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How the Word Is Passed

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Member Reviews

This book is a MASTERPIECE and a must-read. Clint Smith deftly explores the ways in which slavery has been remembered and/or memorialized through case studies ranging from Angola to Juneteenth to confederate cemeteries. Every chapter serves a purpose and every line in this book is meaningful. If you have any interest in history, urban planning, and/or the politics of memory this absolutely belongs on your shelf. Easily one of the best books I've read this year.
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Everyone should read Clint Smith’s How the Word is Passed. Certainly every American, but probably every European too. The information and insights here are eye opening and mind-widening, even for one predisposed to want to learn about the Black experience. I am white, with no apparent ties to the American South, but, as Smith so carefully clarifies, I am not excluded from the audience for this book.

In part of his excellent summary, Smith provides the following:

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. (loc 4325)

The material of the book is centered on Smith’s visits to six sites related to slavery in America: Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson writer of The Declaration of Independence but also keeper and father of slaves; The Whitney Plantation, where a new owner is attempting to create a true record of what plantation life and slavery actually were; Angola Prison, which has a long history of “lending” out prisoners for free labor and for cruelty; Blandford Cemetery and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, where festive Confederate Memorial Day events celebrate the heroes of the South to this day, and the Daughters of Confederacy see to the upkeep of monuments and cemeteries to this day; Galveston, Texas and Juneteenth, and the history of slavery in Texas; New York City and its ties to the slavery market long before the Underground Railroad. Lastly, there is a visit to Goree Island, Senegal, Africa and its famous House of Slaves, and the beginning of the slavery industry.

I guarantee that most, if not all, readers will learn something new from this book, something that will cause you to look at history differently and to hope for a better future of more understanding.

Obviously I recommend this book for everyone I know and everyone I don’t know too. It’s that important and that well done.

A copy of this book was provided by Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group, through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Three recent works of nonfiction focus on America’s history of slavery and evolving narratives regarding acknowledgement of enslaved people.

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
Clint Smith; June 2021; Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group
Themes: history, social science, memoir, African American & Black Studies
A travelogue, a memoir, a history, and a powerful reckoning… Clint Smith shares his experiences visiting sites connected with the history of enslaved people from Africa to the United States.

On Juneteenth
Annette Gordon-Reed; May 2021; Liveright/W. W. Norton
Themes: history, social science, memoir, African American & Black Studies
Blending both heart-wrenching and uplifting personal anecdotes about growing up Black in Texas with key historical events and stories, Annette Gordon-Reed takes readers on a journey through history with connections for today.

William Still: The Underground Railroad and the Angel at Philadelphia
William C. Kashatus; April 2021; University of Notre Dame Press/Longleaf
Themes: history, social science, biography, African American & Black Studies
Set within the context of the broader anti-slavery movement, William C. Kashatus tells the compelling story of William Still, a key leader of the Underground Railroad and early civil rights advocate. Of particular note is the detailed database of the 995 runaway slaves who William Still helped escape between 1853 and 1861 which provides priceless information about each individual.

Let’s explore seven timely take-aways for life-long learners:
1) Free black abolitionist William Still coordinated activities of the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia. The detailed records kept by Still in the mid-nineteenth century about escaped slaves provide a priceless tool for researchers exploring the African American enslavement experience.
2) Those involved with the anti-slavery and later civil rights movements often disagreed about the best approach to address abolition, the plight of enslaved peoples, and the aftermath of slavery.
Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865. On this date, the news arrived in Galveston Texas proclaiming the end of slavery and defeat of the Confederacy (General Order No. 3).
3) Although long celebrated by Black Texans, Juneteenth has recently become part of the national conversation and ongoing battle to acknowledge the racism and battle for civil rights in America.
4) The nationalist-oriented, conventional narrative of American history comes from a white, English-speaking perspective closing off varied influences and viewpoints.
5) Many historical sites are working toward a more truthful approach to the discussion of enslaved people. 
6) While some historical sites are striving to fill the gaps with a more accurate picture of their connection to slavery, others are finding the process of reconciliation a challenge.
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In clear, concise language Clint Smith draws the reader into an examination of how the institution of slavery shaped the development of the United States. Smith examines monuments and institutions and through his descriptions and conversations with various people allows us to see how our economy, politics and social institutions were formed.  This is probably the most informative and important book examining this topic that I have read.  Thank you , Mr. Smith for delving into this most difficult topic.  This is a must read for most Americans.
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During these last few years, the United States has willingly placed itself in a medically induced coma while the victims and descendants of slavery deal with the reckoning across America: failed justice system, systemic racism, and police brutality.  Although slavery ended over 200 years ago, the traumas and systemic oppression have continued to shape and influence the lives, families, and communities of Black people today. Which makes Clint Smith’s new meditation on history and memory of slavery in 𝙃𝙤𝙬 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙒𝙤𝙧𝙙 𝙞𝙨 𝙋𝙖𝙨𝙨𝙚𝙙 so crucial in learning new stories about the past to help shape our present and guide our futures.  

Smith does exactly as Frederick Douglass commands in “The Nation’s Problem:” The duty of to-day is to meet the questions that confront us with intelligence and courage.” From the various locations—former plantations, Confederate cemeteries, prisons, etc.—Smith takes us on a quest of locating the truth, maintaining awareness, and being transparent about the past and present state of racial dynamics in America.  It is through Smith’s compelling endeavor here that readers are privy to the art of storytelling from these individuals and their ability to speak on their experiences. Stories grants us agency and identity—it tells others how we think, what we feel, and how we justify our decisions in life. In fact, it prevents it prevents the same story being told the wrong way again—which is precisely why Smith writes this book in the first place.

It is no coincidence that “The echo of enslavement is everywhere” or “The history of slavery is the history of the United States” as Smith reminds us in his book, but it is a memory that all of us have to reckon with and confront.  Unfortunately, while Black people deal with the history of slavery, many whites cater to the nostalgia that nestles them.  If we don’t confront what’s bothering us as a nation, then we’ll never wake up to a better tomorrow.  Smith has given us some room to wrestle with our past so pick up the book—you’ll need it for a deep, hard lesson on the collective will of a nation to tell a different story.
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Such an incredible book. The author takes a look at various historical locations (mostly in the US) to see/hear what is displayed and said about each one pertaining to slavery. So much can be learned by this book and what the author finds about the teaching of history today. Should be required reading for students (and well, everyone).
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This book is one of those books that will take you forever to read, but it'll stay with you for awhile. I can attest to that too, since my NetGalley review is officially a week late...

I have loved Clint Smith since I discovered his poetry a few years back. His book "Counting Descent" has so many excellent pieces that I may have well just sticky noted the pieces I DIDN'T want to teach. While this book is markedly different than his poetic works, it still has passages of Smith's narrative prose that make his writing phenomenal. As he took me through a journey of the United States (and beyond) to places with a complicated relationship and history with slavery, each location came alive with his descriptions of the people he met and the places he visited. 

The best part about this book, and the reason you should read it, is you will legitimately learn so much. You'll leave this book feeling, why haven't I ever heard of this? I have read a lot of books about the history of slavery and its rippling effects it has had since Emancipation, and I usually don't come away with more than a few tidbits to add to my knowledge. But with Smith's book, I not only learned more about how we are still grappling with the history of slavery today, but also details about these places and events I genuinely didn't know before. 

I'm intending on rereading this on audio eventually. I did have to speed read through the last part, and I'd like to read it again even slower than I did this time.
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Clint Smith strikes again. It seems like no matter what this man writes, I will be completely absorbed in it. In How the Word Is Passed, Smith travels to different locations that have a tie to slavery. He uses each trip to tell the story of how slavery - in that particular place, but also overall - has shaped the United States into the country it is today. This is not Black history, as he says, but history that is integral to the very essence of this country. 

It's hard to describe just how engrossing Smith's writing is. I kept thinking, "I'll put this down at the end of this chapter," only to continue reading through to the next. Every chapter was fantastic, but I found the New York City chapter particularly powerful, in its discussion of how the North is seen as "the good guys," but the North was built on slavery just as much as the South was.

And wow wow wow, that epilogue. After giving us a beautiful tour of history and the present, he then turns to his grandparents and how his own family was/is affected by the history he has just written a book about. Absolutely incredible.
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Clint Smith did not come to play with us!!! We are traveling!! He gathered all the folks together to take us on an epic journey that I know I needed and I'm sure you do as well. I love information! There is nothing like having your mind and soul fed. Ibram X. Kendi told no lies when he said "We need this book." ⁣

One of the many things that I have appreciated while reading this book is how Clint exposes (providing context and history) things that are right in front of our eyes. He takes the reader to monuments and landmarks revealing how they are tied to the legacy of slavery.  We are in a time where folks are trying to whitewash and reshape history in America. I'm thankful for writers who do the work to make sure the full story is told.  Without a doubt this is one that should be on school  curriculums .
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An excellent companion to the documentary "The Neutral Ground." Both feature Louisiana's Whitney Plantation which tells the straight truth of plantation slavery.
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With the heart of a teacher, the eye of a poet, and the mind of a researcher, Clint Smith teases apart and weaves together the threads of history, nostalgia, place, and memory to tell a powerful story — not of slavery's distant past, but of a legacy that lives and breathes among us. 

Smith visits, personally and through interviews and primary sources, the Whitney Plantation and the maximum-security Angola Prison in his home state of Louisiana, Jefferson's Monticello Plantation and Blandford Cemetery's thousands of fallen Confederate soldiers in Virginia, a Juneteenth celebration in Galveston (Texas), the site of the second largest slave market in the U.S. (right in downtown Manhattan), Gorée Island and the Door of No Return in Senegal, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C., and countless other sites and that inform the narrative but aren't specifically featured. What comes together is more than a well-curated tour. It's a generous, gracious, engaging, intensely personal yet scholarly exploration. The descriptive writing is lyrical and poignant without being overwrought, the interviews reveal both a courage and a kindness, and the research is perceptive and fair-minded. It's difficult material presented in an accessible, approachable way—one of the least intimidating but most profoundly affecting books on history and slavery that I have ever read.
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This is essential reading for all high schools classrooms. It can be used for interdisciplinary analysis, not just social science classrooms. The narrative style of Smith is a master class of interviewing and primary source integration. Not only well written, but incredibly informative and factual.
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It is rare to read a book that captures both the nuance of history and the emotion of the present day. Clint Smith, with his poet’s gift for language, captures both for an effortlessly informative and deeply moving memoir as history/history as memoir. His exploration of the unique horrors of American chattel slavery and its long and ongoing shadow on our present day is a story we need to know more fully. At a time when so much of our nation’s troubled history is being denied and legally scrubbed from curricula, this book could not be more necessary. I have not stopped recommending this book since finishing it.
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How The Word Is Passed by Clint Smith is an excellent work of nonfiction.  I don''t often read nonfiction but I enjoyed this one and would recommend it to anyone. 

Smith visits historical monuments and landmarks and gives the history that we don't hear but DO need to hear about all of the places he visits.  It is carefully researched and I learned so much from reading this book.  I am surprised that I am not hearing more about this book or seeing more of this book on social media platforms.  I would also venture to say that this book should find it's way into high school and colleges.  

I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone!  I learned so much much from this book and am grateful for the opportunity to have read it
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I think that this will easily be one of the most important books of the year. Sweeping, memorable, heartbreaking, empowering… all the good things. Highly recommend.
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WOW. This book is incredible. The author effortlessly weaves in historical fact and present-day voices - both his own and others - and manages to find just the right blend of both so that his work is both appealing and still clearly rooted in fact. I learned a lot from this book, and it was especially poignant to be reading the chapter on the Juneteenth celebration on Juneteenth. His words helped bring these stories of people not often heard from in history to life; he made their voices heard. I really took my time with this book, wanting his words to seep in; even so, I'm sure I missed things and I look forward to listening to this book in a reread. 10/10, drop everything and read this immediately.
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I liked this book. It is a good primer for anyone trying to understand why it's just to take down confederate statues. It feels like a road trip through the South and beyond, learning how deeply embedded (the history of) slavery is in the daily landscape there.
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As a young white woman born with privilege, I cannot possibly express how much I needed this book and how my views have shifted. The author’s empathy and patience was noticed and appreciated as he slowly walked us through all our misunderstandings and preconceived notions and helped overcome what was clearly a serious lack of education due to whitewashed history. His conversation with his grandparents at the end was thought provoking as well. I can trace my European lineage back to the 1400s.

Would not hesitate for a moment to recommend.
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This book is one of the most important things you could read right now. Clint Smith visits places like plantations, prisons, and New York City to see how different sites and organizations are dealing with their history of slavery and racism. He connects the past to the present, and shows how this country was founded and built on slavery, and how this inequality continues on. And he shows how critical it is that we change the way we teach children about slavery, and the stories we tell about slavery and the United States. 

While the book deals with serious historical topics, it is also a story about his personal experiences visiting these places, and it flows like a narrative in many ways. Smith is a beautiful writer and poet, and this book is never dry or boring in any way. I felt fully captivated by it in a way that feels rare in nonfiction (outside of memoirs).

I learned so much from this book—so much that I wish was taught to me in school, that I wish was taught to everyone. I learned history that informs my opinions on mass incarceration, the Civil War, constitutional law, Wall Street, the Emancipation Proclamation, capitalism, colonization, and more. I took a lot of notes (and screenshots) while reading this book, and I don't know where to begin trying to include them in a review like this. But here are a couple quotes that stood out to me:

"oppression is never about humanity or lack thereof. It is, and always has been, about power."

"In 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Black Americans owned only 0.5 percent of the total wealth in the United States. Today, that number has barely increased: Black people own about 1-1.5 percent of the nation's wealth. Despite the role Black Americans played in generating this country's wealth, they don't have access to the vast majority of it."

"I do not yet have all the words to discuss a crime that is still unfolding."

I normally say things like "people interested in (blank) should read this," or, "I would highly recommend this book to anyone," but this time I'm going to directly recommend this book to you. You, specifically, whoever is reading this—you should read How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith, as soon as possible. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown and Company for the chance to review this ARC.
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How the Word is Passed is a super-accessible tour of different places in the USA (and one abroad) that tell necessary stories about the history of this country and slavery, and how we understand them. Places include Monticello, Angola Prison, Galveston Island, New York City, etc. Even those who think they already know the history of these places are still likely to find new details or fresh perspectives on the events that defined them.

If you're not likely to pick up a thick history book, but you want to better understand American slavery and why it still echoes today, choose this book.
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