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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  August 7, 2011 3:45pm-4:30pm EDT

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americans spent much of his visit trying to decipher his politics, which meant answering the following question. was fidel castro a communist? now, you have to recall that in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the battle against the so-called international communist conspiracy was the organizing principle on which american foreign policy was based, and it wasn't just the spread of communism that was so feared. it was the fact that the communists had nuclear weapons. and given the rhetoric coming out of the kremlin -- khrushchev was saying things like, we'll bury you, and those were the words -- and he seemed able to use them. and commune country being so close was intolerable to everybody. so, fidel castro was
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interrogated on the subject of communism everywhere he went on his visit. by vice president nixon, by congressional subcommittee, by scores of journalists. everyone asked him the same question, dr. cass stress, are you a communist? and he answered the same everytime, no, he was not a communist, never had been, never would be. when castro finally left new york on april 25th, the police were relieved to see him go. but most new yorkers were happy he had come to visit. an editorial in "the new york times" sum up the general attitude toward castro. he made it clear that neither he or anybody anyone in his government so far as he knew was a communist. it also seems obvious that americans feel better about castro than they did before. >> up next from the
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2011gaitherssburg book, daniel rasmussen discusses his book, "american uprising." about the slave resolute. >> just two years out of hard record, rasmussen has already achieved honors surpassing his age he want the prize, hey hari miller prize and hoops prize for his piece at harvard which was to become "american uprising." it delves into the history of an 1811 slave uprising in new orleans but was actually the largest slave revolt in american history yet very few people know anything about the event that transpired there. new orleans in general is shrouded in mystery. its history often ignored in textbooks and idealized in our cultural interactions. but in the past six years ago, new orleans and the mississippi
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river gulf coast areas have been central to the nation's most significant current events. the history of the city and its surrounding areas have contributed much to the history of america as a whole that is often ignored because new orleans for so long was not american and even after its americanization remained largely european in culture. but now with daniel rasmussen's book on the 1811 slave uprising with hey one of the most extensive looks at a little known piece of american history, and this year 200 years after the rebellion, and 150 years after the start of the civil war, it is even more important to take a look back and remember that people and the values for whom that war was fought. on a personal note, i just graduated from the university of maryland this week with a degree in historical archaeology. i have always been fascinated by plantation archeology by the lives of enslaved individuals and their lives.
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to read about a group of slaves and as large a group of this one was who outright rebelled, gives a powerful insight into the power of people combined to overcome great oppression. so please join me in welcoming daniel rasmussen. [applause] >> thank you so much for that introduction and thank you all for coming. it's wonderful be here at the book festival. i'm from d.c. or grew up here so it's is no nice to be back in the area. it's fitting that we're here in 2011 talking about this revolt. as many of you might know it's the 1 other anniversary of the start of the civil war. equally as important in my mind it's the 200th anniversary of america's largest labor revolt that took place in new orleans. almost no attention has been focused upon this slave revolt,
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despite it the fact it was the largest resistance in american history. i hope you'll work with me to spread this story and make sure that this story enters the text books writ belongs and we no longer forget what i would argue is a central moment in american history and a moment that hat much to tell us today, not only about what set this country on the path to civil war but about who we are as americans and how we should think about our past. i want to start this talk by focusing on haiti. which might seem like an unusual place to start talk about american history. but i would argue that without understanding haiti we cannot understand the history of louisiana or the south. now, i think today when we think of haiti, we think about the images you see on television of the horrible poverty and devastation from natural disasters that have taken place there, but in 1791, through the
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early -- through the beginning of then 19th century, haiti was beacon of hope, beacon of liberty, for enslaved people to cross the new world. that's because starting in 1791, slaves on the island of haiti, which at the time was -- you can think of sugar as the oil of that time and haiti as the saudi arabia of the day. the most lucrative commercial point, fueled the entire economy of france and that was basically driven off slave labor in haiti. there were tens of thousands of slaves on the island. mere thousands of white planters who governorred the island and it was a very combustible environment in 1791, african lives on haiti rose up and over the next 13 years they drove out the french. they defeated 70,000 french troops. the armies of napoleon bone
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part. the greatest war lord, his armies defeat by a band of slaves on haiti in 1803 they declare independence. i want to read to you a passage from the haitian declaration of independence. it's a little different than our declaration of independence bit think it will give insight into the political climate of the new world, and especially the world of the slaves throughout the new world... let us imitate those people who extending their concern into the future and dreading to leave an example of cowardice for posterity, preferred to be exterminated rather than lose their place as one of the world's free peoples. may the french tremble when they approach our coasts, if not by the memory of the cruelty they have inflicted, at least by the terrible resolution that we are about to devote to death anyone born french who would dirty with a sacrilegious split liberty.
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quite strong words. i want to explain why they're strong words and i want to focus on one word, which is the word exterminate. an unusually powerful word to use in one's declaration of independence, exterminate. so i want to tell you about the french general in haiti. one of his first acts of being appointed the general in charge of suppressing the haitian revolution was to go to cuba, and he purchased a pack of blood hounds, trained to eat human flesh. they're about the size of small horses and said the war against the haitian slaves can only be won if we kill every last slave on the island can we ever ensure that france will return to sovereignty on that eyeland. so he brings in the blood hounds, trained to eat human flesh, with the thought these dogs will help exterminate the
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rebels. unfortunately, dogs have terrible color vision, and after eating several french soldiers, the general cancelled the experiment. i thing this will give you some hint that what the environment was like. just level of violence, and what it meant when the general said, we prefer to be storm senated rather than lose our place as one of the world's free people. what might this have to do with louisiana? it's no coincidence the louisiana purchase happened in the exact same year as haiti finally won its independence. napoleon was said have to slammed the fable said damn sugar, why do i need louisiana? is a backwards bread basket. you make all your money growing sugar in haiti, and so the textbooks are like, why would nap toll natch polian be so
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stupid to sell this land. the reality is without haiti, there was no point. he had no reason to maintain his control in this part of the north american continent. and an interesting thing happens in louisiana. haiti's sugar production has fallen from 70,000 tons of sugar in 1791 to 10,000 by 1798. and there's man, very smart man named john knoll testerham, a french aristocrat who grew up there. they realized that though the sugar was of a lower quality, given there was no sugar coming out of haiti, they could sell it on the market and get very rich.
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now, john a few years later -- i want to read a quote. without slave -- slavery, cultivation must cease -- essentially new orleans was built upon slavery. slaves built the levee, built the sugar plantations, slaves built the reason for these men to move to louisiana. why live in the brutal sun and the yellow fever, why? the reason was it was extremely profitable, and this was sort of the wild west. if you wanted to become rich and you were a french planet, you go to louisiana because it was the best place to grow sugar. hough profitable? let me give you a sense of that. it cost $800 to buy a slave in louisiana at the beginning of. the 19th century. a slave produced $250 worth of sugar per year.
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that's a 30% roi, a 30% a year return on investment. a slave brought to louisiana and sold into slavery is an average life span of seven years. so you can do the math. you doubled you money by buying a slave and working him to death. that's the brutal economics of suing good slavery in new orleans, and it's a brutal profit map that these men are well aware of. there's another planter who wrote, how can we make any money off of sugar when we only work our slaves 16 hours a day? the answer he wrote was to consume men and animals, and they did. that's the life span. there's no need for reproduction when you can buy knew slaves, work them to death in seven years and double your money. right and that's the math that drives the society and that's the reason all these men moved down to new orleans to make their fors. -- fort tunes. and these are eight to 1-foot high sugar stalks.
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you're walking through the cane fields, chopping them down, and you're bringing them into factories, and you're grandlating the sugar and turning it into the sugar you might be familiar with today. the slaves on these plantations are recently brought over from africa, not men that have grown up in louisiana. they're not people accustomed to the system of slavery. the majority of them are basically right off the boat from africa, captured in war. and in africa at the time, there were these wars ripping across the constant meant, and most of these wars were fought not with spears and bows and arrows, and these are men who from birth were trained to fight. they have been familiar with guns and military tactics and they were being captured, imprisoned and brought to louisiana, and louisiana, because it was new slave territory. wasn't like brazil or haiti,
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which had been existing as popular slave destinations for years -- because it was new that it would geoff the cast -- would get the castoffed. you take the ones that nobody wanted to louisiana, and who do you think that was? the most rebellous slaves, the ones who would not submit easily. and then in addition you have this word of haiti. the words of this revolt. this radical black republicanism that is spreading across the new world. the words are shared in the slave quarters and these men are sophisticated. they're politically aware. you might think of today, we have this ill pollution our head that plantations were rural and isolated and separated but at the time they were anything but. every river is a highway and every plantation is on a river, and as these men went up and down, doing their master's bidding ubs whether it was selling sugar, working on ships that transported the sugar, or
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traveling up and down as messengers, there was constant movement, constant exchange of ideas, and exchange of ideas that extended not just from the plantation to plantation but from city to city and country to country, and so the slaves on these louisiana sugar plantations, many who were brought up in africa and trained in warfare, and meeting with this black radicalism, and slaves just like them defeated the most paul powerful empire in europe, and it was a combustible time and they recreated the exact conditions which aloud the haitian revolt to flourish. the same rules, the same laws. everything was the same. insure... black... named charles
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blanc. he is interesting. born to a white father and this is not likely a consensual relationship and because of his white skin he had risen to the top of the plantation hierarchy. you have a driver and an overseer, master, overseer and the other slaves. so the drivers like a military commander. they are responsible for organizing gains of slave labor to harvest the sugar crop. they are responsible for running the factory that regulates the sugar and meet with their master every day. they are responsible for punishing slaves that disobedient for chasing of the ones that escape. man like charles in exchange for taking on the position of authority would be given nicer cabin and better food and ability to travel and privilege to mary. men like charles were hated by their fellow slaves. they receive as the traders of the race. men who would sell out for material comforts their fellow slaves.
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but charles was interesting. he was using his status as a driver not to further the system of slavery but to undermine it from within. he was in modern terminology the ultimate sweepers sold. as charles traveled up and down the river ostensibly on his master's business meeting with other slaves to talk about sugar harvest he was actually meeting with a group of african warriors, two men in particular. quaku was six feet tall with a living physical presence. he and quamina were sold in 1706. with the most powerful empire at the time and they were at this moment making a push for the african coast so they would have been captured and sold antislavery. those men were familiar with african military tactics because
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of their upbringing and as they met with charles exchange african ideas. you see the diversity of slave leadership. charles was born in louisiana to a white father speaking fresh. you have quaku and quamana and there are 11 separate leaders some of whom are haitian and some from the we vienna and others from virginia and kentucky. it is a remarkable thing that these men are coming together. it is incredibly dangerous to plot a slave revolution. the fastest way to freedom is not to participate in a slave revolt but to be trey one. as these men formed these small cells up and down the coast of the mississippi river they had to be careful not to let any one man they didn't trust in under circle and participating in the planning of this revolt.
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january of 18110-i can do you what he said in the final minutes but i will read a passage from another slave leader. that man takes a machete and stabbed fruit and said this is how i will drive its through the stomach of the whites. no doubt that violence was the central goal of this revolution. why participate in a revolt? i went to the city to kill all the whites. there was no way any black political movement could survive without that level of violence. there would not brook the survival of an independent black state within their jurisdiction. in the dark of night the rain was pouring down. charles's men burst into the plantation home. when you think of a plantation home you can see not this plantation but others, incredibly beautiful homes. french furniture imported from
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france. the fine family portraits. there were the wealthiest men in north america. he woke up with a from fright to see charles milan's trusted advisor, standing before him with a -- and acts, the translation -- plantation will transplanted into a weapon. charles afton coo drove their axes into the body of his 20-year-old son gilbert and in the heat of what happened next, i don't know exactly what happened but somehow slaves sliced three cuts into his body, starnes he would there for the rest of his life but somehow he escaped. i don't know whether it is because the slaves led by charles think that would have dead planter can do little harm to the rinse and the end revolution or whether they think -- whether it is that he is too fast or out run them or what it might be but somehow he escapes to live another day.
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that was the slaves's first mistake. the slaves break into the store house on the plantation and take out the militia uniforms that stockpiled. they assemble them in front of the plantation. kmart toward new orleans chanting freedom or death. their goal is to overthrow new orleans and establish a black republic. i want to focus on the idea of them wearing his military uniform. what does that mean? are saying we are real men with a mission. slaves are not people, they are
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animals without political existence with no rights, no claim to freedom and by putting on military uniforms, by claiming that the element of nationhood they say that our ideology is fundamentally wrong. a few plantations down, gilbert -- he sees his slave dominique bursting into his quarters just as charles burst into menlo landry's quarters hours before. but dominique is not there to kill francois but to warn him. the fastest way to freedom in slave society is to the trey revolt. will not participate in one and dominique tells him there is a large number of rebels slaves moving down the river pillaging farm that killing whites. francois tells dominique to travel to new orleans and ward
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ever won the rebels are coming to go to new orleans and take cover, get out of the way of this rebel army. he sends his wife and children to hide in the same swabs that were harbors for runaway slaves. francois makes a different decision. he does not follow his own advice. he was notorious for contempt for his slaves. he kept a slave boy named gustav as a house pet. he would make them crawl around and toss him scraps on the table. this is what other planters said about him as a you can only imagine what the slaves said about him if they had written down their description of what it was like. so the francois believing in that fundamental ideology of plantation slavery that they were not people but animals, instead decides to take a stand on his plantation to faced down the rebel army. when they see him he tells them turnaround and go back to your plantations and they will listen because he is their master and
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they will be a fan as he tells them to behave. francois does not wait long before he sees the wisps of smoke of burning plantations. for 40 years of a beat of african drums. before he is the chance of on to new orleans and freedom or death and before he sees an army of 200 black men dressed in military uniform march in formation flying flags and beating drums, it cannot have been what he expected. in those next moment, quaku lead the way into the second-floor piazza where they kill francois. gustav swings the final acts that kills francois existing years of patronizing treatment. you can see red shirts about 20 miles from new orleans that says in french here lies francois
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killed by insurgent slaves in 1811. on want to pause here to ask the question that i imagine many of you are asking. as soon as i started researching this was a question i realized without answering, the project would not mean half as much. that question is did the slave ever have a chance? our interpretation of this event takes on a different guise depending on whether we believe they did have a chance or didn't. if they didn't we should respect them and we should celebrate their willingness to fight for freedom. we should also look and say they were a bit crazy. how could they have imagined they could have beaten the american military on the sugar fields in 1811. we have to say they were brave men but not remarkably sophisticated men. this revolt had no chance is different than our evaluation of the slaves did have a chance. if they had a real reason to
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believe they might win, then our interpretation of this event is very different and would celebrate them as political visionaries. men with a sophisticated idea. had a few things happen one way or the other. this question bothered me as i did my research in the national archives and i look for any sort of military record for military forces and here was the balance of power. next to nothing a few sentences but nothing would answer this question. so i said where else can i find this? we have the ship's record. after a day of research i found a letter from, or john shaw a descendant of robert gould shaw.
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i will read from this letter. the best source we have an answer of the question did the slaves ever have a chance? , board john shaw wrote to his naval commander in washington, and he wrote that at the time in new orleans there were 40 regular troops, a fourth he called a, quote, week the attachment. he wrote i fear the whole postal exhibit of devastation, every description of property will be consumed and the country laid waste by rioters. all were on alert. scarcely anyone possessed a musket for protection of himself or his property. 40 troops protecting a defenseless and unarmed city whose own commander called it a week detachments. there is another layer to the
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story. only 40 regular troops in new orleans and this time. why are there not more men to guard this new american acquisition? i started looking into that and what i found was the best american fighting force was 100 miles away in baton rouge fighting a war with the spanish army. i am not sure anyone thinks of america fighting wars with the spanish but the reality is spain controlled florida, alabama, texas, alabama and cuba. new orleans was outside and in order for america to expand when they were doing was authorized these illegal filibusters by where a group of settlers moved into a territory and declare independence. you can look at their loans to our republic or this is the west for a republic. these men had done in and declared independence and the americans wrote a letter to the spanish government and said we are so upset by what happened at
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your armies got overthrown by this rogue west florida republican. we are going to take control to make sure security is maintained in the area so it will be american but it wasn't our fault. we wish this happened happened but guys from the west fla. republic did it. they were able to commodore large amounts of land without declaring war against the spanish. so you see just a few miles outside the city they really did have a chance to conquered new orleans and what happens next confirms my hypothesis. the american military march out of the city and come upon sleigh that 2 a m in a plantation that stand where louis armstrong international airport stands today and of command of wade hampton they prepare an attack. they concede the candles burning and they can smell burgess do and they lost their attack. 40 regular troops surged to the plantation to find the slaves
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are not there. these were men school in warfare in west african military tactics. you don't meet your enemy in open battle. you draw about and where the down and harass them and kill them. don't face them in open battle. you tricked them and lower them out and this is the strategy they've executing and americans had fallen for it right there. in other slave revolts you hear about slaves stopped to rest and we caught them and -- but the reality is here is not a sleigh is that stopped to rest that the american military. wade hampton declared we can go no further so they stopped to rest. at this point the slave army led by charles milan and quaku and quamana start of the most profitable farm land in north america. i told you the slaves made a mistake. they let landry will.
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he dragged his body down to the levee and crosses the river where no revolution has taken place and meets charles perez who is a prominent planter and charles c. wood and dying landry says he knows what to do. they cross over the river so you see the flame army marching towards new orleans and drying the military and -- american military out. they don't realize they have been flanked by this new militia which is coming down from behind. at 9:00 a.m. charles and his men see the slave army moving a forced march toward the high ground. we saw the enemy in a short distance. many mounted on foot, wrote charles. he sees the slave the opening drum-avoiding open that door and falling into this moment where only recently they have to face their former masters, this pack
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of armed planters right there on the field of battle and they are unprepared to do it. what do the slaves do? i will review a passage from a spanish spy. he rode the blacks are not intimidated and they formed themselves in a line. if you read early nineteenth century military infantry tactics books which i did. might not have had the best social life in college. they tell you to do exactly this which is to form a firing line. wait until you see the whites of your enemies eyes and then to fire. the slave to exactly the right thing. the army of 200 to 500, take their stance against their former masters. how they felt in those final moments. i will read you a passage from a louisiana slave who fights in the civil war 50 years later. he writes we are fighting and
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ask no more glorious death than to die for freedom but for our race to go back into bondage again and be hunted by dogs in the swamp and set upon and sold for gold and silver, never. gladly we would die first. smoky erupts on the battlefield of the first shots. in battle you didn't even see your enemy when the first shot went off because the gun powder discharge huge amounts of smoke. in the chaos of the battle like can't tell you what happened, whether the slaves ran out of ammunition, whether they were outflanked by the planter militia but whatever happened planters broke the slave lions and once again perhaps one of the greatest massacres in american history over the next few days the planters would kill 100 rebels slaves, decapitate them and carry their heads to the levy where they put them on pikes. one planter said they are brought here for the sake of
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their heads which decorate the levy all the way up the coast. i have told they look like crows sitting on long poles. they captured charles milan and cut off his limbs and should have on birth as it -- both sides and burned alive. i think you see why this story is not taken a part in our textbooks. the image of 100 staked heads lighting of the mississippi river of dismembered corpses they will in new orleans is not one that resonates with who we think of when we think of our american past. i would argue this story is central to understanding the history of this country because without understanding the state heads and dismembered corpses you can't understand what underlies slavery or why it is these slaves worked on these plantations. if they did not they would face this sort of violence. so you see new orleans and this economy being built on these pike heads and the reality of
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slavery and this would drive the country to civil war. i would argue this story of 200 to 500 men who fought and died for their freedom his actions stand as a testament to the best ideals of this country, liberty and equality and a belief in freedom and justice, that their story should take a place in the textbook alongside other men who fought and died for freedom and we should recognize their contribution. this is an american history. these men are part of our american story and only through understanding and recognizing their contribution and what we think of as freedom could we truly understand the true history of louisiana. [applause]
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>> thank you. i would be happy to take questions. yes? come up to the microphone. [inaudible] >> i am wondering, aside from the obvious this is a very brutal and nasty story you don't feed to fourth graders, why do you think -- not necessarily deliberately but it is not advertised, not known to people. >> it was deliberately covered up at the time. the american governor and french planters. the -- louisiana was under consideration for statehood and the last thing william clambered wanted was they presided over
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the largest factor of slave resistance in american history. didn't want washington realizing how unstable new orleans was that it was living on this powder keg. there is not a strong abolitionist presence at the times and not a lot of people willing to stay up this story and make something of it. you see newspapers suppressing the story and you see essentially the complicated nature of america -- the way history has been written in america is simply that until 1945 or 1950 there were not many people interested in writing stories like this. it has only been recently that attention was focused on slavery and given that new orleans was on the outskirts, it is not virginia or charleston, it has been left aside and people have focused on it as much. yes? >> i was really moved in your book at the end when you talk
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about you can take tours of one of these plantations and with brochures describe this, it made me wonder do they really know the real story of people doing these tours and that is the way they see it? can you, and more about that? >> when i went to new orleans i went on these plantation tours. i don't really look like much of a radical so i've think i got the standard for of the plantation. i want to read to you the brochure. he personally be headed 18 slaves and staring out the window at be headed corpses of slaves he personally killed. now i will read to you a passage from the brochure. everyone worked hard from family members to slaves because life on a plantation was not easy. it has been documented that the slaves were treated with fairness and their health needs
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provided for. one of my favorite stories is i wrote an article for the times and we have this great freedom trail where you can walk the trailer and see these but you guys in new orleans erect a freedom trail to put up a commemorative plaque where francois cavs grave is and have someone wrote -- one of my favorites -- we don't need these northerners with messiah complexes to teach others about our own history. >> what made you become independent in 1904? >> i must have missed something. >> i am asking when you were doing your research did you find it was before that? >> the revolt started in 1791.
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they won in 1803 or 18 or 4. i can never remember. >> what primary sources were most valuable to you? >> the sources that were previously relied on in newspapers and letters of william claiborne were quite biased because they wanted to keep the story secret. i went to the next levels forces, financial records of the planters and court transcripts and filled databases. best way to understand -- by building a databases for financial records and used google maps to triangulate for military records that event a happened at 9:00 a.m. and would take three harris to walk from point a to point be. a lot of detective work. that is why this revolt has not been battered in is doing that work was pretty difficult. thank you all so much.
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appreciate it. >> what are you reading this summer, booktv wants to know. >> well, what i have read recently is a wonderful book that i wrote. it's called the "the speech." i reread it. it's a good book. there was a filibuster to keep in december, talking about a very, very bad agreement reached by the president, republicans on extending bush's tax breaks to the very wealthy. and also goes into details why it is collapsing and also in talks about the growing inequality in america and what this means for the future of our
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country. so i understand that self advertising. i did reread it and it was a good book. another book that i have read recently which i like very much, and that's called "third world america" by arianna huffington. it's a very readable book. she's a good writer. she touches on, you know, the trends that we have seen for a number of years in terms of our physical infrastructure, in terms of education, in terms of health care. that frankly if we do not reverse, this was her point, we're going to end up looking like third-world country. and what that is about, a friend of mine came back last year from china. he was at an airport in china, a new, modern airport. flew into the tiny. while he was waiting for a plane, he was sitting on the floor, it was crowded. his plane was delayed and he was wondering which was the third-world country, the united states or china? a lot of trends in this country
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will lead us in the wrong direction in terms of physical infrastructure, more and more people without health insurance. as the dominance of big money interests, wall street, and i think her point is we've got to get our act together and reverse that so we become the great nation, that we know we can and should be. another book that, in fact, i am reading right now is a book about the life of somebody i have known for a number of years. i would say he's a good friend but i've known for many years and that is willie nelson. the book is called willie nelson, an epic life. it is not the most readable book in the world because i think what joe does is give us the name of their but in the world who had anything to do with willie nelson, but given the fact that willie nelson is one
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of the more, is cleared one of the great entertainers of our time, and he's really an icon and a unique type of individual. because of who he is. and his entertainment qualities spirit in vermont where it seem all of this country he brings just a huge range of people. most singers won't appeal to this group of people or that group of people. willie brings them all together. i think that is a lot to do with his personality and the decency as a human being. is gentleness. is a very gentle man. is decency has been just a very, very strong supporter of rural america, family farmers. so people are interested about learning the life of god was born -- his family migrated to texas, he worked in the cotton fields. he grew up very,


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