tv Jeanne Theoharis A More Beautiful and Terrible History CSPAN May 3, 2018 12:43am-2:13am EDT
the author of a more beautiful and terrible history. she argues civil rights history has been misrepresented and misused for political purposes. she sat down for an interview at the historical society. this is 90 minutes. >> let me introduce our amazing speaker this evening with some fear of embarrassing jeremy wright just discovered as a neighbor i needed a big groupie and so it is kind of thrilling to have him here, one of the three founding editors of the intercept and for those of you who've never been there, you must go there to get some of your news. it's an amazing online news service. he is an investigative reporter. [applause]
a correspondent and author of the best-selling book the world ias a battlefield and blackwater rise of the most powerful mercenary army. he has reported from afghanistan, iraq, yemen, nigeria the list goes on and on. he served as a national security correspondent for the nation and democracy now and was twice awarded the prestigious george polk award and is a producer and writer of the award winning film and was nominated for an academy award in his latest book the assassination complex is based on lead a secret documents on the u.s. global drone program. jean harris, another superstar who is with us tonight is the professor of political science at work college and the author
or co-author of seven books and numerous articles on the black poweblackpower movement, the pof race and education, the widely acclaimed biography of the rebellious life of mrs. rosa parks 182014 naacp image award and from the association of black women historians it appeared on "the new york times" bestseller list. her work is in "the new york times," "washington post" and msnbc, the nation and the intercept, boston review, the chronicle of higher education, and her newest book in more beautiful and terrible history of the uses and misuses of civil rights history came out just two weeks ago from beacon press and is the centerpiece of our conversation tonight. just a word to say the speakers
will talk to each other for 40 minutes or so, and then we would take questions from the audience and after that, she is offered to sign copies of her new book which you will find on sale in the shop and with that i want to welcome jean and jeremy took the stage. [applause] i have to say i am very impressed all of you showed up tonight given that there also is an event with michelle alexander tonight in harlem. if you didn't know about that, please don't run out of here. trust me, jeanne is an incredible person and scholar and fighter for her students
cause and i will ask about later on in the discussion and also black panther is now out in almost every friend of mine is a black panther tonight, so nobody spoil it in the q-and-a if you have already seen it. we are here in this moment where we have so many overt racists in positions of extraordinary power. i think of jeff sessions with the attorney generawho isthe ats moment and he of course is known for using the n-word repeatedly to joke they say although i'm not sure when jokes about wanting to join the coup plot clan. more recently he went off of the prepared remarks that the justice department released when he was speaking in front of a
national sheriffs association and he inserted intentionally the idea of the anglo heritage attached to the history of law-enforcement and people say you have to understand this is something historical fact he was referring to. we know what he was doing and it's also historical to talk about three fifths of people but to me it is the same kind of issue. the first question that i have for you is how much changes as a result of the overt racists who don't pretend to spen attend ore trying to cover up but that is how they see this country and large portions versus a sort of softer face of racism where it is uncouth to say certain things out of public that certain people would. >> thank you. and just to echo what was sent,
this audience is extraordinary. [laughter] it is so nice i live in brooklyn and teach in brooklyn and i am so happy to be doing this so thank you for coming out tonight and to the society for having us because it is amazing. i could answer that in two ways. i had a crisis about a year ago about the book right after donald trump was elected because the book is very much taking off the blinders of liberalism and for people who started to open the book, there is a chapter where i grapple with how central plate racpolite racism was to te maintenance of racial injustice
in the united states in both the north end of thnorth and south e have kind of obscured about and focused on that kind of image of connor and in hollywood if we think about that movie to help, but the villain was a woman who was wanting to make a bathroom outside of woroutside for her md listening to her kid committees can give me an often violent images of racism and i think i have a question last year and i was like do we need this book now and is this what i should be spending my time on and i was sort of midway through it but i have a long way to go and it seems to me sometimes i feel a focus on the overt phase that cleanses so much other practices and i felt that way in terms of
helping them charlottesville this year that so many people were like i would never yell and spit and carry tiki torches and build up to dat date to be the protesters as if that is the only way to stand in the way of a kind of movement for justice e and so i guess where i got with this book was the need of that too much of how the evil and injustice has been maintained despite people saying i am not that. how new york maintains a segregated school system is often by saying how boston, la, if you look at the school officials in all these places in the 50s and 60s they say we are not the south, we are not that so it seemed to need to have an honest conversation about where we are and where we need to go. we need to take on sessions and
trump and what is kin with thisf dumbfounding the overt but we also need to be wary that there is a way people then can use that to sort of make themselves feel good or better like we are fightinfine over here even as we opposing rezoning here in new york city or the surveillance of martin luther king was wrong for the surveillance of the sort of muslim students, that might be necessary. so i guess there is a danger in kind of focusing so much on the horrifying that famous flight and the mundane and the bureaucratic. >> this reminds me for the book come out we had a conversation about the research and work that you put into this. i've been reading the book, i
couldn't help but think of knockmac's description of the dixiecrat's who were not pretending to be anything other than who they were and how he would prefer dealing with them as an opponent because at least you know where they stand versus the people that fill you we want you to have the full right to vote. we want there to the desegregation bubedesegregationt mean any of it woul are having a greater motive that part of it may coincide with their own agenda. do you see any parallels to the analysis in the current context with trump and his camp on the one hand and then that kind of mainstream of the democratic party leadership when it comes to how the racist policies are presented but also how they impact people? >> i think your question of urgency and what issue i issuesf
marriage urgency i think the corollary to malcolm x. is the beautiful passage from the birmingham jail where he's saying the greatest threats may not be the clan it may be the moderate of papers order to justice who says i agree with your goals but not the message and i think we have seen and whaseen able tofit around a blar so we have lots of people who say that they are onboard with h the goals but the ideas tha buta work of criticism of the tactics and the disruption that it's too unfocused to focus. there's been a cacophony of criticism and a lot of that criticism is not coming from the trump supporters but again it's coming from a moderators and liberal groups who i think there's also a danger there
because one of the places i start the book is the way the civil rights movement is often invoked in the conversations as thisthe right way to do it so te kind of be like martin luther king or why aren't you like the movement you are too extreme, too disruptive, that crazy moment two years ago which we talked about before where the mayor that land is celebrating martin luther king and they believe in free speech in atlanta but he's explaining the huge police presence at the demonstrations around protests against the police killings and he says doctor king would never take an at its beginning with te ways the movement is used to chastise black wives matter i think often people who profess allegiance to the goals and profess allegiance to the fight
against injustice i think we have to talk about that because there is a way that the invoking of the movement makes people feel like it would be. but dean's people are too reckless or louder, they wear their pants sagging, they are not controlled and then when you look deeper into the movement this is the same kind of criticism being waged not just against the panthers and malcolm x. but people like doctor king. so, i think that there is a need for looking at that and it's hard to know how to do that in the midst of what feels like fire everywhere and it feels like it gets worse and worse so i think it's hard because of the
exceptional is so mesmerizing in this moment and the administration continues to do things that you can't believe they would do it and it gets worse and worse but there is a danger in terms of kind of also not looking at ourselves and the assumptions we make about what struggle looks like and what movements look like. >> talk about the role or the way that various moments in the civil rights movement and figures were covered in the media as one of the most fascinating parts of the narrative. i was recently watching footage of martin luther king when he was on meet the press and i was moved to go back and look at it because they played the clip of him saying we have martin luther king on the show but if you watch the interview it was a
panel of white journalists basically trying to discredit or undermine him or portray him as a crazed extremist. >> i think that this is another one of the aspects of a myth. the media in our imagination of the movement is a slice of it and civil rights leaders like john lewis gave you a lot of credit. they say that it would have been without the media's role in the southern struggle but i think that's kind of blinded us to all the other ways that the media portrayed the movement both in the south and long before 1955 and the ways that the media is covering the struggle an struggn backyard versus topics covering princeton's birmingham by 1963. so one of the things i talk
about in the book and since it seems that we should talk a little about new york tonight and after a brown v. board of education, black activists, fight allies sort of see this as a challenge for new york city but on the other hand they love the decision but don't necessarily think that it applies to them. they love the decision but they say i think that we need a committee to see if there's anything we need to do. so they appoint this committee and to people the kind of associate with the struggle are right here in new york and they are fussing about how this does apply to new york city clark and baker on the committee to try to quiet them down and let him speak what they find that the committee yes, things like school zoning and teacher placement and hiring are infected with the inequality and that these things need to change
in the moment where it takes off and the news is of sesame the story. it plays as a backdrop to the civil rights act that is debated. many of the northern sponsors of the civil rights act realize we need to make sure that provisions they put into the civil rights act, home so there is a loophole they insert to make sure that desegregation shall not be for students to change racially imbalanced schools. in part because of the protest and they are obsessed that the congressman that we tend to see is a story actually put in
a backdoor to protect protect their own schools. you cannot understand that without the role of the media to discredit or delegitimize the black protest or over covering the white protest so these are unfamiliar to us today. >> of course the current secretary of education is a billionaire, heir to the amway corporation owning the orlando magic basketball team and blackwater mercenary company her idea was let's privatize schools and all functions around education but this is all the same family and they were major donors but when
betsy was named education secretary which i still find this laughable to imagine but it was even confirmed by senators even some democrats that she had never stepped foot in a public pool before becoming the education secretary on the other hand has spent much of her public life railing against public schools trying to take public money and redirect to the private sector. the same trend you are talking about this same battle the 15000 white mothers were watching him -- marching for that is the exact same phenomenon today with privatizing school discussions and the school cynically naming charter schools like nelson mandela. is this the same battle or the same core racial and economic issues at play there?
>> there are some key similarities also in the way that one of the big mythologies that has separated the way we think about northern schools from southern schools is the idea of fussing. so somehow it is much more complicated or harder because it wasn't that they were against desegregation but busing and they wanted neighborhood schools so then going back to the media, they take it hook line and sinker and don't say kids are being best already or going to neighborhood schools already. because they immunize the language and receive something similar about the privatization and the way that
that comes out is how often the desire for better schools is used and it will require extra money but then this dangled possibility of equality and to acknowledge it is a use for anything other than making people rich. >> now just trying to move from the present data analysis , i want to start off as deeper conversation giving you an opportunity to tell people things they did not know about the story of martin luther king, what inspired him but also the full spectrum of his
views and not just questions of race but economics, militarism and the connection between the racism and apartheid situation and what the u.s. was abroad i can imagine even those of us that think we know parts of the story every time i listen to you i learn new things and it is valuable to have this scholarship and how often by democrats or republicans i know there is some complexities as i spend time watching martin 13 it was sickening but talk about some of the unknown or lesser told stories.
>> when i think about him here in new york, one of the things that are talking about kicking the seven and 69 the radical gang coming in on the poor people's campaign. but for them to say that one is here and that one is speaking to northern liberals and wine of the apologies doctor king is surprised what could happen? we just signed the civil rights act now they are uprising. if you look at how things than what he is doing in the early 60s he is traveling around and cooking up with movement
and people all over the country including. >> and it isn't just to raise money from birmingham but he is talking about police brutality because he knows in 1962 the secretary is killed by police by other members of the nation which causes a broad and united front movement talking about a pattern of police fertility, these are not unknown
but to take on his popularity plummeted as a result of him unite race class and opposition but that is totally not true or that he gets more but you painted a fairly different picture that a lot of people in particular white liberals may be looking for some meaning to their own identity. but according to your book it was not. explain how he was covered in the new york times and what contributed to the low levels of poverty 21st have been added to the tapestry of popular not to say they didn't
last time or other people of color but majority of americans and the gallup poll only about one quarter of americans think the citizens citizen ride is appropriate in majority think that washington is wrong left we see the new york times old new yorkers so sterling kings popularity by 66 recorders of americans don't approve of his tactics.
retrospectively without grace and considerable guile by the time they realize the dislike was spent he had created a world that was in their own self-interest because in fork they had no choice. >> get out the most difficult writer of verse. [applause] >> and gary young of course born and raised in the u.k. then coming here to do some soft but beyond the fact with
and her husband loses his job than the sum of 40 years waiting for the northern channel and keep fighting and so she is black is fusion and around the country also a very early opponent in the war of vietnam, she is 80s march and and sit on -- insist on my model america. eight days after 911 or then
[applause] i think one of the things that i heard one of the quotations that was supposed to be there was the beginning of the fresh in washington speech where you may know that i have a dream comes at the end but the beginning he talks about how american people write the bad check and are there to collect that as a whole different situation. then dreaming. [laughter] and apparently there was one of the selected to be on the wall that was deemed too controversial. so i think there are all sorts of things that go into this but one of the most important is the national utility that
this election comes to take on in terms of feeling good about ourselves and the way to celebrate american democracy. when they dedicate the rows of parks statue with this celebration to say look how special we are but to say we did this and this is a problem and we are done. that's the difference. and this is the hardest. and to put myself here when i was doing research the research in this book is the kind i have done the past 15
years is the way that i think even if we think we know to remember that this kind of miseducation goes deep. [applause] how i got to the rosa parks research i was doing a piece on public memory i should go find it because now i should put some stuff she actually was then not what is surprising to me but take me a couple more years to decide to do that because it didn't seem that cool.
most of my work was on the north even colleagues that sometimes we think we know. and fl colleagues that i thought i knew everything i needed to know. so i think that humility or the sense there is so much we don't know or what we repeat it is not that or more bands in history. >> so briefly before we do that i find it interesting with the whole discussion over this memo and surveillance and the fact that now one fox news
they are reeling over the surveillance tapes in the united states. [laughter] but they have discovered the one case they could find with the wealthy white men but they make statements like tucker carlson said something like for the first time now americans have evidence that surveillance powers have been used to american citizens. [laughter] and maybe there is a good way before we start the broader discussion, give an overview of the tactics used against various sectors of the civil rights movement.
like martin luther king or the bits that we don't know but we do know a good bit saying they should kill themselves or to blackmail them but the fbi and other entities and the targeting of the civil rights movement. >> i think there are two different aspects that are important to look at the first is the surveillance monitoring targeting developing informants, if they haven't read the burglary of the activists to break in and what they find in one of the things that they find is to develop informants to require agents that develop informants to be in every black student association.
>> but you just gave me an opening so i wonder if you could talk about liberalism and to criminalize people that are more radical in terms of the movement because what i am struck by is to represent who cuts it first. also to have a plan to devise black movements to be respectable and with the panthers so that does have an impact and terms of the work that you have done but also in terms there are still black
going to need you had we get folks to speak out? i think black people fear speaking out but somebody will have that same and appeals had we get that to happen? >> i appreciate your sentiment. i did not go to college and grew up in the unorthodox way and early on in my adult life i came to the conclusion if you are white in this country then you will always spend
your life as a recovering recess some people may disagree with that characterization but even the most woke people are not in touch with the privileges they are given just by the nature of who they are that there is no limit to how far they can go to be an ally or in solidarity to join in the struggle.