tv Panel Discussion on Race in America CSPAN October 31, 2015 12:54pm-1:50pm EDT
speaking of truth, i had a glass wine with of wine with last night, are you here? stand up. okay, see these two women, they leeched onto me. [laughter] invited me for a glass of wine, they had two glasses and i paid, $60. it is good to see you all again. [laughter] [applause]. thank you all. thank you pat for talking with us tthoay. pat conroy will be at the bar. @[pplause]. >> will be in the signing well, come to the plaza. [inaudible]
next, more from the 27th annual southern festival of books with a panel a panel discussion on race in americ pl >> good morning. everyone can hear me? wonderful. good morning and and welcome to thet,015 southern festival of books. i am jim mccarron's, a writer and teacher from philadelphia by way of los angeles, now, now based here in nashville. it is long story.
all you need to know is i am your prod host for this mol. ing's session. a brief note of business, this incredible three-day celebration of the written word depends heavily on donations. not15ust to keep going every year but to also remain free. free of charge. do you keep that in mind, donations of whatever level can be made by mail or online through various socphl medph platforms, or even a person through actual time live, person-to-person communication. any, and all are greatly apprecphte. second your authors today will be heading to and signing books at the signing table iperedphtely follow our session. books are available for purchase at the berks sales area as well where a portion of the proceeds do go to benefit the festivairl so keep that in mind as well. third, time, time this morning is limited of course, there is another session in here immediately following ours, so we'll need to conclude in here about five or ten minutes before the hour to ensure timely transition. we will allow time for questions for the aa.ifince as well. thank you. all that said, all that said,
okay, there will be a microphone provided as well for a esing of questions. it is right here in the middle aisle. all of that said, i want said, i want to intrthouce you to tthoay's gas. kristin greene is an award-winning journalist whose debut novel is called something rsost be done, about prince edward county. about. about life in a segregated virginia and in her family in the wake of the sit ureme cous r brown versus board of education decision that struck down separate but equal e sication. when town leaders cny, se to dey that ruling by closing public schools rather than integrate them. what the new york times is a gripping thereto she writes about this massive resistance that was seen as a mthoel of the n ines, a defphnce that turns ot was a partially led by her own grandfather. ms. green has worked as a writer and rof theorter for more thant0 years at newspapers from boston
to san diego. she and her family now live in richmond, about 75 aboutstonelcmiles from where she was race. jim grimsley for her right was an autny, r of how i shed my e. on leal. ing the races lessons f a southern childhood. about growing up years in a post- brown world south 1960s. specifically, during north carolina's so-called freedom of choice initiative years when blacks and whites were given the choice, at least in theory to send their children to whatever scny, ol they wanted. mr. grimsley's book has been called a powerful powerful meditation on race, it examines what national public radio called the comfos arable truth f the time. at its heart, his coming-of-age story about a young man tilling with his ouca aivaountable trut. a young man in hiding, and south no less, where he rof theor on t family is a fifild where craziness grows like we. an award-winning author and playwright he teaches english and creative writing at emory university. today's discussion is headline changing course, reflections in the wgate of deslicre agtion. te reflections are to be found in
these two incredibly well-written books. each of of which can be called a historical memoir. the history part is hard enough, the personal personal stories are still hardetheo s m. grimley swhats ars us off y with a short reading from his book. >> i'm going to read you15ust a coit ule of pomfes from the morg when the first three black girls walked into my six ray classroom, this isern hild6. >> one of them sat behind me in the desk just behind mine. at my back was the black pearl sitting in the desk behind me. i had an impulse to say something to her, to call her name. of my memorifis of that day this moment comes to me the most clearly. i had a feeling it would be funny to call violet the name and i knew i was daring
enough to do it. the feeling of that thought in my head is far more vivid than any other dy. ail of the befrom h to ing of school. i'm fairly certain this happened either on the first day of scny, ol or soon after. i knew that calling violet and name would make the boys in the back of the room laughed. that moment inside my head rings douca through the years, so clearly. i was 11 years old, filled with a vomfue sense of cnrpose and ready to do my par, but for wet, i could not have said. the moment was clear, sunny, mtd for some reason, maybe to smoke a cigarette in the teachers lounge. our schoolroom hadern 5-foot ceilin af that made the sound of our chapter ring and windows that nearly reached to the t o of the cfarling. the windohas woirlyd have been open, may be a be a breeze coming through to stir the heat. i had the impirlyse to spegat an and i turn to violet in a moment of silence fell over the classroom. into which i said said the worsil i had been planning, you black pitch, i i
said. some of the white boys looked at me and gri to ed. pe ole giggled nervously. violet hardly ever blinks. you white cracker but she said nedck to me, witny, ut hesitatin and cocked an eyebrow and clamped her jaw together. i sat, dumbfounded. there hadr e been no ldingelihood of my fanwe that she could speak back. a flush came to my facusl your e didn't think i would say thatr e did you? her voice was even louder than before and her eyes flashed wite a kind of angry light. everybody was listening. the laugitaer had stoht ed, blak is beautifirly, i love my black skin, what you think about that? you are a black pitch, a black n i ofh, i said a aginst a bubblbou% blushing. some of the white students continue to snicker and they thought i was very brave. the moment did not mgate me feel the way thought it would. and you look white she said folding her arms across her chest.
pry. ty soon, after that mr. von returned, the moment came to an abrupt end, violet said nothing fus arher about what i called h, all the rest of the day i could feel her gaze boring into my nedck. she had reaodaed to my declaration in an unexpected way, when i called her that name she was sit urgsed to be ashame, she was sit urgsed to d sak her head or cringe, or admit that i was right. that she had no business bfarng in our white classroom. if i have followed my thought far enough this is what i would have found, but she took my insult as a matter of course and returned it in her sharp eyes and fearlessness where the evidence of a sn irit tough as when. a person unlike any of the mild beans around me. she was real, her v swce was big and it reached inside me. that moment lingered in my head for the rest of the day. for the rest of the day. it had ended abrit utlbout
not told the teacher what i had said. we were two children had been an odd kind of fight. she had not tatideed. why had i call to that name? i use cuss words so rarely the other kids usually giggled when i did. if i was sit uerior to her, as i had always been told i was, why didn't she peel it to? [applause]. as a springboard i left my first question. it really applies to each author. with the question on a running theme found in the book that we call why keep trudging up the pass? can you get into that is way of what motivated you to tell your story? >> well, i i had thought about my hometown story for many years before i swhats ared to really n irplore it. i grew up in virginia, in a
farmville, virginia. i attended an all% thahite academy that my grandfather and other white leaders had founded many years earlier. the missouri county bso rd of or pervisors denot hded to close scny, ol rather than desegregat. my parents also grew up and attended that white academy. as a child, i was never taught the real story behind the school closing. so when i became a rof theorterw to the west cso st and became a more curious person, i started to wonder what the full story was of my homy. own. i spent about ten years recording other people's stories and, one day i started thinking about the best story of the most interesting story my life was my home town story and i could not even describe it to you. what that history was. as i delved into it and think about writing a book and doing
inteploifihas, all of these messomfesistof thet coming at mt it was something i should not do. that the story was best left cnshed under the rug. it was ldinge a scab being pick, it was was never allowed to heal. there are a lot of people that did not want the story told and did not want to talk about it themselves. for me, telling the story was about my futurusl about the family i was creating. creating. when i was living in california i my. my future husnedndmy pas, who is a mirlytiranot hal man of indian descent and i know i wanted to to marry him and have children. iistnew the story my homy. own would be part of their story too. for me, understanding, understanding what had happened in that town long before i was born was important to moving forward and having my ouca family. >>istristin, by the way will be reading and exit from her own book as well to the end of the session.
jim, havenuc you tgaten a question as well about what motivated you to tell the story and tgate a dip into the pass question. k because it seemed to me the older i got we hadn't really accomplished what we tny, ugitae are g swng to a enomplish by integration in the first place. integration was supposed to fix ranot hsm, it was sit urgsed tog us all togy. hetheo it was supposed to help wipe these ideas out of white peoplul the older i got the clear it became to me that that had never happened. this is still the most enormous problem that i can think of in the rlicion where i live. i have lived lived in the south all of my life. it is a problem all over the country. you can see it making a resurgence over the last few years with the black lives ma6.er movement. without constant sny, oting a black people who are pulled over for a traffic light violation.
i noticusl that when my nifices and nof thehew started to go to school they learned the n-word. , s that have been to me when i was going to school. when i was growing up in a small touca. so i tny, ugita, well i wanted o write a book in which i examined what it was ldinge for me, or ddenly to eneveounter this we side of my community that i had not really known anything about in the six grade and to figure out at that p swnt, that i was n the way to becoming a little bigger. if i had not, if intlicration hd not happened id th sure i would have gone on to become a full-fledged member of the
a lot of kids, they're old enough they went to work with the parents in the field. tobacco was the primary job. children's extra hands were appreciated. many of the children who were old enough to work never went back when the schools were open other children, i remember writing about one particular child who is six when schools should close. by the time he started school he was ten years old, cannot read or write, is tutors were incredibly frustrated with him. he got 77 years of education before they graduated him. so, this has has affected future generations and enormous ways. it has not only affected the people that were denied an education but their descendents too. i think it impacted the way they feel about public education, how engaged they were in their children and grandchildren's education. i also think, the county still
doesn't fund the schools. they tend to view the schools as the black schools which is how they refer to them when it took a second supreme court ruling in 1964 to reopen the schools. so historically they have been underfunded. members members of the black community being denied an education has not necessarily embrace that school district, and shut them out. >> jim, can you tell us about the freedom of choice initiative that you went to school under. >> freedom of choice was the last-ditch effort on the part of white schools, it was a phenomenon that happened over the south. schools have been resisting since the 1954 brown versus board of education, white schools in the south and help elsewhere had been resisting integration. under freedom of choice, theoretically, a member of either school system could attend the other.
this was intended to encourage a token integration of the white schools, the assumption was that no white student would elect to go to the black school but maybe a handful of black students would elect to go to the white schools. this would satisfy the courts and integration would then stop at that point. so, in north carolina we had two years of the freedom of choice program, and my county 1966 and 1967. the school started in the fall of those years. it did, indeed succeed. we had three black students in my class, maybe a dozen in the elementary school i attended which would have been something like 200 students. very quickly, the courts ruled
that this was not what the supreme court had in mind when it ruled that schools had to be integrated. it said giving school students at choice in many regions of the country does not break down the barriers between the two school systems. you have to go ahead and fully integrate. so two years later, the counties, in my particular county filed this plan for integration. it was approved by the federal judge who happen to live in the county. at that point, the middle school and elementary schools were integrated and one year later the high schools were consolidated and integrated. so, within a four year. i. i went to four different schools. all public schools. we had the same phenomena and joints county, north carolina where i grew up. as soon as full integration came along in 1968, the first
segregation academy open. which was flabbergasting to me. who here were white people who would not spend a nickel on nothing, then all of a sudden overnight they could find the funds to open a school. i can't tell you the extent, the extent of cheapskates in jones county still phenomenal. the notion that they could, within the three-month summer. , find housing, find teachers, find equipment for a brand-new school, it is still flabbergasting. there are dozens of these in that same time period. so one full integration happened about half and two thirds of the white kids went to private schools, the rest of us stayed in public schools, making us a minority. i think the public schools in
jones county were 70% black and and 30% white for the rest of the time is there. >> jim, i'm curious where is kristen spokesman the tale for which the personal is actually part of the story, she had discovered her grandfather was part of this massive resistance, did you ever consider not leaving your own smaller, personal narrative in your story? >> my personal narrative the point was to write my own revolution from a bigot to a recovering bigot. that is usually how i express it. you don't get get rid of racism once it's built into. >> ..
prince edward county the walkout in 1951 to protest the conditions of a high-school band that walkout got the attention of the naacp attorney decided to take the case and it became one of the five founding board of education in cases so that is why it county leaders decided to close the schools because they were embarrassed, first they were worried they would be held up as an example forced to integrate the four other communities. actually was four years but it was the fear there would be held up at an example and they were embarrassed so they made the decision to close schools for the extended period until there were required to buy another supreme court decision. black children who harbor
resentment for a long time and have just recently decided to open up and share their stories to move beyond the pain they felt for so long or attempt to redress that pain somehow. with the walkout happened is now a museum in virginia and it is a place where you can come in to share your story about what happened to them to incorporate the white stories and more white people are coming in to learn the full story were the story they're not taught as children saw place for people to forgive and to be forgiven but a lot of people i could not access for the book that would never go to that museum or to any annual reunions because it is such a painful memory and they don't want to be a part of
the and i interviewed siblings that never talked about where they were sent the never shared their own stories so the pain from this decision is very raw. >> so many of the passages in each book seems to be written about today so much dialogue on bull's-eyes of the issue sounds like rhetoric like the gay marriage debate another social game changer like the ruling as an air again declaration of nine men was said back then and how it is an interruption or the intrusion on our way of life. what are your thoughts of the similarities between the two? >> it is clear evidence the prejudice is still here deeply rooted in their not
talking about the self but this country. one of the problems that we face in dealing with this problem is the selfie provides such a convenient scapegoat for the rest of the country people point the finger at us and we deserve it for the most part but that doesn't mean the finger pointers don't need to look in the mir which is one of the things that i try to talk about it is the hardest in the book racism is a terribly difficult problem to deal with if you try to fix someone else. , but if you're willing to see yourself when you look in the mirror tuesday that prejudice and bias in yourself, then it is something much simpler in a matter of changing your own heart.
>> i saw a lot of echoes between the recent gay marriage decision and the response and what happened in prince edward county. what happened in virginia is that senator byrd led a push back he thought if virginia county pushed back and the rest of the south would push back in the country would realize that integration would not be accepted. and hoping that the case is overthrown? basie prince edward resistance with gay marriage. the one thing that i read that makes me feel better is
the supreme court decisions are supposed to be ahead of public opinion so in some ways it is natural. >> can you talk about discovering your grandfather's involvement? >> i grew up knowing my grandfather was involves turning the white academy it took such a small community to start a private school after the decision was made by a county leaders they had been raising funds for years in preparation for this day but there's still a lot of work to do to find classrooms in churches and social clubs and an old telephone building creating a private academy from
nothing but when i was working on my book reading a historical book i came across my grandfather's name with the defenders of state sovereignty and of individual liberties. [laughter] that is not wanted to find out about my grandfather. but it was started but the chapter was founded within six months of the brown decision being handed down around the same time, the leader of the local newspaper called for closing the schools as a means. as a last resort to prevent integration and the defenders push that agenda and they put up the idea for
a private academy almost five years before the school -- schools were required to do desegregate by the court order. my grandfather was very shy and quiet so i could never find evidence exactly he was not quoted anywhere so all i have is and i adored my grandfather died while i was in college they made our childhood wonderful they did cookouts they had this over to make special meals. it was hard for me to look
at the two sides of him as a loving caring grandfather in to make this decision that negatively impacted the children in the community. >> you call yourself a racist by training? if it was the choice to make the we were raised talk at you came to that choice. hall those skill into elementary school with with
all the black kids in town there is a point at which they talk about george wallace. in she said the cater people i said those are not my people. that is similar that i decided i cannot pretend when the rest of the route that i should not have to be with the black kids and i was enjoying it. i enjoy talking to these
people i had never known before. we were no better than them and they knew that and run the the thing is i talk about we spend altogether too much time deciding who is better than and do. the talk about seveners having a real connection to knowing your place and sticking to it because at that point i was understanding and was more like the black kids and the upper class white kids and there is no reason for me to feel anything but good about
that i remember that day very clearly that is the day i decided. >> use said in the book all the world inside your head mattered you hid in their inside as much as you could what was that about? >> i was gay and didn't want anybody to know it i thought it was alive for deaf -- life or death thing i did not guess if any chance i had a crush on a boy in class. i don't think they are equivalent al think racism and homophobia are the same thing, but they are similar enough that i could feel some solidarity because i knew i had something people would not approve of but a lot of the black kids would
not have approved of that either. >> you talk about someone in your book named ricky you grew up and did many good things with his life bin chose to pay for word. he was writing some past wrongs done to him are you in touch with any other dedicated alliance to pay for work? >> these kids don't like the label of the lost generation. they don't feel lost they feel they could go one to create lives for themselves despite of what happened to them or because of what happened. rekey with six years old when the schools closed and only got seven years of education but he made in settling dash something of
himself and is now working as a volunteer in the school district and entering middle school boys -- mentoring those that need extra attention. there are many people that are involved to share the story of what happened in the community that sits on the board or volunteer and you are really engaged to share the story of what happened in that town that something like this could never happen again. >> racism is such a huge and a broad term but i find in the book with a small examples bad as up to what racism was talk about the
brown side lunches. >> i haven't had to talk about that before. it is shameful. when we went to the black elementary school the first year of consolidation in the white kids would not eat the food prepared in the black cafeteria which made no sense because half the town had black cooks. [laughter] i don't even know who decided that but i remember having a cafeteria worker started to pack space to everyday - - me a lunch every day that is the most awkward year that i can remember because we were thrown together with no
preparation and to the degree, we were lucky there was no open hostility of fights or confrontation but generally we had a peaceful run but there were moments like that when i understood there was under current of the separation of the white people if i tried to eat well was prepared in the cafeteria i'm sure that may have tipped them off i don't know what would have happened but although white kids told though by real said at the table and none of us had ever brought lunches to school before. this was unheard of to within one year that is what redid -- we did.
we want to think of race as equal people the people who did the lynchings but as white people we have to understand those people in our community we would think of as good and respectable they were the largest holders and teachers of racism i was not taught by a brutal bigots but the people love the church. what i learned about black people leather and through the course of ordinary life as a child that were the assaults of the earth the way they treated each other but had this idea when it came to black people it was a different set of rules and that is far more important to the understanding of racism even of the violence perpetrated against black
people. good people did this. >> i don't want to do giving away but i do have a question, did you get an explanation for your turnout ? >> i was the only white kid to go to my 40th high school reunion. >> tavis trying not to say that. >> three kids went to the memorial service in the before. the excuse that i have heard they were charging too much money and not giving us enough for it. cheapest people in the face of the earth. some of it was reluctance to mix because anniversaries were both held and they were
both segregated which is not unusual for the school reunions to be segregated even with integrated class's the story i have heard is the black kids said if they ever had another segregated union there would be trouble so they drop that in the reunion that i went to i thought it was a real reunion and it turned out not to be the kid who had gone off to private school so it was a reunion of the white kids of the same age in town. it was the dumbest thing i have never been a part of. [laughter] we will have kristin read a passage from her book.
you write an opting to move back home to virginia you wonder about your daughters if they are part of a new generation of seveners that would write some rooms of the past. or you finding that to be the case to have to explain that that makes you uncomfortable? >> bear little young to know the full story although they do no parts of it. they are six and seven in there already learning about martin luther king, rosa parks they come home and tell me stories with their teachers have taught them and talking about that is the natural conversation they are proud of me for writing this book they don't know the extent of great-grandfather's involvement or that part of the story yet but it is not an uncomfortable conversation and i don't
understand why it has to be uncomfortable for so many people. they find it shameful to go there or to talk about their ancestors the decisions made , i feel this is a history that we need to knowledge so much of our history is white washed and to be able to move beyond the place we are with race relations we need to be more honest about the past. they are conversations that we need to have and want to be honest. it is too honest to know how much the south of change over the next few decades but i enjoyed being back in the south it feels like home
the there are things we need to work on. >> the book is called something must be done about prince edward county. >> i interviewed the founder before he died. he was pretty sick but still aware. >> i asked him if at the end of his life he still considered himself a segregationist. he found the question ridiculous. of course, . the black nurses in the next room said he was accustomed to spending time around blacks he talked about the bears to raise to and from birth how he would play with black children and growing up in a railroad community 10 miles west you noticed there were twice as many
black residents as white but he believed black and white people were different the morality in the black schools was so low the white children could not understand he talked of that hired stereotypes about black men behave a high-school graduates with legal problems or living of a black woman or several. the work but they have money and vice automobiles but i cannot find one who would take a job. was rapidly taking notes as is oxygen machine hummed. wondered if their parents had gotten an education on a personal level his words dong per cry was sad at the end of his life is seen he had not changed since he
founded the academy 50 years earlier perky wanted his children to get a quality education but he also wanted to maintain the purity of the white race. that doesn't sound good he confessed to will make a lot of folks mad but it is true. as twice separating kids were important. >> you know, , a white girl's got pregnant by black guys? during the 16 years and the subsequent four years i only had one white printer dated a black teenager could not think of anyone let alone pregnant with a mixed-race babies and i did remember seeing mixed-race children in town but it seemed to be an issue. he did not buy it. he said you don't and he glared at me i said i have never heard anybody talk about it. >> you never heard anyone talk about it? he sounded incredulous.
white girls are not used to the pressure he meant the pressure to have sex as if they didn't get that from white boys. [laughter] black boy is impregnate white girls and they cannot end up raising half black and pinto babies that nobody wants the children are socially ostracized marked by across some of their soul. i had never heard the term pinto applied by u.n. human to his son and daughter-in-law were guests at our wedding witnesses to the bows that we exchanged under e enormous oak tree with husband was not white and they hosted branch at their cottage it dawned on me that he was not talking about the mixing of the black and white races anymore but my husband and children that we wanted to
have multiracial babies are pitied and reviled disgusted i wanted to get up and leave but as i sat across from him president maintaining my southern civility i thought about having this conversation with my own grandfather and what might have revealed about his own beliefs wondered if poppa had shared his feelings of mixed-race children and i realize that taylor believed i had portrayed them when dash betrayed them both by embracing what they tried to protect me from what they most feared and wanted to dismiss him as the last of his client as a closed minded old man whose time had nearly come but weeks before his death he was giving voice to what i know many in my home town right dying grandmother still believed 50 years later
after their brown v. board of education and that blacks and whites still belong together. [applause] -- still don't belong together. [applause] >> we have time for a few questions. >> one of the elements that only seems to be missing is that a mixture of religion and politics with the views of racism always seems to get a pass that much of what we call evangelical christianity today is tied
into the southern baptist church can you comment on that? >> there is a chapter in my book precisely about the religious language and i just say that i agree with what you said. >> i agree also. in my home town churches were host for the white academy there was one white leader and one white preacher who's spoken out against school closings and he faced a back clashing and had to leave town so the others went along for the most part that is one thing that was said he was a deacon in his church and did
do anything to keep the leaders from taking the education from have their community. >>. >> thank you both for your work i was born in 1981 my father born in 1945 so i grew up with some of the same racial inappropriate language that almost seeped into my generation. one thing that intrigues me that clash within christianity itself so those
caution flag. and now those that think they're defending christianity they think the other question is a coward the christian who will not stand up for god. i have to be mindful when i go back home to north carolina to go to church with my mother for those your friendly to me at all. the there just as convinced the church it is always