In How the Word Is Passed, Clint Smith embarks on a tour of sites pivotal to the history of slavery and racial injustice in the United States. This timely book provides a compelling confrontation about how America fails to properly memorialize the enslaved people who built the country.
The book in three sentences
- Clint Smith visits key sites related to slavery, analyzing how America’s failure to properly memorialize the enslaved has warped our understanding of the country’s roots.
- He argues that overlooking the brutality slavery depends on damages race relations now, and letting the truth fade keeps justice at bay.
- Smith calls for honestly confronting how slavery built American capitalism on dehumanization and violence against millions to move forward.
In a series of reflective essays, Smith analyzes the narrative of slavery and the impact of codes of silence across the nation. He argues that the stories told and histories elevated in each place shape our understanding. From Jefferson’s Monticello estate to Louisiana plantations to the site of the Confederate surrender, Smith examines what has been deliberately forgotten and why.
The book depicts Smith’s travels to plantations, prisons, memorials, and more locations central to understanding slavery’s legacy. He reveals the contradictions in how slavery is remembered and taught in classrooms and marginalized in public memorials and museums. Smith calls for truthfully honoring those exploited to build American capitalism.
Smith tackles politicians’ efforts to ban “critical race theory,” the legacy of Angola prison built on a former plantation, Galveston’s intentional burying of its history as a hub of the slave trade, and more. He argues that America ignores the brutality and dehumanization that slavery depended on.
The book culminates with Smith’s question on how slavery could shape his own thinking as a Black man today. He concludes that properly memorializing the people who were stolen and exploited is essential for the country to move forward.
Who Should Read
This book provides illuminating and moving insights on the legacy of slavery for every American. For those unaware of realities glossed over in textbooks, it delivers a profoundly eye-opening record of what the country avoids confronting.
- The narratives advanced in museums, memorials, and classrooms often obscure slavery’s foundational realities.
- Failing to properly remember those enslaved affects race relations and inequality today.
- Honestly teaching how the slave trade made the country’s growth possible is the first step in reconciling its damage.
About the Author
Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic who writes on politics, culture, and social justice. His poetry has been published in The New Yorker and elsewhere. He taught high school in New Orleans.