As mystifying as racial realities are for an American, I imagine they are even more so for many of my readers. But this recent book How the Word is Passed, A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith will shed some necessary light on just how differently United States history is perceived across this nation. Smith visits several tourist locations which have a connection with slavery and talks with visitors about the issues each place brings up.
Most fascinating, to me, given the current acrimony about what is taught in schools, is the story at Monticello, ancestral plantation of Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. President. Smith talks with park guides about their experiences as he tours both the mansion and takes an add-on walk about slave history there. He learns of some visitors’ anger about hearing “political” things when they just wanted to look at a beautiful house. By “political,” they mean that the guides tell the truth that the house was built by slaves, that slaves tilled the grounds, and that slaves were bought and sold by Jefferson. Jefferson also fathered children by one of his enslaved women, proven by DNA testing of descendants.
I recommend the book highly for anyone wanting to understand just how ahistorical much of American history taught in schools has been. Many unpleasant truths have been omitted or watered down. Sadly, some still want to tell only a slavery free history of this country. No such history is accurate. I think of the old adage “the truth will set you free, but first it may make you miserable.” Forward is the only way possible for this country. There is no going back, and all of our citizens deserve to know the true history of how this country became great, including the contributions of free, indentured and slave alike. Only then can we move forward as one American people. As an optimist, I think it is possible.