Clint Smith on how to reckon with slavery as America's original sin

Man poses next to a photo of his book cover
Clint Smith’s acclaimed book, “How the Word Is Passed,” just released on paperback. In it, he examines how slavery has been central in shaping our country’s collective history, and ourselves.
Portrait by Carletta Girma; Book cover image courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

What does it mean to stand on the soil where enslaved people lived, worked and died — and to see, surrounding it, monuments to the people who did the enslaving?

That’s the question at the heart of Clint Smith’s book, “How the Word Is Passed.” After a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee came down in his hometown of New Orleans, Smith began a quest to understand America’s historic and contemporary relationship to slavery. He did that by visiting sites like Monticello Plantation, where Thomas Jefferson wrote about freedom while enslaving hundreds, and Blandford Cemetery, where 30,000 Confederate soldiers are buried, and shared his powerful reflections in his book.

“How the Word Is Passed” was a New York Times bestseller, the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award of Nonfiction and one of the New York Times Best Books of 2021. Now out in paperback, “How the Word Is Passed,” invites us to be honest about America’s history, and to reckon with how slavery’s legacy still shapes us today.

This is a can’t miss Big Books and Bold conversation between Smith and MPR News host Kerri Miller Smith as they talk about his book, his reflections on America and how current events echo those of the past.

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To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. 

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