Choosing to Remember
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
Little, Brown and Company, June 1, 2021
A central tenet of Clint Smith's bestseller, How the Word is Passed, is that memory exists somewhere on a continuum between history (the facts) and nostalgia (the feelings), and that how we choose to remember is crucial. The book takes readers on a tour of seven monuments and places that are central to the history of slavery in the United States, among them Jefferson's plantation at Monticello, Galveston Island (where the first Juneteenth was celebrated), and Blandford Cemetery, where Confederate veterans are buried. Unsurprisingly, those places are reckoning with their connection to the institution of slavery in different ways. Smith asks the reader to question our commonly accepted symbols, how they are presented in public spaces, and what that says about us as a country. For example, should statues of Confederate leaders like Robert E. Lee come down or should statues of prominent Black Americans go up – or both? Who should make that decision, voters or elected officials? In addition to being a journalist and social scientist, Smith is a published poet, and the lyricism of his writing adds to the power of this book. With many schools around the country questioning their connection to problematic mascots, traditions, and benefactors, Smith’s travels, both physical and literary, offer guideposts for leading conversations on history vs. nostalgia and memory vs. memorialization.