On January 17th, students filed into the Hamilton Chapel for the arrival of Clint Smith, author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, How the Word is Passed, and Staff Writer for The Atlantic. Mr. Smith has a myriad of accolades, including winning the 2014 National Poetry Slam, receiving the Jerome J. Sheshack Prize in 2017, being named on Ebony’s 2017 Power 100 List, and being included on Forbes 2018 30 under 30 list. A critically acclaimed author and poet, Clint Smith sat down on the stage with Mr. Collins, the Director of Community and Diversity, to speak about his book and his experience writing it.
How the Word is Passed is an account of the landmarks and stories of Smith’s visit to them in the South; he discusses how slavery is intertwined with the United States not just during its development and until the Civil War, but continuing after its abolition and to the current day.
Smith had a fascinating conversation with Mr. Collins about how he went through the process of writing, where he discussed a handful of powerful anecdotes from his journey throughout the region.
One powerful story he delved into was his visit to Monticello Plantation, the estate of Thomas Jefferson, where he lived during the American Revolution and throughout most of his life. Despite advocating for liberty and equality, writing the Declaration of Independence, and even a condemnation of slavery (which was eventually removed), Smith noted the obvious hypocrisy, as Jefferson had 600 enslaved people in total and 400 on the same property where he wrote that “All men are created equal.” Smith even recounts a conversation he had with two women from New York on his tour of the Monticello Plantation, who had come down to the South to visit Jefferson, whom they had idolized as an American hero. When they arrived at the plantation, they were shocked at the harsh reality which was in stark contrast to the image they had learned in school and believed in for so many years. These women were so shocked they cried, feeling betrayed by someone whom they had looked up to as a model person. Smith cites this as being due to the lack of education concerning the presence of slavery. Growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, Smith notes that he often did not receive the whole picture when learning about the history of slavery and racism in the South. The antiquated view of “The Lost Cause” and criticism of Reconstruction is still commonplace in some textbooks, and the roots slavery has in every facet of the world are often not expressed but certainly present. This point is argued by How the Word is Passed, as Smith shows history in a different manner than some may be used to seeing. He sheds light upon the hypocrisy and horrid reality of slavery when it existed and the fact it still exists.
Clint Smith finished the Chapel talk with a recitation of one of his poems, which discusses the experience of growing up in a city where he was surrounded by Confederate legacy and iconography. Smith’s performance was a powerful reminder of the need to continue the conversation about the legacy of slavery.