tv 2016 Mississippi Book Festival CSPAN August 20, 2016 11:00am-1:01pm EDT
>> reporter: i just recently was promoted to full professor. >> congratulations. [applause]. so my colleagues might be watching this morning. james baldwin, i have a very good relationship with him when i first encountered his name i encountered it as my dad working in the village together. then then i met him when i was 14. i remember coming behind him and
tracing collars as an adult in graduate school his words blonde with audrey and it literally saved my life. i was one of only two african-americans in the program to my knowledge on the first african-american to graduate in poetry and the msa program. so it was very isolated. my friends were the ladies who cleaned the building and we would talk about those sort of things. i would remember that i was young them. them. i was in my 20s feeling a real rage. his rage really help me it was sustained and it was intellectual. it was not messy rage it was purposeful rage.
that was a real lesson that i learned from him. >> i remember when he begins and is speaking to his nephew was also his namesake, jimmy, at one point he says i'm slightly paraphrasing, in those days we were trembling in the 60s. but if we had not loved each other we would not have survived. time and again that is where i return to baldwin that he writes with vibrancy. he writes with a fierceness at times. which trying to get essay after essay, after essay is this potent love and his belief of the potential love. we tend to stand away from it
can see with more clarity, which which allowed us to see more deeply. and to not only in it see clearly and one of the wonderful things about him is that he argued for the full humanity of people whose humanity is treated by appealing to a common humanity. so he was never in search of an enemy and is continually recognizing how much a degradation. so he continues to remind us it's a very complex and we are never let off the hook for the responsibility to love it. in other words their criticism doesn't preclude responsibility for love. >> it propels our criticisms, reflections, our response to each other. >> i think baldwin's work has
resonated with me ever since i read it when i was 15 or 16. i think it resonates more during presidential elections in this country because that is when i think we see the most magnificent liars lie to us. one of the things that i think baldwin's work encourages me to understand in this political moment, particularly when we have the right harkening back to this great past that and exist for a lot of folks on this panel and the left rallying and american exceptionalism that still seems to disregard the experiences of us on the panel and i think baldwin is saying and is saying that american and americanness is rooted in deception. it's rooted in dishonesty. there is no way for us to get from point a to b unless were honest about a. i think that resonates with me as a writer all the time but particularly in these political seasons when we
see the worst of america on display. i think baldwin's work is a reminder of what the americanness of us could be. >> when i think of baldwin he is very attached to my childhood. i grew up in harlem and as a child, girl child interested in the arts was just a really beautiful time. there is a real reclamation of our heroes especially are literary heroes. it was a time when these people were not far off ideas for me as a kid. they're not people i discovered in college. they were part of my elementary school experience. so when i learned about baldwin it really felt like i was walking into a place where i wanted to be for the rest of my life.
he felt like as well as others, a supreme example of the kind of harlem i wanted to be, the artist i wanted to be the world and the things i wanted wanted to do for myself and my community. >> fantastic. i have another baldwin question for you. it ties into "the fire this time". here's baldwin's asked describing his experts as a reader, he says you think your pain and heartbreak is unprecedented in the history of the world but then you read. it was books was books that tell me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all of the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive. so my question that ties in to that quote is, what was your experience in participating in this collection? as writers, writers, we all write in isolation, for the most part we are published individually. so much he had a copy of this book in your hand, what felt different about it? as a reader and writer how does it feel to be part of a choir
rather than a soloist? >> well, i'm a leo, i was just born on july 23, i share a birthday with monica lewinsky, so it is a motley crew, and/. it is a motley crew. one of the things as a poet who does historical research what i find interesting now some of you 49 is the way that younger folks look at baldwin but we need to take him in historical context. we look at him as one of our great prophets. but he was vilified by many of his contemporaries because he was a gay man.
one of the things as someone who does history, my book, my essay sticks out like a sore thumb really because it is about the 18th century and i'm sure some people are flipping through like what does this have to do with police brutality? the thing that struck me about him saying you are not the first people who suffered is that the 18th century is the omg black lives matter. the british were a police force. attics was a black man and the first to fall in the boston massacre and there were all of these other black men who are agitating for liberty and full citizenship. i'm also a radical black feminist. i'm writing about black men and a couple of people are like why
are you writing about pac-man? but i do think that history is very important because when you reconfigure the present you figure the past. past. that is what i think about baldwin, he wasn't celebrated as a prophet during his time. but his words are very timely. i have have to do is go on social media and you constantly see these quotes by him. i find it very interesting because the black arts movement despised him. for being a gay, black man. that. that was not truly black, whatever that means. now we are all realizing like he was like abraham.
>> many of us write in silence then you have four walls and it can feel like you are writing in a void. for all but the most confidence confident writers there is a fear that you might be writing into a void. that the silence you're writing that your work may be met with that same silence. that it could be handed out to the world with no response. one of the marvelous things about this book is to suddenly have the world responding not only to but as part of a broader conversation. one of the things i came back to is the same remark that baldwin made in the fire next time that we were trembling but we would not have survived if we did not love each other. so reading the essays given that
solidarity cs lewis said once he was speaking about friendship and given that definition of stories of friendship, friendship is looking to say no, you too? so this book did that set all my experiences are not my own. that you two, you too and there's a sense of solidarity and a sense of friendship. and they looked back to baldwin and send this is how i survived. so to have your experiences mirrored or in some places challenged it didn't have that effect but when he was writing to his nephew he goes into this issue of innocence where he says oh, your countrymen cannot see innocence and see what is going
on. they can go and talk to your grandmother, people can speak to her, she has been there and seen all of these things. she is not hidden. she is easily found. i think of this book like baldwin's grandma. here's this book, multitude of witnesses saying here is what it is like to live in america, here is what it has been like to get to this point. here's the possibilities ahead. here some of the limitations imposed upon us and hear ways in which we have tried to improvise and fight, and navigate around these limitations. here we are in our multitude of richness and the marvelous thing about this because it reminded me of what happens to us is not
entirely who we are. we are more than what has happened to us. so reading this book essay after essay it became a potent reminder of that and part friendship part testimony, part inspiration. >> during ferguson, during the baltimore uprisings, like you i witnessed a lot of that via twitter. i've been up at two or 3:00 o'clock in the morning unable to look away. i did a lot of that with jericho brown who is another contributor in the book. there are not be much to say except oh my god, can't believe this, i can't i can't believe this is happening, i can't believe it is this time. some nights we just sign off, i love you. if nobody else will do today i you today i love you, i love you. now in hindsight i realize how much damage watching our after hour of that footage did. but i felt like i wanted to be a
witness to that at that time. so when i see my name in communion with all of these other writers it really does feel like i love you. i want to be here for you and i want to support you in this way because even after we close our browsers and laptops we still have to go out into the world and navigate it and shot better jobs and for families and for ourselves in a real way. you cannot just lounge through life. it just confirmed to me that we are all going through this that is a fear but on this level i know these people are here for me and down for me. that feels really good and special. >> thank you for that. that was a great dancer. i -- a great answer. >> i think part of the reason we're still up here today is a
nuance of black joy. when i sought my name in the book and when i got the hardcover i am from jackson. jazmine you aren't the greatest writer in my world. i was like. [inaudible] >> i felt the same way and we got paid to. [laughter] >> that's honest. and the second thing i felt in the process is that a lot of different people asked me to use my were for an apology. offered often i say no because i don't have the spiritual work in me to write the representational black essay in someone's anthology that want to put my workout. with with this particular anthology when kathy
came to me and said will you and some other folk, i was just like, you know, there are a lot of different things that could have given. i want to put something in this anthology to speak to the joy and nuance to thank enjoyed for the roof that i got for me. and a a lot of people asked me to anthologized i would not anthologized that peace and any other anthology in the world because i would not have felt comfortable with what was on either side of my piece. i think these folk provided massive amounts of history, love, i think we pushed against this notion of endangered black mail and a way that i think is crucial. for me it felt like the piece found its way home. i'm just really happy. sometimes i think we have to sam happy. i'm really thankful and i'm really happy.
>> can i just say one tiny thing, exactly because i told myself i was never going to be on another race panel. because i just got tired of explaining to people how bad it was to be a black person. because you know that is not the entire experience. but when you asked, okay, i said all all right. when my agent came to me and said, you have to do it and i said i'm on it and then they said you're getting paid. i was like, okay then. and thank you for those groceries by the way. that money spent real well, i appreciate that. [laughter] [applause].
>> can i just say quickly because i've not had the opportunity to thank you all in person. i would like to thank you all for agreeing to be a part of this. i'm really proud of it. i'm so happy that we are able to come together to form this course and to do this. i think it is a great book. thank you all so much. [applause]. i hope you don't get mad at me when i asked this question but i'm going to ask it. i'm curious, it is a two-part question, does this anthology provide more answers than question? second part of this question is, in what big questions are you sitting with right now? >> i think what the essay said
why don't white people ever feel they have a race? that's my question as we finish this because we are not the ones who invented race, emmanuel con and -- invented that and we are living with the wages of that. so it is always interesting to me for example when i teach my students and i say to them when you write a story why is it that nobody ever has a race until the colored person walks into the room. i don't assume that everyone is white. i assume everybody looks like me. so i think what i am curious about is, why are there any books where white people examine and even now when i use the word white i can feel people flinching in the room. if you say african-american woman or native american woman, you say okay but as soon as he will say white women people start jumping like you're accusing them of something. i'm not accusing anyone of anything, it is a descriptor. i do wonder why it is that this
is our burden to discuss. i welcome the challenge but i would like my white brothers and sisters, you know trans gender, lgbtq, straight, et cetera to start examining what race means and not from this mia coppola guilty place where then it becomes explained to me why i am not a bad person. i would like to have a real intellectual engagement with what that means. i'm curious why hasn't it happen? that is my question. >> it is hard when you have more questions than answers. i have encountered different people who have read your book
and depending on where you are at you are left with more questions than answers. one of the marvelous things about the book and one of the joys of the collection in which you have brought together in a variety of voices speaking about the past, the present, thinking through the future and trying to play a profit is that different ones meet you in different places. i remember reading here in the first time i read it and had come away without any questions really. just more answers. here is in a rich way and a joy it what it looks like. but the collection because it's in composition with other essays,
suddenly these questions began emerging. what might joy look like when we think of lineage. how should we think of lineage, how, how is heritage an important part in important inheritance that ought to be celebrated. how do we write about family, what issues we belong in with identity. with love? and with a rich sense of self. and suddenly it has found all of these emerging it is a terrific thing about the book is questions that emerge, the cause of the conversation that is rising in the book to have read this essay before and thought all this is marvelous, there's all these things i love about it the suddenly questions that emerge because of this book and that don't have anything to do with anybody else. so so from essay to essay upon myself thinking i have more questions and more answers there. in a more wonderful sense of how to deal with this. as a writer one of the things is that is it had given me answers on a way to write myself onto
different problems. i recognize that this has not have been a problem for me as a writer and it is a shortcoming. how do you as a writer deal with terrible pain but write about it in way that does not feel like a weight that you can extract yourself from under? there are some answers and to say there are some ways to confront pain head on but still recognize that our human and see doesn't reduce us to one emotional mood response. there is joy, there's come laxity, there's contemplation. and so some of these things lead to questions. as i write one of the questions was how do i write and try to bring people's attention to the ways in which people have often
been marginalized, often often had limitations put on them. i remember in here the limitations, here the low expectations people have, here's what he had been told that you're capable or incapable of. part of the reason i am writing this to in writing this for you is to show you that you can transcend that. it's no wonder in the first line that i begin this five times and to rip it up because of this difficulty. how do i say here are all of the different ways in which the world has seen you in ways that are reductionistic. i want to write in a way way that will let you transcend all of these forces, all this relentless day by day. and by minute. the frustrations that are in a place before you and on top of you. one one of the questions i
had as a writer is how do i convey all of that but at the same time convey the amazing improvisations that people have executed to get around it? how do i write in a way that has empathy? is such a hard thing to say to put yourself in someone else's shoe. how do i write into that. more than anything there is a question and it has not gotten off is how do we forcefully make the case for humanity and at the same time appealing to our common humanity. what better better ways in which we can point to a bridge but also not
let up and pointing on the other side of the bridge. what what are the ways that affirm strongly and forcefully in his humanity of people who are black and white at the same time and make it clear to others at the same time it is not an attempt to exclude anyone. and that by the to grading others you have thereby degraded yourself. >> as i was writing the question that stayed with me, the question that continues to stay with me is what happened to sandra brand? i think about it every day as a woman whose travels a lot for work and all fit in alone, when i'm going from state to state or wherever i am at time i was thinking, am i going to get back home? i'm thinking this woman left a job interview and never made it home.
that is the question for me. what happened to her? her? what happened from the moment she was put in that car until she showed up in the morning. so justin invited me to be part of this anthology and i was going through trying to decide what to do i know that they write speculative fiction, but the the most natural thing for me was to contribute to a speculative poem because i felt like i really wanted to work with the perceived ambiguity. to me that's not very ambiguous about what happened but the notion of ambiguity, i also wanted to work with black joy. for me when i think of the south i think of being in charleston, south carolina in the summertime with my cousins. i wanted to work with these things and look at what perceived horror is, what supernatural horror is? to me it is horrifying. it is nothing short of a horror story to think that a woman could be pulled over and within hours be dead.
so the question for me is, what happened in that self? i had a had a feeling that other writers would not necessarily, they don't do genre work so i wasn't expecting a bunch of poems is can be a way for me to address it it's about a woman who is always on the go and alone. i could be pulled over and stopped and then what? in the idea that there could be a recording, that there could be an actual recording yet no indictment. what does that really mean. what are we up against? so when i am of reading through the poem and the anthology is still think about it and i think
we have to keep that in the front of our minds as we continue our work. an entire life and lives are lost. and recorded. isn't that every horse story? there's a recording but there is no real closure at the end of that. so. so for me that's the persistent question. >> for me i want to answer that question and speak to be in in the space today. the space. morrison wrote two decades ago
that she wonders what happens it to the imagination of a black writer who is constantly conscious of represented their race to a group of people who consider themselves racist. it's not a rhetorical question. she asked what happened to black writers who are constantly forced to deal with, reckon with, carry the weight with what i will call the worst of the white folk. so after i read the anthology i thought a lot more about that question. being in the space today i'm even forced to think about the question because of the audience and because of history of this space. we are right here next to that plague which means a lot. as a black artist born in jackson, the easy thing for me to do would be to talk about how messed up that vegas, to talk about why we are considered the
worst of the white folk and really to try to do the work that james baldwin had already done. which is to teach white folk that they are white. that's the easiest thing for me to do. reading this anthology encouraged and reminded me that there's other work to do. that is heavy work, dealing with our been in the space next to that, in the space where lots of black bodies have been terrorized and this tear has been sanctioned. it is important, crucial work for us to do them for me in particular to do. if i'm doing that work sometimes i'm not talking about one in my relationship to abuse, the ways in which i have been abusive. i'm not talking about my relationship as a survivor and victim of sexual abuse. i'm not talking about web been emotionally abusive to others. i'm not talk about misogyny. not talking about all of these things. reading the anthology encourage me to understand that sometime when folks ask me to write about folks asked me to write about what it means to be black which is them wanting me to feel like to be white, i said you can use google. then i need to get to work in
uncovering, explore the nuances of other things that make me might have little to do with white, desire to terrorized bodies like mine. i hope you understand what i'm saying. reading the anthology, get to the answer again. any nudges to get back to this answer that telling white folk how messed up they been to us is not always what needs to be done. they need to hear that but as writers and artists i might not need to tell them all the time. when i do that i'm actually not loving myself in ways and that leaven the children that i don't have. but i think the anthology encourage me to do that work. >> i think it is time for questions now, is that correct? from the audience i don't know exactly where you should go, there is a podium,. >> yes please use the mic there so we can hear your question. >> questions. >> i'm scared.
good morning. i want to thank all of you for being here. as a want to say to the professor that they sent their warmest regards. i want to contextualize "the fire this time" with two other books which is between the world and me and also, invisible world got the whole world watching. in looking at those three books and looking at what you're dealing with, essentially the issue of white supremacy in 2016. my question is. my question is for me as a port and short story writer is, my thesis was on james baldwin in his talk about love as a whole, humanistic approach, my question is, in 2016, these problems still exist. is there ever going to be a time when black folks have to come if we are not going
to reevaluate black nationalism is the answer, self determinism. because a statistic that's interesting for me is that 80% of black people that are employed by white employees have only 20% of black people that are played by african-american americans which means we can feed ourselves because we can't -- wouldn't this be self determinism and how black people take control of their own institution? >> wow, that was deep brother. so, wow, wise eyes me that has to make somebody mad in the room. that was a billing question. i do think there are several vectors to what you had said.
i think the economic self determination is really important. as someone who is dependent on my mother side from georgia sharecroppers who lived off the land, i just remember all of my uncles hunted and fished. all of them kept gardens, my mom and her sisters kept gardens but the men kept gardens too. so very quickly, yes i think that vector is something we need to explore. black masculinity is a problematic place that we need to have ongoing work. i think it what brother garnet has talked about in terms of love. as a black woman who loves my black brothers i don't want to
blow up any bridges to them. i do want to challenge them to talk about black masculinity in a way that acknowledges that they could have paid without foregoing strength. there is strength in acknowledging that. when we talk about economics as the key, this is probably what is going to your tape people. we have to think about the fact that west african economy of the 18th and 19th century was based on the trends of manic slave trade. that was not brought in that was in a collaborative effort with your pains, that does not mean white people in the room that mitigate these european ugliness and brutality against us.
you can acknowledge something, we can chew gum and rubber tommy's but i think facing everything on economics is a bit problematic. but i would like to say is to me the key to dismantling white supremacy is humanity. not whining to them, white folks please love us. i am loved by god and that's what i worry about. i don't enter into a room of black people, white people or anybody else caring that they love me. i try to spread love but if they don't let me i'm okay because i know my master is. i do feel that humanity is the
key to acknowledging a common humanity. that seems like a cool by our moment. it is very complicated because when you think about slavery you think about the fact that at the same time at the trans-atlantic slave trade was going on imperialism was going on. and then the intellectual apparatus of dismantling not only black humanity but native indigenous humanity. so you're able to treat people badly because you think they're one step above orangutan. because she does not feel as strongly about her baby. as a dog feels about it puppies. when you dismantle people's
humanity then what it does is make you feel better about treating them badly. you see what is happening with donald trump, yes i said his name and what we are seeing is the fact that you get all of these disenfranchised poor white people who do not understand, it's not the color folk that are keeping you from having power, it's people like donald trump, right. [applause]. so you have people who do not understand because everybody wants to feel better. i struggle with classism even as a marginalized person.
so that is what i feel about those factors. >> i been enjoying the essays is that you can write your own and that's why like the form so much is because it's way for me to not admit or admit and get away with how much i don't know. so this is not an insult or to demean the question maybe it's a little bit above my pay grade or maybe a lot above my pay grade but i say this much for myself and i hope i'm not being presumptuous when i speak to the writers that there's so much work to be done and if we look at it and say what is happened, why are we still here? worse still having some of these discussions, why we still fight in the same fight?
but i remember again going back to baldwin who is much at the center of our discussion where he pointed to his grandmother as a witness to say here's how we respond to those who plead innocent, here's proof, here is a witness, go ask her. she is not hidden. is not hidden. you know where to find her. and so i think part of what all of us are doing and what this book is doing is to say here is to say like baldwin's grandma, here's the book that you plead in a sense that here's something to do with your professed innocence. so in arguing about exclusion one of the first things you try to do is to say well let's find ways to say you are not an excuse. so at the very least as writers one of the things that we have to keep relentless scented bear
witness and that means to professing and are full humanity and all of its richness, all of our joys and frustrations, all of our potentials and resentment but here we are in a past limitation any mansion in the force that you pose upon us. one of the things i think we're arguing for is not so much withdrawal as much is to say we have every right not to be excluded and so one of the things this book is doing and all of us are doing as readers essay what is it mean to live and move and having our being with everyone else and not have to deal with having that excluded or push away from us because of our complexion or
heritage. >> next question. >> thank you. apparently thank you for creating such a work of love and hope. my question deals with a mississippi writer who is also next patriot. often times children write the first sentence and living with jim crow's that he learned the first negro lesson when he was very small. as a collaborative effort of all the writers together, did you find that there are certain, and i liked your handsome bloatware you've dealt with this and then there was this joy, did you find that there are certain ethics that are coming through the 21st century? maybe not jim crow but maybe sam eagle? and through those ethics do we as both a father and educator, some of my wonderful students
are here today, do we have a responsibility equally to teach on these ethics of living so they are not the trave on clouseau lovingly dedicated the book too. and if not, what them beyond your book can be a healer for your book of apparently? >> i think that there's nothing -- i don't want to say there's nothing we can do to prove herself to white people so they won't kill us, but there's nothing for us to do to prove to white people to prove so they won't kill us. it's not pulling up her pants, it's not dressing your certain way or having a certain haircut certain haircut for certain kind of speech. so for me there moments in my life when i am afraid maybe i
don't want to say what was on my mind and those are the times where i really have to mentally become more fit and challenge myself to speak up more to do the brave thing because i think about the people i am responsible for and i think about the people i love and who love me and who i can cry too. i think about my mother, my sisters and brothers and my nephews and niece. it when i think about those little people in my life i'm thinking i need to do the brave thing now to make it easier for them. i need to do the loving thing now to make it easier for them so on a micro level i want to be the aunt that takes you to radio city music hall. let's go cookout in the summertime, let's go to the lake. i want to have those everyday experiences of, we are living our best black life because i have no control of what happens in the world. that is the most difficult thing to
reckon with. that is what i think what renders us or we feel so helpless because really tray bonds her baby didn't come back we know emmett hell is the same thing. she sent her son with her father and he never came back so i can never say so to be black to keep you safer, i just want to fill them within endless capacity for self love, love, love of community, for family and relationship and hope that that they can have their best life so the best of it is saying it does where the depression comes in, because i cannot think about that every day, i cannot think
about the way that this weight person wants me to be. i have have to navigate this world, i have to get up and go out and i don't know what black you want me to wear today. when you see me, when you see my body, when you see my hair, mild fit and make up, i don't up, i don't know what you're thinking, what expression a black that is. for some i should be laughing and cheering and i should be your hey girl, so i don't know what kind of blackness you expect me to and body are not. so not gonna gonna do that. so i can only be myself. [applause]. >> i would like to say quick thing. were talking here about limitations and one limitation that don't want to put on this
book is to think that it is a black book just talking about black people. as you're talking about what kind of ethics you're living in on a significant thing about this book what it asked over and over again is in all the writers asking the same question? what does it mean to live with difference? we're living more and more in a pluralistic age. this election is in part and other things that are frustrating us and having to raise her eyebrows, is the way people are talking about what is it mean to live in a pluralistic age? it's not really talking to about what does it mean to be in a black america, it's also asking the question what does it mean to live with difference. what you whatever you like it or not that's where you were moving more more. this book is also addressed in question that extend well beyond black and
white. it's how to we live with difference. there's a responsibility for ethic of living instead of living with difference. i tell kids this all the time look touch and be aware, listen to others and to actually be active and be a part of it. so it works both ways if you're saying to even tell the kids that are black what is it mean to live with those who might not particularly care for them or think of humanistic. >> are we out of time? >> okay we have time for one very short question.
>> i will keep it short. what affect and influence did richard wright have on your career particularly with respect to some of the things that you have talked about today. i want to test that in particular since he grew up here and was educated here in jackson? >> richard wright, my mother taught at jackson state university for a long time. she had had me when she was a student there. richard wright and alexander are the reason that i'm upper today. i think they do very different work but important work. richard wright taught me as a young writer that it was okay for me to be angry. for me to be artistically angry is a big, black boy my mother necessarily tell me i needed to do constructive things with that anger but she did not say needed to use my art to explore that anger. richard wright showed me that there are some parts of anger i could explore. it's crucial to talk about richard wright to talk about margaret walker alexander two. i think what happens is we focus
on right and it's crucial and lord knows that he's under explore. but margaret walker alexander is the woman who literally told me that i needed to write to and for my people. she told me because she was a friend of of my mother that there is a difference between writing for your people in writing to your people. as a 17-year-old ident understand that. reading this anthology finally understood what it meant to be in the community with folk who are writing for an assembly putting our community are back and going where we are going. it is much more in this american and a place to write to your folk. it's hard to say this in this room that is mostly white. i hope the young black folk understand what i'm talking to you when i say this. it's imperative, you cannot love
someone and can indicate to them. everything this american literary enterprise is telling you to communicate over the person who looks like you to talk to that person behind you. it's a necessity if you love your folk to talk to your folk and write for your folk and to understand if you come from a people primarily made a living and the life out of writing to and for the black folk in mississippi in the deep south.
>> on sunday, september 4th, booktv is live from hillsdale college in michigan with best selling author, radio talk show host and columnist dennis prager on "in depth," our live monthly author call-in program. his most recent book examines how the ten commandments are still relevant today. he writes about idealism, extremism, the holocaust and other such topics in his book, "think a second time," and contemplates the pursuit of happiness in "happiness is a serious problem." in his 2013 book, "still the best hope," he lays out why he believes american values must triumph in an uncertain world. here he is from this year's los angeles times festival of books. >> guest: it's very simple. if everybody lived by the ten commandments, you would not need one army, you would not need one missile, you would not need any policemen, you would not have to put locks on your doors. this is all humans need.
it's amazing. >> dennis prager taking your calls, e-mails, tweets and text messages live on booktv's "in depth" from hillsdale college in michigan sunday, september 4th, from noon to 3 p.m. eastern. >> booktv recently visited capitol hill to can ask members of congress what they're reading this summer. >> well, reading is such an exciting thing. i read about a hundred books a year, and i've done a book report on every one of them since i got out of graduate school. and it makes a nice reference for going back and finding some other reading occasionally. one of the things i'm doing now is re-reading some of the mystery books that i have read before. there's an author named c.j. box that writes phenomenal stuff about joe picket who's a game warden in wyoming who winds up solving some outstanding mysteries as well as acquainting people with wyoming and some special things there. i get advance copies of his book
usually. in this one's "free fire" which is about yellowstone park. and on that one i actually got to be involved before he wrote the book because there was ason in wyoming, well, in yellowstone park that was actually considered to be part of idaho, but nobody lived there. so there would be no jury of your peers. and consequently, maybe you could commit murder there. and so he asked me to make sure that wouldn't be a possibility before the book came out and encouraged people to kill people in the part of idaho that's yellowstone park. fascinating person. another wyoming author that i'm re-reading is craig johnson who does the longmire sheriff series which is on television too. but the television ones are not the same as the book, so i encourage everybody to read books. another phenomenal character study writer. i do a little international reading.
i've been to botswana to work on the aids problem. i helped write the pepfar bill, and president bush surprised us and said going to put $15 billion in to solving the aids problem. that got our attention, and i got to help write the bill. and then after we wrote the bill, they sent me over to see what the problem was. that's how we do things. but botswana's one of the places i went to, and there's a series of books called "the number one ladies' detective agency" that's great on bringing out the culture of a lot of africa, but particularly botswana. i carry books with me all the time, that's why i have these. everybody has to have their cell phone with them. it's real easy of some apps on there. there's a kindle app, and on that one right now i'm reading "my 60 years on plains." and that's about a guy that was a trader, a trapper and an indian fighter. and his diary has been written
into a book which didn't come out very long ago. fascinating stuff about the west. and i carry a kindle with me, it'll fit in my pocket real easily, and it's a little easier to read outdoors because it doesn't have the color depth that the other does. and on this one i'm reading "girl on the train" right now. really a strangely-written book, totally different style of writing, and some people would consider it a chick novel. but i saw that it was on the top ten reading lists, so i thought, well, i better read that one too, and i have. well, i haven't finished it yet. i'm ant a third of -- i'm about a third of the way through it. i also read some technical books that have to do with my job with the reasons that i read several books at a time is you can get tired of reading one book, one style, so you switch around, and
it keeps the interest going. particularly if they're textbook types. and one of them i've been working is "dead men ruling." 9 that fits in with my budget work, because this is about the people who wrote the budget act who are all, yeah, who are all either to dead or former senators. and there are some problems. i'm trying to redo the budget act right now, and there's a lot of help in that. there's another excellent book that i'm going through. oh, when i read a technical book, i actually try to get the gist from the introduction, and then i try to switch to the last chapter to see if they've actually got any good suggestions. and if they do, then i read the part in between to see how they got to that point. and i highly suggest that for any of the technical reading. you can tell between the first chapter and the last chapter whether the middle part of the book is going to be worth reading. i also dogear books.
if you loan me a book -- you don't want to loan me a book. i write in the margins as i come up with ideas. that's, again, something i learned in this graduate school from a guy that was teaching complex enterprise which really doesn't -- shouldn't have a lot of reading, but he gave us a reading list of books that didn't have anything to do with business. and he had us write down the ideas that we got as we did that. "the lost science of money" is another one that i'm reading right now. it's a very thick book that takes a little different approach to the federal reserve than some of the ones that are anti-federal reserve, some of the ones that are pro-federal reserve. this one goes more into the history of money and actually has some good suggestions in the last chapter. i'm trying to fill in the piece in between right now. so, oh, another part of my reading, every night when i finish up, i've got to get my mind off of what i've been doing.
if i keep talking budget or working budget or working health or working education or working pensions or small business or whatever committee i'm really focused on that evening, if i go to sleep, i keep working on it unless i read something different. and that's when i read some of the normals. but i always finish up by reading some books that have some religious background. right after 9/11 i got a copy of the quran, a translation of the quran. i can't read arabic. i started reading that, and i had to go see the chaplain because that's really a bloody book. really concerned me. and he said, well, you need to go back and read the old testament. the difference, of course, between the quran and the bible with the new testament is the new testament's the teachings of jesus which are recognized by the other great religions and much more peaceful. [laughter] but, so i'm reading another translation of the quran now
that was given to me by a muslim who said that this, you'll find this to be a less violent version. it might be, but there's still a lot of violence in it. and whether you believe or you don't believe, i'm reading a biography of billy graham also, and i particularly like the chronological bible. the different books of the bible were written at different times, and even some pieces of them were written at different times. and somebody took and compiled it so that it flows straight through, and you find out they weren't sent into babylon six different times. it was a punishment primarily once. and when you get to the gospel, it's probably a little bit shorter than the gospel because there's some repetition in there, and they don't repeat the same verse four times because it was in the four gospels. so that's a pretty good way to
read the bible. and i was also challenged once to read the bible over a short period of time. it was suggested to read it over three months. and my son and i both took the challenge and did it, and you can do it with any bible. you just look at the number of pages that it's got, and you divide it by the number of days in those three months, and then you read that many pages each day. and the advantage of doing that is you're looking at the big picture then instead of individual verses which we sometimes get hung up on. so that's a little bit of what i'm reading. [laughter] and what i'm doing with my summer. i'm on a plane trip to wyoming pretty much every weekend and, of course, you have to come back again then to vote, and that's a three-book trip. so you can get quite a bit done there besides the studying that i have to do on the plane. >> booktv wants to know what you're reading this summer.
>> that's a look at some of the current nonfiction bestsellers according to the los angeles times. many of these authors have or will be appearing on booktv. you can watch them on our web site, booktv.org. [inaudible conversations] >> and booktv's live coverage of the second annual mississippi book festival continues now from the state capitol. this is an author panel on education issues.
[inaudible conversations] >> good morning. welcome again to the 2016 mississippi book festival. >> [inaudible] all right. i think we're ready to get started. welcome to the 2016 book festival. this is our panel this morning on schools and change. i just have a few housekeeping rules. please remember to silence your cell phones. books of these and many of the other authors here today will be available outside the state capitol building. the booksellers are out on mississippi street, and signing tent is directly opposite that. you'll see in the back of the program the full book-signing schedule with authors and the times that they'll be signing today.
we're delighted to have c-span broadcasting live with us today from jackson, mississippi. i want to thank the state legislature for allowing us the use of this facility today to come together. i want to thank the authors and the moderators today for helping us celebrate literature and the written word together. also today's, the sponsor of this particular panel, i want to thank the mississippi humanities council for their continuing support of the humanities and what we're all doing here today. i'd like to introduce charles bolton who will moderate today's panel. he's professor of history at the university of north carolina at greensboro. he's the author of the book "william winter and the new mississippi: a biography," also hardest deal of all: the battle over school integration in mississippi 1870-1980, and the book poor whites of the antebellum south, tenants and baylorers in central carolina.
welcome and thank you. >> thank you. [applause] good morning. we have the authors of two memoirs this morning both that look at public education after mississippi schools were desegregated. one looks in the 1970s which was immediately after integration occurred, and one looks at it a few decades later in the early 21st century. i thought i would start off, though, by just giving a little bit of historic call context which does draw on my own book, "the hardest deal of all," and we have a little bit of extra time, i think, because unfortunately you may have noticed two of our panelists couldn't be here today because of unforeseen circumstances, and they actually were both more history than memoir.
so i thought i could maybe provide a little bit of context. so i promise i won't give you a full-scale lecture though here. so for much of the 20th century, probably you're all aware mississippi had a dual school system, had a black school system and a white school system. and that did present some difficulties for a poor state like mississippi because it could barely afford to fund one school system, much less two. and yet for many whites, especially in the, you know, early part of the 20th century into the mid 20th century, one of the most important things was that in looking at a quality education was that schools be segregated and other kind of educational measures were not nearly as important. but the consequence was that what really was created in mississippi was a somewhat mediocre school system for whites and a sorely underfunded
school system for blacks. and that system of education came under attack from at least two fronts throughout the 20th century. one was from black parents and black educators who from the very beginning were with trying to get more resources for black education. the other was from a federal government that increasingly was concerned with this issue of ending racial segregation, and there are a lot of complicated reasons for that. but segregated education was perhaps the most obvious example of why the jim crow system was inequitable. if you wanted to look around and see that separate but equal was really not equal, the best place you could look was the schools. i mean, there were all kind of aspects of southern life were segregated during the jim crow
era. you had segregated water fountains but, you know, everybody at least got a drink of water even if, you know, the fountains themselves maybe looked different. but in schools almost everywhere you looked, it was unequal. the materials, the training for teachers, the pay for teachers, the length of time that people went to schools, the actual school facilities, and that's why it's no surprise that when there is a legal challenge to segregation, that it comes in education. i'm sure most of you are familiar with the brown decision in 1954 which is about education, that the supreme court ruled that segregated educational facilities were inherently unconstitutional. and it was a relatively -- it took a long time, but it was a relatively easy case for groups like the naacp to make because the evidence was kind of overwhelming. the federal government support, there's a variety of reasons for
why over time the federal government became more interested in ending this, and i won't go into all that, but certainly by 1954 when the brown decision was handed down, it was a unanimous decision by the supreme court. but even then the court was a little bit unsure how to implement it. the implementation decree of the brown decision said that schools should be desegregated with all deliberate speed, which as you probably recognize doesn't make a whole lot of sense. deliberate means slow and speed means fast -- [laughter] so, of course, white people fastened on the deliberate part and said, yeah, we'll get around to that one of these days and the blacks, of course, thought it should happen right away. and it didn't happen right away despite the efforts of black parents and other black activists to try to make it happen. in fact, for ten years there was absolutely no school desegregation after the brown decision. the first school desegregation in mississippi doesn't happen
til 1964. and part of the reason why it started to increase there was, again, because the federal government became a little bit more active. in 1964 there was the 1964 civil rights act in which the federal government said that schools could lose their federal funding if they discriminated. the next year there was another piece of federal legislation, the elementary and secondary education act, which for the first time the federal government allocated millions of dollars for elementary and secondary schools. again, mississippi is a poor state. they needed that money. and to get that money, they were going to have to change, and they were going to have to start or ending the dual school system. and so there, again, there are further changes, but there's also continued resistance. and while there's some kind of token desegregation from '64 until '70, there's -- the dual school system is alive and well in mississippi.
and finally there's another supreme court decision in 1969 which was a mississippi case, the alexander v. holmes case in 1969 in which the supreme court sort of revised that all deliberate speed timetable. basically said that the time to do this had long passed and that schools must be desegregated now. and they meant that especially for those mississippi districts that were party to that suit, they meant not even wait until next school year started, they meant we're going to do it in the middle of the year. and that's part of the story that tina and john are going to tell you about. and so it does happen in mississippi pretty quickly. so i want to go to tina honor and john jones who are authors of the first memoir haha we're looking at today, it's called "lines were drawn: remembering court-ordered integration at a
mississippi high school." tina horne lives in houston, mississippi, but she grew up here in jackson. but in houston in addition to an author, she's a dentist, a small business owner and a farmer. john lives, till lives here in jackson -- still lives here in jackson, and in addition to being an author, he's an attorney here in town. and they were students at murrah high school here in jackson which was one of the historically white high schools here in jackson. and they were in that first group of students that were there when the schools were finally integrated on a massive scale because of the alexander decision in the spring of 1970. so, john and tina? >> impressive crowd. i don't know if there are any murrah high school graduates out there. i see one or two, three, four, good. good.
and everybody holds their hand up high. tina and i graduated in 1973 from murrah. in 1969 the fifth circuit court of appeals had the case involving the jackson public schools and said thou shalt desegregate -- first, they said on december 1st of '69, we're going to flip-flop faculty and staff by the time the christmas holidays are over. they gave us a couple of extra weeks off for christmas vacation, which was pretty cool. we had no idea what we were coming back to because the court said this ten days thou shalt flip-flop student bodies as well. so it became the most radical desegregation that the courts could come up with without really having an underlying plan. it was kind of chaos, at least in the early years.
we, i went to bailey junior high. the first morning that it happened, there were -- i tell in the book -- when the, about 3 or 400 black kids showed up on riverside drive right out from bailey. it was like a bomb had exploded in bailey, and every girl and most of the guys were fighting for the only pay phone in the facility in the school calling their mom and dad and said, they're here! we didn't realize it was going to be this. and what we always heard was, well, all during that day, you know, moms and dads were pulling up to bailey junior high to pick up these white children and take them back to our comfy neighborhoods out to the northeast. we always herald that that night jackson -- heard that night jackson prep got started at a meeting in the basement of the
first presbyterian church. it was not responded to very well. by the time we were in the tenth grade, the court went one step further. i went to brinkley which was a previous all-black high school near the jackson mall. i was so ignorant, you know, growing up in northeast jackson i didn't even know where brinkly was until we had to find it on the first day of school. but we went over there. the fifth circuit had predicted we'd have 507 white people attending brinkly. we had 83. 671 black children. and we were thrown together without any cushion or anybody telling us really what was going on to sort of make it on our own. and we did. after a tough start. by the time we got to murrah in our junior and senior year, we had, frankly, gotten to know our black classmates well must have
as individuals -- well enough as individuals that it really worked. integration was a success in 1972, '73. actually at murrah through 1975. we had about 35% white student roll, student enrollment, 65% black, but it really worked. it was probably desegregation's best success story. and i have looked it up. it probably was. we had really good participation, and we got together and became close friends in a way we would never have accomplished had we been left to our own devices. in 1977, long after we -- well, the year we graduated from college, there was a second mass exodus out of the jackson public schools by white parents.
now murrah is majority african-american. it still offers a splendid educational opportunity for people who go there. but i think what it shows is that the radical desegregation that we went through that made integration really work for the first time over an extend period in the history of mississippi didn't work over the long haul. and it's a real shame. it should have. we've still got a long ways to go on it, but our experience was a very positive one after a rough start. and it just shows to us anyway that if you have, if you're close enough in proximity to people, then race becomes an irrelevancy. you just learned about each other as individuals, and you can move on with great success. and that's what happened to us. i wish it lasted. this is tina freeman horne.
she was a cheerleader at murrah high school in my time. [laughter] and became a dentist and now lives in the houston, mississippi, but this book wouldn't have happened but for tina's hustle and kicking me in the rear end every time she needed to. this is teen from a. tina. >> morning, and thank y'all for having us here. i'd like to thank university press for publishing our book and the people that put on the mississippi book festival. this is a lot of fun. the first time i've been here. our book, to set the stage, i was born in 1955 which is where most of the participants were born in that year. and mississippi was different back then. we didn't have all the electronics that we have today, we spent a lot of time playing outside, and our lives were built around the neighborhood schools. we had power elementary in jackson, bailey junior high
school was right up the hill x then there was murrah are high school. and if you wanted to enroll in college, it was just right around the corner, and then there was a medical center right across the street. so our lives in the white area where we grew up were safe, and our education was pretty good. most of us were just rolling along, happy and ready to go to murrah. that was our dream, to go to murrah high school and be a cheerleader or a murrah miss. murrah high school had a great football team back in the day, and i don't know how they do now, but they were always the big eight champions. and the quest for excellence was something that was instilled in us in elementary school through junior high school and on up. we thought, god, i want to be good. i want to win. i want to be a national merit scholar like all those other more or rah miss -- murrah
mustangs. but then in our ninth grade year, just unexpectedly to most of the general public that didn't understand all the historical backgrounds that were going on within the legislature in our state, they changed the schools. and where we used to walk to school, we were supposed to then bus. but actually, mamas had to take us all the way across town to an area hay didn't know anything about -- they didn't know anything about. and this not only, this was the same for many of the white kids and many of the black kids at that time. we were all confused, you know? in the black neighborhood, many of the participants were wanting to go to brinkley which was at that time a very good athletic school and had wonderful teachers, and so they were excited about that. so we were forced as a social experiment to integrate. and we did. and at first the schools we were
sent to, i mean, we were all confused. we didn't know what was going on. we weren't happy. some of us got pushed around, hit, things happened, and you can read all about this in the book. but we have 63 participants that give a different story, and that's the beauty of it. everybody's got a different idea and brought home different takes from it. so it's set up on a timeline. we talk about being a child in mississippi and what we experienced, remembering the black and white water fountains. y'all remember that? and then just the segregation that existed at the time. and then we go through elementary school and up to junior high school and our experiences, and then we start talking about the chapters on where the radical desegregation actually happened. and my part that was -- i went
out and collected some stories, and the interesting thing for a lot of us was the mixing of the cultures. we had different ideas about what a band was supposed to be like. we had testimony about the band director, and he wanted the band to play the good ship lollipop. well, robert gibbs said, no. [laughter] you know, you're going to have to change that. and it took time for him to change. and what was a real stiff band and stiff white culture with dancing a certain way, we learned how to move in a different way. and our black classmates told us we had no soul. so they taught us how to have soul, and we learned a little bit about each other through time. by time we got to murrah high school, we had what we described as a camelot which is where we all got along, and we loved our school, and we all cheered together for a football team who
had lost every athlete on the football team except one. they all left and went to jackson prep. and a coach -- this makes the story so good -- is a coach came in after jack carlyle left and went to jackson prep named bob stevens. and bob stevens walked -- he was a real cool, calm guy. came from central high school. he walked into the gym, and he would pick out a boy and say, son, how would you like to play ball? i can help you out, we're going to have a good team. and we had a winning team that year, it was wonderful. i mean, we built something out of nothing. you know, we took deaf station, and we -- devastation, and we made some beauty out of ashes. it was a great time. and johnny and i recognized that we lived through something wonderful. and through the years our classmate -- our class has been very close. we would have, like, five-year reunions and all, and johnny sent out afternoon -- an e-mail
which started all this. and he was complaining about the state of the jackson schools. i didn't really understand it because i live in north mississippi, and my children go to a public school, they've been since kindergarten, and it was a fully integrated system. and it's a very good public school in houstonen high school, and my kids enjoyed it, and it was very normal. and i just can't understand that jackson had regressed and was not going the way that our little school had gone. in the community to turn out the way that the integration and the desegregation was supposed to turn out. so in his e-mail he said something about the republicans, and i'm republican, and he's a democrat -- [laughter] and so we had an argument. and that's how the book got started. he said, well, you write your story, and i'll write mine, and we'll see what happens. so we did it, and we gathered other stories. alan huffman, who is a classmate
and an author who's written many books that university press has got some on on display outside that you can get, and then clay byrne barksdale who is in charge of the barksdale reading institute at ole miss later, he taught for one year at murrah high school after he graduated from ole miss. and he helped us with the book too. so this is, i wanted to just read a little bit a story from robert kelly. robert kelly was one of our classmates, and i went to visit him in birmingham. he and his brother have kelly construction. they had big -- i was a little intimidated when i saw how big it was and all the machines and all, but he sat down and talked to me for several hours and just shared some really good memories that go all through this book along with a lot of the other classmates. i grew up in shady oaks, and when they integrated the
schools, i was in the ninth grade. i remember that year. we were sent to bailey. and we got to bailey, mike adams' mother dropped us off, and i realized that i did not know one white perp in the world. white person in the world. not one white person. i remember that day, and it was like, wow, which was really weird because in itself it showed how segregated we were as a city and a community. to think, what were we, 14 or 15 years old in ninth grade, to be on earth that long in jackson, mississippi, and did not know one white person. i remember that day, it was very uncomfortable for me because i was very anxious and just didn't know what to expect. i also remember how it was when we went to the first class. all the black kids would sit on this side, and the white kids would sit on that side, and we're all looking at each other because it was just a new experience. now looking back, i'm so glad i
got a chance to experience that. i think it was not only good for our city, but it was good during that time for the entire country. he also said he really liked the lunches at bailey junior high school much better than he liked the lunches in his school. i wanted to read another one. this is by freddie. freddie was a football player at murrah, and he became fast friends with charles irby. i don't know if y'all remember the irba family. he had several children. well, charles was in our class. and freddie sometimes would visit with charles irby, they would ride around town in his family's house in east jr. over -- eastover, the city's most affluent neighborhood. we started sharing with each other, i would go to charles' house, and charles' mom was a great lady. she wasn't outspoken, she didn't come out much. she was just a mother at home, and she did a great job.
charles told me one time that the thing you have to realize in life regardless of what you do or how you do it is you have to deal with certain people at a particular time, and by prolonging it, it was going to make it even longer and harder to deal with. to to get tossed over in the salad. toss it up and make it happen. and that's why their business was so successful in town, because they dealt with so many different people. but interesting stories. y'all get the book. [laughter] >> let me, let me get -- bring michael into this discussion. the other memoir that we have represented here today is written by michael copperman, it's "teacher: two years in the mississippi delta," and it's literally just right off the presses. i think michael saw a copy of it for the first time last night actually. [laughter] but michael currently lives in oregon but from 2002-2004 he worked for teach for america,
and he taught fourth grade in the mississippi delta. after 1970 the mississippi delta was interesting in that almost all the white people left the public schools in the mississippi delta. and literally there was a new dual school system created in the delta of a public school system for blacks and a private school system for whites. although as one black man from the delta remembered, he said that white people had always had private schools in the delta. he said the only difference was that after integration they had to actually pay for them. [laughter] okay. so, michael, you want to tell them about your -- >> yeah. so i'm, my book is called "teacher," and it's about years that i spent teaching in the rural black public schools of the delta. i'm not a historian nor did i grow up in mississippi, and so in part by story, i guess, is about an outsider, thoroughly
outside of the black binary of the delta, coming to a place that, you know, was utterly foreign to me where in some ways i didn't, at first, belong at all. of course, i'd never felt i wronged much in oregon where -- belonged much in oregon where i was born and raised because i'm, you know, part russo-polish jew and part japanese-hawaiian. [laughter] went to public schools where i was often the only asian student os to the only minority or one of a very few. and i went to stanford, and as people do in college, you know, found my calling, i thought, fighting for right, you know, organizing the multiracial issues forum around, you know, advocating on the census to be able to check one more box. and then i, then i ended up joining this organization to called teach for america and marking mississippi and being sent to a place that was really
unlike anything that i had ever known. i haven't written a book that's ideological or that's rhetorical or didactic. it may be political in ramifications, but it's not a political book. it's not a sociological or historical treatise, and it's also not, as i just noted, it's not a story about a white teacher entering a rural or urban ghetto and saving minority children, you know, from the poverty that afflicts them. that wasn't my story at all. it's not purely a story of success, it's mostly a story about children. and their stories and their voices and how they stayed with me, haunted me, changed me and made me into the educator that i have been for the last ten years in oregon where i teach low income first generation students of color at the university of oregon in a sort of modest attempt to retain them. the delta made me into a teacher.
and the book is basically a reflection in many ways. it also considers the public school system and the public school system here and elsewhere. i wanted to say as i come back to mississippi and face a mississippi audience, but i suppose outward-facing since there are those people who watch c-span2 somewhere in the world, that i think that the tendency of most americans outside of mississippi is to want to dismiss what is said about mississippi or about segregation of the public schools as being about backward mississippi. as if this was purely a problem that could be contained within the state of mississippi. my ten years in oregon teaching students who remind me of children i taught have shown me that this is not, in fact, a mississippi problem. things are starker here. the history, perhaps, is more immediate. but socioeconomic inequality and educational inequality is an issue we see all across the cup. it is not a mississippi problem
at all, and it is a shared problem. it's not something which outsiders from mississippi can dismiss as just being mississippi's issue any more than, i think, for mississippians or the sort of mississippians who come to a panel on schools in jackson, you know, have the right to say, well, that's just the delta, and the delta is backwards. be you're american, i think -- if you're american, i think you are a part of that history. i thought i was outside of the history and realized i had benefited from privilege of various kinds, not racial privilege, but other ways in which i had had an easy way of things. i went to excellent public schools that provided me excellent opportunities. i had the opportunity to go to stanford. and i had always been able to take advantage of the things around me. i had enrichment. children that i encountered in the delta, they had something really different than that. and since i heard tina reading a little bit, i wasn't going to
read anything, but then i thought, well, i could do more with a few minutes than probably i could do trying to talk at you about a book. this is from near the end of the book which is mostly about children and their stories. this is all there is. the world tells delta kids. these fences to keep you in or out, these sippedder bloc -- cinder bloc walls. this queue of tin roof shacks, these skin-scorched flats and this ragged edge of cot upon thefield that you can't claim or sow or reap, you can't. i came and declared, you can, saying it again and again hoping each time it would sound less hollow. people speak of how idealism ought to be tempered by experience, growing older, becoming wiser. they're wrong. you can't restore faith. i wouldn't have been teaching a decade now at the university of oregon if it weren't for those two years of delta, would long after have are that traded in a
day -- i see fourth graders grown up that i taught, and a part of me imagines somehow i'm speaking directly for the children, directly to the children for whom i wanted so much. yet back in promise, the children i taught walked the dusty streets headed nowhere, and i don't have it in me to help them. to fail again to save a child who doesn't have a fighting chance. trying to get back to the man i was and imagine choices. if i could trade my comfortable life for theirs, if i could free them from poverty, would i? it's easy to say of course when there are guarantees. instead, i dream of carrying children to safety from fires, of weaving the way through a dark wood with a line of children following grudgingly blinded until we arrive at a city with clean, bright streets and they're with me despite all our doubts. we've arrived. but when i wake, the relief is bitterly lost.
i'm alone in a high-rise apartment, and those children are worlds away hearing the bark of a stray dog, the whistle of a train, a train bound elsewhere. and if i close my eyes, i can still hear their voices. hey, now, how you going to do me like that? that don't count as no strike. what the capital of oregon is, mr. copperman? everybody live in a tree out there, right? laugh how come you got to always talk so careful, mr. c.? like hello, my children. today is a day when we speak using all the words in our dictionary. mr. copperman, how come you not black and you not white, but you say you like nos? don't you got some asian person music so you ain't stealing folks' music? but, mr. copperman, how you know you don't like a kool-aid pickle if you ain't had none? mr. copperman, this is a poem i
wrote for you. roses are red, violates is -- violets is blue, you making a face like you stepped in poo. [laughter] here's a real poem. roses is dead and violets dead too 'cuz i on fire and this just burned you. that ain't no poem. you can't use no swear words in no poem. mr. copperman, is that a poem? mr. copperman, mr. copperman, mr. copperman. and they're with me again, clamoring to be heard, hair shaped close on the boys and braided into tight braids on the girls, the uniformed polos starched, sitting straight and listening, slouching with arms crossed or buried in a bean bag chair. or speaking while doing the heel toe two-step at a sock hop beneath the strobing lights, arms and hands waving, demanding my attention and calling out joking, being absurd and serious and smart and so full of joy and anger and outrage and curiosity. such kids. and so it is that the further i
am from the delta, the clearer i hear them. perhaps nearness in distance is how the past clarifies as it resides for reach. too perfect to bear. those kids are, after all, no longer children but full-grown men and women who likely have jobs, children of their own, aspirations and adult burdens. they're no longer my charge, but they're with me as they were, their faces bright and voices loud. and because what happened then is inalterable, it's possible to love them purely as they were without the need to have them behave or achieve. perhaps that's why i've begun to forgive myself for having failed them buzz might be i didn't fail -- because maybe i didn't want to fail them. while i could with ugly in all my frustration and all the arrogance be naivete of youth, i was not such a bad teacher. not as good as they deserved, but as good of a teacher you should the circumstances as i could manage. there was nothing wrong with me
or wrong with them, but there was so much trauma and loss that for a decade i couldn't understand why i kept gazing back, mulling over what was gone. i left a part of my heart in the delta that. since i left, i've always held back a little. i'm willing to risk everything again back when i didn't know you couldn't change the world through force of will. a part of me will always remain with those kids, to see their upturned, eager faces and have time for just one more chapter if allowed, one more times table and one more lesson, one more chance to be with them and so be whole again. to be simply and only teacher. [applause] and that's what my book is about. [laughter] >> okay. well, i think we'll go ahead and open it up to questions from the floor. there is a mic here in the, at
the podium here in the middle of the room, so if you would come there to offer your questions. >> michael, i don't mean to exclude you from this question. your chance of answering it would be as good as mine would be. and i grew up here. so, john and tina, during i guess about 25 years ago there was another influx of caucasians into the public school system mainly in elementary school and neighborhood schools. and so my question to you is why do you then think there was then another outflux of caucasians from those schools? >> well, thanks, george. because my children were that age. there was a serious effort made by white parents who had grown up and gone to murrah high school and so forth starting an organization called the parents
for public schools that has now -- that is now a nationwide organization with chapters all across the nation. and it's worked in most every place except jackson, mississippi. now, i don't know what it is about jackson. i've got my own theories, but there's a lot wrong with what has happened here that we didn't have from the very beginning to this day almost any leadership on this issue. we had william winter, our great governor and our great hope, i think. i'm a big fan of governor winter's. his girls went to school with us. but beyond that we've had very, very little leadership. and there is something about the way the white community responded to serious desegregation efforts in the
early 1970s, and that was to move to the northeast as fast as our cars could carries. as soon as we -- carry us. as soon as we got to the northeast and filled up all the areas along the colonial country club, we busted over into madison county and rankin county and created those great neighborhoods and, frankly, those great public schools. madison central high school is a great public school. northwest rankin high school is a great public school. all full of children that should have gone to murrah high school. but it was the way that the white community responded where we never had any white leadership to come before us and say, slow down, let's get together and think about this seriously. and i'm, i think that's as good a reason as anything else, george. >> i'm going to jump in here. i know i'm not part of the panel, but i've lived in jackson
for eight years, and my daughter was part of the jackson to public school system, and i was proud to have her at a fantastic performing arts magnet school as part of jps. this fourth and fifth grade, there were five white students in the entire school, and my mom asked me one day, she said are any of those families from mississippi who have their kids there? and all of us or were from somewhere else who had those students. and that experience was both one of the hardest things, but also the very best things about being here. and i feel it changed my fourth grader, now fifth grader in a new part of the country. race means something so different. it means something and nothing for her, which i think is the best thing that could have happened. so i hope that we keep having these conversations, because it has to change. >> amen.
>> my question is for mr. copperman. i actually read the precursor to your book in the oxford american, your article, and at the time i read it, i had just started teaching in a title i school, a high school in mississippi. and i was from the the outside, i was from charlotte, north carolina, area. so it really resonated with me, your article. so my question is, because i'm still at that same school nine years, ten years later, why did you, why did you leave and what words would you have to those of us who are still, you know, under the weight of that feeling of, you know, trying to move these children? >> i put it in the book, but i -- a part of me still hasn't forgiven myself for leaving any more than i think the kids i taught understood why i would leave. at time, i thought i was leaving about a girl, so that's my easy answer.
[laughter] but mississippi and especially the public schools in mississippi, they need educators like you. maybe my place wasn't in mississippi, it was a difficult place to be me, as i discuss in the book. but the little girl that that oxford be american piece centers around that's at the center of the memoir, right, who was a genius and who was out of the public school system by the age of 9, she deserved better. she deserved more opportunity. she deserved teachers who were more able than i was or who would become more able than i was then. i'm sure, as you know, two years that is, you barely know what you're doing. nine years? maybe. i still learn something in the classroom every day because i'm really doing something closer or to teaching public school in many ways with the children i teach than i am acting like a college teacher or most college teachers. but what would i say? i would say, i would say you're stronger than me, and i hope
that everybody appreciates your service. mississippi needs people like you. [applause] >> hi. i actually had the privilege of working for a ram very similar to teach for -- a program very similar to teach for america in little rock, arkansas, really great. and i found that while i was from the south and so kind of, sort of had an idea what southern schools were like, a lot of people who came from other places had a lot of assumptions about those schools, obviously. how have y'all seen those assumptions affect the way that we educate and the way that we deal with our schools? >> are you refer aring, i'm not sure if this question is for me, are you referring to teachers? >> teachers -- [inaudible] y'all really.
>> i think, let's see. i think that, i think that there are a lot of assumptions that young, idealistic people have when they have no understanding not just here many mississippi, but -- here in mississippi, but what our public schools are like all across the country in low income areas which are often minority area ares, right? because of history -- areas, right? because of history. i was immensely naive, and i think that i did harm at times in imagining that i understood what was happening or what i needed to do or why children were misbehaving or believing somehow it was about me which is, i think, a tendency of any young person who is 22, but especially someone who comes and does a service teaching program that has a year or two-year stint. and i think, i think that the answer is that people coming in need to be more humble and to do better.