric Deggans: So, Steve,
your book is about Plessy versus Ferguson, the
Supreme Court decision that helps enshrine segregation. And it’s — it’s a
decision that a lot of people don’t understand. And the ramifications that
they don’t understand. They don’t understand
how it came to be. What do people most
misunderstand about Plessy and how it affects even
where we are today?>>Steve Luxenberg:
Well, I say it’s the — it’s the most misunderstood
famous case in US Supreme Court history. Most people would
say that Plessy, was ejected from a
railroad car, for example, but it was not an ejection. He was — it was
an arranged arrest. And it was critical that
it was an arranged arrest, because they were challenging
the first criminalization of a passenger who
had decided to sit in the car reserved
for white people. They didn’t want to sue. They didn’t want to have a civil
suit because that wasn’t going to overturn the Louisiana
law which was passed in 1890. And as Skip was saying,
the Southern states in this roll back, they were
going through a progression and what was formerly a custom. It’s very important to
note that separation, racial separation is
not a Southern idea. It’s a Northern idea.>>Eric Deggans: Exactly.>>Steve Luxenberg:
Because in the civil — before the Civil
War, in the South, you would not separate
master and enslaved people. It’s in the North, where free
blacks, very few free blacks in the state of Massachusetts,
where you teach. The state of Massachusetts in
the 1840 census is fewer than 1% of the population,
black, and yet, when three of the eight railroad
companies that begin operation at the dawn of the
railroad age, they decided to separate their passengers. Why would they do that? This is not a problem
that needed to be solved.>>Eric Deggans: Right.>>Steve Luxenberg: And
of those 1% very few of them were riding
railroad trains.>>Eric Deggans: Right?>>Steve Luxenberg: But there
was a very important group riding railroad trains and
that was the abolitionists. And among the abolitionists,
the youngest newest member of the abolitionists,
was Frederick Douglass. And when they tried to eject him from the railroad train
according to his memoir, he required first six people
to oust him [laughter]. And secondly, he said,
he grabbed the seat of the railroad car,
train, the railroad car, and he was so strong that he
lifted it up off its bolts.>>Eric Deggans: Right.>>Steve Luxenberg:
I don’t think that story was probably true.>>Eric Deggans: It’s
nice to believe it.>>Steve Luxenberg: So, what
we misunderstand is that, my book is off — is
about two narratives. And one narrative about the
people who make the decision in Plessy, and their lives,
and where they come from, but the other narrative is
about the people who resist. The black men and women
who resist separation. And you can’t have
one without the other. You can’t have a legal
case, unless somebody brings that case, whether it’s
an arrest or civil suit. The resistance is what
animates the narrative. Because — and what I
found was if you look at the Plessy decision,
and there are a number of precedents, most of those
cases are not individuals acting on their own without support. They’re part of a group whether
it’s the abolitionist group, or whether it’s some
other group. There’s always some support,
because resisting is hard. Resisting alone is harder. And the most important
thing you can do in the face of intimidation and violence,
and that’s what people faced on public transportation
among other places. The most important thing you can
do is to stand up and say no, and you have to have
somebody behind you.>>Eric Deggans: So, Richard,
your book, upset me the most, because I should know who
Isaac Woodard is and I don’t. So, tell us who Isaac
Woodard is, and tell us how pivotal
he was in the cause of advancing civil
rights in America.>>Judge Richard Gergel: Well Isaac Woodard was an
African American soldier, a sergeant battlefield
decorated. And on his day of
discharge after three years of military service,
he gets into a dispute with a white bus
driver on the way home. Literally the last leg home
to Waynesboro, South Carolina, where he’s to rendezvous
with his wife after three years of separation. He asked, can I step off
the bus to use the restroom, and the bus driver takes
offense that the [inaudible] of a black man to ask — even one in a dress uniform
with battlefield decorations. And he curses Woodard and to his
surprise Woodard curses him back and says, speak to
me like I’m a man. I am a man just like you. At the next stop — they
said go ahead get off — but at the next stop,
he steps off the bus and has Woodard arrested. And on the way to the jail,
the police chief of Batesburg, South Carolina beats
him and blinds him. And the story of — it
becomes a major issue in the African American press, and eventually reaches Harry
Truman, who is outraged that a battlefield decorated
soldier has been treated this way and directs the
prosecution of the police chief. In 1976 there are not
prosecutions of white cops for beating black citizens. This is an extraordinary event,>>Eric Deggans: In the South.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
In the South or anywhere. I mean, they’re just not
being — that’s not occurring. And — and Truman is so moved
by the story of the beating of Isaac Woodard,
that in the letter in which he writes
the Attorney General and directs the prosecution,
he also says we need to do more than just prosecute. And we need to establish
a Presidential Committee on civil rights. And out of that committee
comes the desegregation of the Armed Forces
of the United States.>>Eric Deggans: Right.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
Triggered by the incident, blinding Isaac Woodard. The case is tried before J.
Waties Waring a United States District Judge in Charleston, who never had a particular
interest in issues of race and justice. But when that all white, all male jury acquitted
the police officer in 28 minutes Wearing
is horrified. And it sends him on a journey
of study and reflection that eventually makes
him the first of the great Southern
civil rights judges.>>Eric Deggans: Right.>>Judge Richard Gergel: And he eventually writes
the great descent in Briggs versus Elliot, which is one of
the four cases that come to — goes up to be Brown
versus Board. And it just Waring’s
reasoning that becomes Brown.>>Eric Deggans: Yeah.>>Judge Richard Gergel: All
out of Isaac Woodard’s blinding.>>Eric Deggans:
Yeah, it’s true. And it just shows you — and really like the three
books we’re talking about, show you this progression of,
you know, redemption, Plessy, and then Truman gets
inspired, and the desegregation of the Armed Forces inspires,
it’s becomes an argument for desegregating schools. We see this flow of history
through the three books.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
Well, and one of the lessons, one of the common threads
is the role of the courts. The — the Reconstruction
couldn’t have been rolled back without the role of
conservative Supreme Court.>>Eric Deggans: Right.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: I
won’t bore you of the details, but there was a slaughterhouse
case in 1873, Cruickshank in 1876. And then the famous civil
rights case of 18 — cases of 1883, which rendered
null and void effectively, the Civil Rights Act of 1875. And one of the reasons I
wanted to tell that story — oh, and then when you the story of Judge Waring,
he is so shocked. He’s an eighth generation
Charlestonian, if I’m remembering –>>Judge Richard Gergel: Right.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: Eighth generation — eighth generation
Charlestonian, he didn’t have as my daddy would say, a nickel
in that dime of civil rights. But he was a decent man. And he even gets to the point
— in 1944 during the war — and your honor you
correct me if — I’m just — I blurbed his book. Everything I’m saying
I got from his book. But he settles for a man — Thurgood Marshall’s
his lawyer — and he’s suing for equal
pay for equal work.>>Judge Richard Gergel: Right.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
That’s a revolutionary thing. He goes yes –>>Judge Richard Gergel: Well,
he’s using Plessy as a sword. Plessy was supposed to be –>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
Put down the black man.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Judge Richard Gergel: And
what Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall were doing
was they said let’s turn it against –>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Judge Richard
Gergel: The South. Yes, we’re going
to have separate but you’re going
to pay us equally.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
But you needed a white judge to play along with the game.>>Judge Richard
Gergel: And he did it.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: And he did it, and he encouraged Thurgood
Marshall to keep pushing and push for another case, which
was a year later, I believe.>>Judge Richard
Gergel: Correct.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: And then that ended up being punted to
the Supreme Court. He knew it would be because
he wrote the descent. Right?>>Judge Richard Gergel: Right, he writes in the dissent
that becomes Brown.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: He writes the dissent
that becomes Brown. That’s an amazing story. So that we — what you’re seeing
on the stage are three people who wrote books about
the role of the judiciary in different independent ways. And the lesson to take
away as we, you know, RBG was here this
morning, right? And it’s, we have a
five to four court. And it’s, you know,
the lesson of — the most important lesson
of Reconstruction, for me, is that rights that we
think are inviolable, rights that we think are
permanent, like woman’s right to choose, Affirmative
Action, you — you fill in the rest
of the list — can be taken away
just like that. That’s why we have
to register to vote. [ Applause ]>>Eric Deggans: So, one of the
things that’s interesting to me about the material in several
of your books is I’m reminded of critical race theory. And I’m reminded of Derek Bell. And I’m reminded of this
idea that civil rights — some people believe that civil
rights advances only happen for black people when
white people get something out of it, too. And it’s interesting,
particularly in your book, Richard, this idea that one
reason why Truman actually defeated Dewey was
because of the black vote.>>Judge Richard
Gergel: The reason.>>Eric Deggans: Right.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
You talk about Grant. Truman is elected,
stunning upset because of massive African
American turnout in about for urban states, swing states and American politics
would never be the same. I mean, it’s –>>Eric Deggans: And
there’s also this concern that America will look
hypocritical trying to woo countries into the
American European Alliance.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
We look like hypocrites.>>Eric Deggans:
Against communists.>>Judge Richard Gergel: Let
me mention something about — about rule — the importance of
the courts and the rule of law. For much of American history,
the courts were the — were the place where civil
rights claims went to die.>>Steve Luxenberg:
That’s true, yeah.>>Eric Deggans: Right.>>Judge Richard
Gergel: Dred Scott, all that whole line of cases –>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: Dred Scott said that black people were not
citizens of the United States.>>Judge Richard Gergel: Were
not, no matter where they lived.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: Free or enslaved.>>Judge Richard Gergel: Plessy
is a combination of a whole line of cases that pretty much
gutted the Civil Rights Act and the Civil War Amendment, and then there’s
Williams vs. Mississippi, which basically sanctioned
state disenfranchised.>>Eric Deggans: That’s right.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
And really until 1939, with Gains vs. Canada, the courts had not embraced
the cause of civil rights. And really, it’s a slow process,
the ending of the white primary and Smith versus Allwright,
the ending of segregation in dining cars and Henderson
vs. FCC, and then Brown versus Board, and then the whole
line of Warren Court cases. That is only a piece of the
American history and it , ou know, I’m not going to get
into a debate about a court that reviews my —
my cases, okay. I won’t get into that. But I will say that nothing
is permanent in the law.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Judge Richard
Gergel: Stare decisis, the rule is important principle,
but it’s not the invite — [inaudible] principle. And also, as you said, there has to be people who
advocate the law. Because the law — the
judges do not do this by their own initiative. You have to have people
standing up for their rights.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Well,
look at the most famous dissent. What — what did Martin
Luther King say about it? And you talk about it. It’s Harlan dissent in Plessy.>>Steve Luxenberg:
Well, let me — I don’t have any problem with you reviewing
my cases [laughter].>>Eric Deggans: Yeah, I was
going to ask you about that.>>Steve Luxenberg: Let me
say, that it’s very important for us not to look
at the Supreme Court of the 19th Century
through 21st Century eyes. What does that mean? We talked today of a 5/4 court. We talk of diversity. We have Sotomayor, we have
Ginsburg, we have Kagan. In the 19th Century
you had nine white men. They were all of the same class. They were all of same privilege. They all had wealth. They all saw the world –>>Judge Richard Gergel: And
they were all Episcopalians.>>Steve Luxenberg: Yeah. And they were all — except
for Harlan and a late edition to the court in Plessy, they were all Northerners,
not Southerners.>>Eric Deggans: Right.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Harlan
was from Kentucky, right?>>Steve Luxenberg:
Harlan’s from Kentucky. He’s the only Southerner and he’s the only
dissenter in Plessy. And he’s the only dissenter in
the civil rights cases of 1883.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Steve Luxenberg: His
evolution is a remarkable one. It’s not a complete one. He’s a flawed individual. He even refers to white
supremacy in his — in his dissent by saying
that well, of course, the white race will
always be the superior. He also was anti-Chinese. But he goes from being a pro
slavery candidate for Congress in 1859 to — he opposes
the civil rights amendments after the Civil War.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: And
the Emancipation Proclamation.>>Steve Luxenberg: And he
opposes them on the grounds of these are states issues. If we’re going to abolish
slavery in Kentucky, we do it, not the Congress. He changes his mind; he
completely turns that over. And by 1883, he writes
this ringing dissent in the civil rights cases,
which he cares about more than any other dissent that
he wrote up until that moment, because he knew as a Southerner,
he would be scrutinized.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Steve Luxenberg: And he couldn’t write
it for a long time. He is — he has writer’s block. His wife claims that she helped
him by placing the inkwell that Justice Tani used
to write Dred Scott –>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: Oh my god.>>Steve Luxenberg:
On his writing desk.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Wow.>>Steve Luxenberg: And said
his pen flew the next day.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
Tani’s the devil [laughter].>>Steve Luxenberg: And Harlan
loved the delicious irony of using that inkwell,
which he had retrieved from the Supreme
Court supply office where it had been unused –>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
That’s a great story.>>Steve Luxenberg: Ever since. But — in Plessy, he is
known for this descent. But as I say, there are —
there are flaws in the descent. But it’s the evolution of
a man who was pro slavery, who was opposed to the
Civil Rights Amendment, to being the only dissenter
— it must not be easy. You would know better
than I would — to sit in a room with
eight other justices and be the only one saying
we must have equal rights.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: Especially in 1896.>>Steve Luxenberg: He
was consistent about it.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Yeah.>>Eric Deggans: I wanted
to ask Richard about this. So, we have this
judge who, you know, hears Isaac Woodard’s story,
and it transforms him. His wife is in tears after
she leaves the acquittal. How did they not know what
black people were going through at that time?>>Judge Richard Gergel: Well,
you know, it’s caused me to — this — this work has
caused me to look hard at other Southern whites who
came awakened during this era. And they all arose
from a racist past. They were raised in racism. Charleston was certainly among
the most segregated cities in America when Waties
Waring was growing up. How could he miss the — the
treatment of African Americans? But Southerners had kind
of blinders on about this. And what that trial did was
it stripped the blinds away, he suddenly saw the
world as it — as it existed, and he
found it intolerable. And he was like the — the, you
know, the only man with sight in a colony of blind people.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Yeah.>>Judge Richard
Gergel: And he felt — and you talk about courage. He had a very comfortable
life in Charleston. He was at the top
of the social heap. He had eight generations
of Charlestonian’s. His parent, his family
had been prominent for multiple generations. And he became the
most ostracized, vilified man in the white south.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Yeah.>>Judge Richard Gergel: And
he did it with his eyes open. He knew — when he came home after he got the white
primary case Elmer versus Rice, he told his wife, our lives
will never be the same if I allow black people to vote.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Yeah.>>Judge Richard Gergel: And she
said, you got to do your job.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Judge Richard Gergel: And
he did it with his eyes open. And that’s, you know,
one of the — the title of my bookUnexampled
Courage
comes from his dissent, the great dissent in Briggs. And he refers to the plaintiff’s
in Briggs v. Elliott, living in this little southern
town, knowing they were going to be vilified and
ostracized for what they did, they signed up as plaintiffs
with Thurgood Marshall and he says, these plaintiffs
have shown unexampled courage. It took unexampled courage.>>Eric Deggans: I want
to ask you a question.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Can I
make a — just a little comment?>>Eric Deggans: Sure, sure.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: The reason — you have to understand
why that — why South Carolina’s
so important. Why — I know you can’t
comment about Dylann Roof, but I can at least say he’s a
judge in the Dylann Roof case. But if — if you would —
if someone had awakened me and said, guess where someone
has just killed black people in a church, I would
have said Charleston. Charleston was ground
zero for black power. It was the blackest
state in the Union. 48% approximately of all of our enslaved African
ancestors entered the United States through Charleston. It was as I said, early
majority black state and — and reconstruction —
well of all by 1901 when the last Reconstruction
congressman was kicked out, there had been 20 black
men elected to Congress. 22, 22 the house,
two to the Senate, eight came from South Carolina.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
Seven at one time.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Yes.>>Judge Richard
Gergel: All seven.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: Seven at one time. Now, why — you think why? Because one, it had
all these slaves, but it also had a large
free black community. It’s a paradox. Here is a paradoxical thing,
it’s like you can take it home and tell your friends. There were — in 1860, there were 488,000 free
black people living in the United States,
and 3.9 million slaves. Of those 488,000 free black
people you think they all would live north of the
Mason-Dixon line. Right? Makes sense? Soon as you could run
away from slavery. Wrong. 262,000 lived in states
where slavery was legal. Three sets of my fourth
great-grandparents — I am from Piedmont,
West Virginia. Its 120 miles up the
Potomac from here. Near Cumberland, Maryland. Some of you know
where Cumberland is. All the Gates are from
Cumberland, Maryland. And my mother’s family,
Piedmont, West Virginia. It’s halfway between
Pittsburg and D.C. I descend from three sets — three sets of
free black people who lived — who were free from
the 18th Century on. They lived 30 miles
from where I was born. 30 miles from where I was born. My family never moved from this
area, the Allegany mountains, the Potomac River Valley. Right? Near Deep Creek lake. Why didn’t they move? Because in Virginia — remember
it was Virginia until June 20, 1863, Master had
to give you land. So, when the last
of my three sets of fourth great-grandparents
were freed in 1823, they got a thousand acres of
land from Abraham Van Meter in Hardin County,
now West Virginia. What are you going to do? Leave your land? Go to Boston and New
York and be homeless? Give me a break. All these people
stayed in the South. The only reason Martin Luther
King family left the South, or he left the South was
to go to BU to get a PhD. The South has had an old
long, continuous middle and upper middle class
that never went anywhere.>>Steve Luxenberg:
That’s really important in the Plessy case,
because I say in the book that it’s unlikely that the
Plessy case would have been brought in any other city in the United States
other than New Orleans.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Yeah.>>Steve Luxenberg:
Because it was brought by a mixed-race group
of free blacks. They’ve been free for –>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Ever.>>Steve Luxenberg:
A hundred years. And by the 1890s,
they were pissed.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right. They spoke — they spoke French.>>Eric Deggans:
That’s a technical term. That’s a historical
term [laughter].>>Judge Richard Gergel: They
had fought in the War of 1812 –>>Eric Deggans: I’m going to
break in real quick and say, we’re going to start
taking questions, so why don’t you guys start
lining up at these mics and I’m going to ask one more
question of Professor Gates and then we’ll — we’ll
start getting you guys in the conversation.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: We
just getting started man.>>Eric Deggans: I
know, I know [laughter]. So — so the whole
point of this –>>Steve Luxenberg: Call
off the inner plans.>>Eric Deggans: The whole
point of this is this idea that we learn from history.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Yeah.>>Eric Deggans: And that
history can show us the way — can inform where
we are right now. So, we look at the
story of reconstruction and we see this idea of civil
rights progress followed by huge backlash. And some might say that may have
sort of happened more recently.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Eric Deggans: With
a certain person.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Eric Deggans: Getting
elected to the White House after a black president.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Right.>>Eric Deggans: I’m not
saying any names [laughter]. But what is the solution? Since you guys are the experts
on history, since Dr. Gates, you have this great documentary
and book on Reconstruction and redemption, how do
we redeem the redemption? How do we redeem the modern?>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Well, I think that’s an
excellent question. I — I believe that — I
definitely think the emergence of white supremacy in
its bald manifestations since the last general
election — you want me to put
it that way — is definitely tied to the fact that there was a
black family living in the White House
for eight years. I can’t see how anybody in
this room could doubt that. Okay? I think that drove some
of our fellow Americans crazy. We thought — I interviewed
Andy Young recently — I’m doing the history of the
black church is my new series. So, I interviewed Andy Young. He said, he thought our
people had a freedom high. We were still on a freedom high. You know, that Barack’s
election and solved racism. I mean you remember all
those books and articles at the beginning,
we’re beyond race, the end of race, racism is over. I didn’t believe them. I didn’t believe it either. But it was America at its best. The election of Barack Obama
is America at its best. When we elected the
best person for the job. [ Applause ] But, because — as Eric
Forner says in that clip — because so many issues of race and class were not
resolved by Reconstruction. Right?>>Eric Deggans: Yeah.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
They’ve just been simmering. Simmering. Not — I don’t want
a — I’m not trying to vilify South Carolina
or South Carolinians. I just use it as an example. But so — I don’t know — I’m
not saying everybody who’s for Donald Trump’s a racist. People — let me be clear — people ask me, is
Donald Trump a racist? I say only God knows
what’s in a person’s heart. And I don’t — I’m
not into name calling. But I do know that
Donald Trump is a genius at manipulating the
tropes of white supremacy. And what we have to do is
fight any manifestation of white supremacy and question
whenever it is [inaudible]. [ Cheering and Applause ]>>Eric Deggans: All right,
let’s start right here. If you could just
tell us your name and then give us your question.>>Hello, my name
is [inaudible]. A couple of you brought up
how things have like changed or how like, you know,
we may have moved on from what was happening
during Reconstruction and Jim Crow, like
in ways like that. But a lot of people
believe that the election of 45 was the start
of blatant racism. They’re like, oh my gosh,
this is not my America. I don’t know what’s going on. But he just gave racist white
America another platform to show they were racist. Because even when
Barack Obama was elected, everybody showed their asses
about how racist they were, because they were upset because
a white man was leading this — excuse me — because
a black man was in a powerful position
in this country. So, what do you think
the ramifications are of a allowing people to
phrase this as something new, when in reality they’re just
showing how racist they’ve always been? What are the ramifications
of like, oh my gosh, we got past this? When in reality we haven’t. Because by doing so,
we allow white people to continue thinking that this
is something that we’ve overcome and they’re lessening it. When I reality, structural
oppression and structural racism is
still a very strong issue.>>Eric Deggans: Who’s
that directed to?>>Any of you.>>Eric Deggans: Oh okay. Anybody?>>Judge Richard Gergel: Let
me say — let me say this. When the first African stepped
off that boat in Virginia in 1619, 400 years
ago this year, this was the great
sin of America. Right? Slavery. The great constitutional
convention was compromised because Southern
states would not join if slavery could be abolished. And this is the great
unresolved issue. We’re — you know, we’re trying
to create the more perfect union and we have made progress. The world of Isaac Woodard in
1946, the world of lynching in the late-19 and
early-20th Century, is not the same as today. That doesn’t mean
there’s not racism today, but it’s taking different
varieties. It’s not as virulent. And there is the vote. Right? African Americans vote. Thurgood Marshall
was once asked, what is your most
important case? And every — and the
interviewer was expecting him to say of course Brown. He said, Smith versus Allwright. He said, what was that? And he said, that is the
Texas white primary case. Because I always figured
if we got the vote, everything else would
work itself out.>>Eric Deggans:
Right, absolutely.>>Steve Luxenberg: You know, I would say race is our
national conversation. We are either talking about it or we’re avoiding talking
about it [laughter]. [ Applause ] The job of the historians,
but also any storyteller, is to remind us that white
supremacy is not a new thing.>>Eric Deggans: Right.>>Steve Luxenberg: And unless
white people, people like us — why are we writing
these histories, why are we engaging in this? Unless we write these stories, we cannot have this
conversation in a real way.>>Eric Deggans: Yeah.>>Steve Luxenberg: White
supremacy is not new. We all know that. And just because it’s simmering and buried doesn’t
mean it’s gone. And it won’t be gone until we
have this conversation in a real and continuing way,
both in elections and outside of elections.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
And it’s very important that we historicize,
meaning, that we don’t talk about a phenomenon as if it’s
frozen in time and it’s the same at all points in our
nation’s history. And that’s one of the
surprises of doing my — of doing the Reconstruction
film. We had anti-black racism to
justify claims that people of African descent
were genetically, biologically inferior, in
order to justify slavery from the 17th Century at least. And certainly, at the
height of the enlightenment. But after the Civil War, anti-black racism morphed
into something else. Why? Because black people all
of a sudden had all this power. The genie was out of the lamp. And you had to put the
genie back in again. I’ll give you one
little example. There were very few claims that black men raped white women
before the end of the Civil War. And Fredrick Douglas
and many other people — Ida B. Wells, who were
fighting lynching, used that as an example. They go, if black men have
a natural propensity to want to rape white women, how come
they didn’t do it during the Civil War when the white men
were away fighting the North? And they didn’t. There are no — virtually
none that I can even think of. But I’m sure some
historian can fact check — I mean, I’m sure it
probably happened. But it becomes the claim. We have to protect
white womanhood from these black
predators who are venal. You know, genetically. How many of you saw
when you were in school,Birth of a Nation.>>Eric Deggans:
Birth of a Nation
.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
SoBirth of a Nation, everybody remembers it as
being about the Civil War. It’s about the rollback
of Reconstruction. And the excesses of black men in
the South Carolina legislature. And there’s one scene,
they have their feet up, they’re eating chicken
wings, drinking whiskey, and all of a sudden they cheer and they just passed
the miscegenation law, saying that — that it’s
legal for black men and — you know, people of different
races to get married. And the whole arc
— narrative arc of the film was about
Gus the rapist.>>Eric Deggans: Yep.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
A black man who’s trying to rape this white woman.>>Eric Deggans: White woman.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: In the book, he does rape the white woman. This is — and it’s something
I swell on in my book. This is an invention of
the redemption period in the rollback of
Reconstruction. It didn’t exist in the
pre-Civil War times. That’s amazing. So, I’m just saying that we have to study how anti-black racism
rose, change, continued, went underground, resurfaced,
in order to fight it. How do I think the
best way to fight it? Though education. Through proximity. Through the surprising fact that
so many black and white kids go to segregated schools today,
all these years after Brown, it’s a shock and people — if
Waring came back or Thurgood — they would have a heart attack. I mean, they couldn’t believe that all deliverance feed was
translated into the situation that we’re — we’re
seeing today.>>Eric Deggans: Exactly. Now, what I will ask is that
one panelist answer one question because we want to
get more people. Go ahead.>>Amen. Glory to God. I am the missionary Miss Range. I am IP owner, the copyright
author of Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, and
Blue Lives Matter. It is my sermon. And the hijacking of my work
is part of a racist act. It’s actually a black base act in that there’s a false
narrative that’s gone forward. I have no three co-founders
have no organizations, and blacklivesmatter.com is not
black owned, nor is it mine, meaning copyright infringement
and defamation and racketeering. So my question is when a person
here at the Copyright Office, Library of Congress, writes
a work, creates a work and that work, not only gets
stolen, but then continues to I’ll say get circulated
in a piracy, because that’s the exact same
thing as copying my movie and selling it bootleg,
it’s the exact same thing. How are we, as a united people
going to stand and uphold you as copyrights for everybody? Because we’re here at the
National Book Festival. And that is what
we’re all about, protecting everybody’s
copyright. And so, this is a good question,
especially in the fact that, that was a sermon and the moral
integrity of the work has –>>Eric Deggans: What I would
say — what I would say, and I’m sorry for
interrupting you is that we’re not copyright
lawyers. We got one judge up here, but
we don’t really know that, we don’t know the details. I don’t think we can
really answer that question.>>The real question –>>Eric Deggans: Thank you. Thank you very much. I’m going to have to move on. I’m going to move on.>>That’s fine, but I –>>Eric Deggans: Who’s our next
— who’s our next questioner? Who’s our next questioner?>>My name is Stephanie –>>This is disrespect.>>My –>>That causes racism
to continue.>>[Inaudible], I
wanted you to say hello to my cousin Larry Bobo.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: He’s my
next-door neighbor [laughter].>>I am chapter five in
your book Mr. Luxenberg. I am a descendant
of Agnes Matthew. Homer Plessy is on my tree.>>Eric Deggans: Wow.>>My question –>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Did
you get her permission to put that in there [laughter]?>>Eric Deggans: Now Skip, don’t be starting
something up here [laughter]. I’m sorry ma’am. What’s your question?>>I’m not interested in suing.>>Eric Deggans:
Whew, okay [laughter].>>I have a question
about Judge Harlan and how he actually
wrote the dissent, the one Southerner
on the committee. The one person who in reading
your book seemed least likely to do that. Do you think that’s
a possibility today since we now have so many
judges who have flipped, gone different ways, and I
still pray every day that — what’s his name —
Clarence Thomas gets the message [laughter].>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Hang
in there sister [laughter]. Hang in there. Better join hands in
prayer [laughter].>>Eric Deggans: Well
Steve, what do you say?>>Steve Luxenberg: It’s
an amazing about Agnes too, who was Homer Plessy’s
great-grandmother and was freed as
a slave in 1779.>>Yes, my father told us this.>>Steve Luxenberg:
Under the French.>>His people weren’t slaves,
and we looked at him and said, yeah, yeah, black
men in America. We know, you weren’t a slave.>>Steve Luxenberg: Well,
the mixed-race group in New Orleans was in
this sandwiched layer. They didn’t have all of their
rights, but they were free. But to answer your
question about Harlan, I think that he is an example
of somebody who can change, who can evolve, who can look
at, as Judge Waring does, there are two examples here. And I would say that — that’s one of the
inspiring stories in my book. But so is Fredrick Douglas,
who also changes greatly over the course of his lifetime. And, you know, Fredrick
Douglas in — in 1876, he addressed the
Republican National Convention. The first black man to
do so, and he told them that he called it your
constitution, your — your decision to enfranchise
us, but he held them to account and said, how are
you going to follow through on what you’ve
accomplished? That’s the message
that I think people who are white need to hear. We always have the power, how
are we going to follow through and continue this evolution?>>Eric Deggans: Wonderful. Next question.>>Thank you, gentlemen,
for coming out and sharing your
knowledge with us. My name is Tory Burton
and my question is to Professor Gates here. Just wanted to know if you
could share a little with us about the — some of the stories
about the accomplishments and achieved — social/political
achievements of several of these Reconstruction
legislatures that — that had several black
members in their –>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Sure.>>[Inaudible] placements.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: I can do it quickly. Statewide public schools. You know, it’s such a shock, but there weren’t
statewide public schools in the United States. And that in many — most
places in the United States, particularly in the South. So, if you were wealthy
you could educate your child privately. But there weren’t state — I
mean there were public schools, don’t get me wrong, but
there weren’t statewide school systems. And that was one of the
best things that came out of the Reconstruction
governments in the South. The black men who were elected,
along with the white men who were elected, and this was
America’s first grand experiment with interracial democracy. It was crushed, but
at least it — it tried to get off the ground. And that was one of the most
positive of — of the benefits. But to show you how effective
voter disenfranchise — voter suppression can be, in Louisiana had their state
constitutional convention in 1898, the first one, as you
said in Mississippi in 1890. And that’s when they found ways
to circumvent the 15th Amendment through poll taxes, literacy
tests, and everything. This is how effective it was. In 1898, there were
130,000 black men registered to vote in Louisiana. After the state constitution
was adopted, and these new regulations
were implemented, by 1904, 130,000 had been reduced
precisely to 1,342.>>Eric Deggans: Wow.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: by 1904. That’s amazing. And when we see voter
suppression today, that’s what we have
to keep in mind.>>Eric Deggans: All
right, next question.>>Hello. My name
is Jamila Rice, and I am a social
studies supervisor for Pittsburgh Public Schools.>>Eric Deggans: All right.>>Thank you. But I have a question. So, you say that the best way
— and I believe this also — to fight against racism and white supremacy
is through education. However, my question is, what
advice do you give someone who — or people who
are trying to fight for quality public education
for black and brown students, especially in our country? Especially with social studies. When I think about your books,
there’s so many students who never have the opportunity
to learn anything about this because they don’t even
have classes for it.>>Eric Deggans: Yeah.>>In elementary school — and
I don’t know if people know, and I’m sorry I’m saying
this, but it’s important. Students might have a social
studies class once every six-day rotation. One period, 45 minutes in K-2. Maybe. And the same
thing in 3-5. And so, I can’t help but
think that that is by design, especially when I think
about what those students in Parkland were able to
do, because they were aware. Because they knew their rights. And so, this is a civil rights
issue of a great magnitude that is one of the best
kept secrets that’s going on in this country. So, I’m just trying to
find out from you all, what advice do you give people
like me who are fired up and we’re angry every single day because we know our students are
not learning anything about how to even function in our society?>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Well,
I think the most radical thing that could happen in the United
States is that the amount of money per student
would be exactly the same in every school district
in the United States. [ Applause ] And that would at least
neutralize the economic issue, you know, so that — you
know, I’ve been very blessed, my kids went to public school
in Lexington, Massachusetts and then we moved
to Harvard Square. I mean, you know,
give me a break. But that — that’s not
the way that it is.>>Steve Luxenberg:
I would hesitate to tell you how to
spend your time.>>Yeah.>>Steve Luxenberg: But, take
your passion and other groups of people’s passion and
go to the school board. And be active. I’m not saying it’s
your responsibility, but I think that
it’s your cause. And the only way to make
it everybody’s cause is to make it loud and public.>>That’s why I’m here.>>Eric Deggans: I agree.>>Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Hi, my name is Jessica
Nichols and I am a descent of slaves and I am a proud high
school social studies teacher from Maryland. [ Cheering and Applause ] I just have one quick
question to anyone who wants to answer it, and by the way,
you inspired me to actually look in my family tree and
some really cool stuff. Anyway, okay, what do
you guys think the role of reparations could
be in helping to heal the racial
issues that we have buried and are not quite dealing with.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Well, since I’ve never met a
white person in private that really was for reparations, I’d like these brothers
to talk [laughter].>>Steve Luxenberg:
Well my comment about reparations would be that when the Senate Majority
Leader ends the conversation at slavery and doesn’t
continue into convict labor, and all of the repressions
that people of colored suffered between the end of
slavery and today, we don’t have a real
conversation about slavery and about reparations. [ Applause ] And what role can it play? You know, reparations of
course is a political matter. But reparations can be repaid in
so many ways other than money, and I think it’s a
mistake to always reduce it to the question of payment. [ Applause ] Education for example.>>Eric Deggans: Yeah,
affirmative action.>>Steve Luxenberg: Your —
your comment about equal amounts of money spent on every school
district for every child of color or white
in the country, that would be a start
to reparations.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: I agree. I agree exactly.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
And affirmative action. Preserving affirmative action. But white women in this
room benefited as much from affirmative action
as any black person.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Yep.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
And we need to keep it for gender equality
and racial equality.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: There you go.>>Judge Richard Gergel: And
it’s about to go down, you know. I — it’s just one of my worst
nightmares is that when it comes up to the court, it’s
going to bite the dust, and that’s a bad thing.>>Eric Deggans: Yeah. Next question.>>Hi there, my name’s
Zachary and my question is, if we have policies — or
excuse me, trends that lead to racist outcomes, but many of the individual people are not
racist who participated in them. For example, gentrification. What policy remedy
would you recommend at the governmental level to
sort of equalize the outcome? [ Laughter ]>>Steve Luxenberg: I
think you’re exposing all of our inexpertise [laughter].>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
He’s a judge [laughter].>>Judge Richard
Gergel: I got to stay out of that lane [laughter].>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: Can you rule him out of order [laughter]?>>Judge Richard
Gergel: No, I mean –>>Eric Deggans: What strikes
me about a lot of this is we — we have to get people to admit that the driving force behind
some of this legislation, behind some of these conditions
is racism and prejudice. And then, once we can agree
on that, then we can see about pulling the
systemic prejudice and racism out of the system. That’s — that’s really what all of us are talking
about trying to do. That’s why we’re
focusing on the courts. That’s why we’re
talking about education. That’s why we’re
talking about the impact of desegregating the
armed forces and using that as an argument for
desegregating other places. We’re — we’re trying to
look at the systemic forces that are backed in prejudice
and backed in, you know, what I might call opportunistic
racism or strategic racism. It’s about using racism
to achieve a goal. And so, then you
sort of look at, well how does gentrification
work and what are the mechanisms that seem to be an element of systemic racism
of strategic racism? And can we pull those out. And — and I’ve always
hoped, you know, that once you reveal the roots
of racism of those practices, then people will have that
transformation that we saw in these judges and
they’ll change. But what we see now in
the age of certain people, the age of Trump, is that
you can reveal that racism and they still don’t change. And I think that’s our
biggest challenge right now. So, I answered it.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Good.>>Eric Deggans: Next question.>>Hi, I wanted to thank you all
for your wonderful presentation. I have been a state trial court
judge for 21 years and I wanted to ask any of you, if you
have any suggestions on how to stop the revolving door. Because I see that on a
daily basis and I see, particularly young people who have never received
the education, the mental health treatment,
job training, that they need and then they don’t
receive it once they’re in the criminal justice system, so how do we stop
that revolving door?>>Judge Richard Gergel:
Judge, let me address this, beaus this is the issue
that I think every state and federal trial judge
deals with every day. We have 5% of the
world’s population and 25% of the prisoners. There’s something
wrong with that. Right?>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: It’s crazy.>>Judge Richard
Gergel: It’s crazy. And I ask every young man who
pleads guilty in front of me, my first question is, how
far did you go in school?>>Exactly. I ask that question as well.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
And, virtually all of them are functionally
illiterate.>>Yes.>>Judge Richard Gergel:
And we’ve been talking about education being important.>>Very important.>>Judge Richard Gergel: It
is the path to the jailhouse.>>It is.>>Judge Richard
Gergel: The lack of it.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr: Yeah.>>Judge Richard Gergel: And
it is the one uniting figure of young men of color who
go to jail, they have — they have not had
educational achievement, educational opportunity, and
we’re never going to turn it around until we address
these problems.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: That’s right.>>They have undiagnosed
trauma and –>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: Correct.>>How do we — how do we —
who do we hold accountable? How do we force —
because that’s not within the courts purview. You know, so how do we do that? How do we stop that
revolving door?>>Eric Deggans: I think that
might be a question that each of has to ask as we —
as we leave this room.>>I guess so.>>Eric Deggans: Okay, we’ve
got time for one more question. So, brother you got it. And thank you everyone else. You may approach us after the — after the event if you
still want to talk. Go ahead.>>My Name’s Leon Peace. I’m a lawyer and lobbyist
here in Washington, D.C., and my question is, given that
there’s a necessary dialogue on race that’s been talked about
over the past number of years, do you suggest that we need
or require a judicial remedy to start that dialog
on race and this issue? Some sort of judicial
action or activity.>>Judge Richard Gergel: I — I will say that the courts have
a role, but Congress has a role, the executive, and the
people have a role. And you can’t rely just
on the courts for this. We have our role and we
will do our role, but — but it has to be — the
entire country has to do this.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: And educators. The role that we as
storytellers, as you said, we have to keep telling
the story over and over and over again, to younger
and younger audiences, so it becomes part of
our national narrative. Brian Stevenson, you know, the
Just Mercy
, the — the — I call it the lynching museum, that’s not what it’s
properly called [laughter].>>Steve Luxenberg:
Legacy Museum.>>Henry Louis Gates Jr:
Legacy Museum, thank you. And I encourage you to go
if you haven’t seen it. But he gave an interview inVox
Magazine
a couple years ago and he said that
is was a narrative, the South lost the Civil War,
but it won the narrative war. And what we have to do
is change the narrative. So that we — one of the
reasons that I am so happy for the popularity
ofFinding Roots, is that we have a political
message that’s subtle each week. And that is that we are all
of one — one sort or another, but we’re all immigrants
in this country. Even the Native Americans
came here 16,000 years ago. They came from someplace else. Our enslaved African ancestors
didn’t come here willingly, but they came from
someplace else. And all the white
people in here came from someplace else [laughter]. We’re all immigrants. We’re all immigrants and when we
do DNA analysis, I’m so pleased because no matter what
your phenotypic appear — differences are, under
the microscope as it were, you’re 99.99% the same. We are in all of this together. We are all Americans. We don’t need walls; we
need to tear the walls down. That’s what we have to teach.>>Steve Luxenberg: And I would
say if there’s one message that I would want to
tell as a storyteller, is to remind this country
that racial justice in America has never, never
come easily or swiftly. There is always resistance. It is the history of the
United States, this backlash that Professor Gates has
talked about, this rollback. It’s not just in Reconstruction, it’s every time there’s
progress there’s resistance. And if we all accept that as
a narrative, if we all accept that — that phenomenon,
we will understand better than ever why it’s so
difficult to make progress.>>Eric Deggans: Well put. Justice, do you have anything?>>Judge Richard Gergel:
I think it’s been a wonderful discussion. Thank you very much.>>Eric Deggans: I want to thank
you so much for joining us.>>Henry Louis Gates
Jr: Thank you.>>Eric Deggans: One more
hand for Henry Louis Gates Jr, Steve Luxenberg,
Judge Richard Gergel. Thank you very much and
I hope you enjoy the rest of the festival.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *