Skip to main content

tv   Josh Levin The Queen  CSPAN  August 12, 2019 10:26pm-11:16pm EDT

10:26 pm
apple takes a look at the impeachment of andrew johnson. and then puts a prize-winning historian david tells the story of early pioneers. watch all of that and more tomorrow night starting at eight eastern on c-span2. >> there is morbid tv coming up next with josh levine telling the story of linda taylor, a criminal whose exploits made the welfare we in the united states. an african-american cyclist in the late 19th century who competed professionally and won the world cycling championship in 1899. [inaudible conversations]
10:27 pm
[inaudible conversations] >> greetings. can you hear me? hi i'm elizabeth taylor, delighted to be here. doctor of the festival i'm really happy to be here. welcome, it's the 35th annual fest. it is presented by the planning board and i want to give t a special thank you to all of our sponsors for their support this year. it is been an amazing year, people stepped up especially when trust other programming sponsor, robert mccormick foundation, the chicago tribune, the real estate and c-span booktv today's program will be
10:28 pm
broadcast live on c-span2 booktv if there is time at the end of the q&a we encourage you to use au microphone over there in the center so the whole viewing audience will be able to hear your questions. we also, asal a reminder represd that you silenced cell phones if you have not remembered and turn off the camera flashes. i am so thrilled to be here. this is an honor. josh levine in this conversation. so the queen, the forgotten life in american myth reveals the real story of the woman who became a national symbol of welfare abroad. he has covered a remarkable to
10:29 pm
counterintuitive story that so s twisted and complex that it's amazing that he figured it out. in this has so many history historians for so long. the queen that reads like a detective story, it could be read as a biography of linda taylor, that is how she was known for much of her life and when she was making headlines particular. josh places together the story of her life, he finds out that with her financial flaws she perpetrated details into significance of her other crimes. this woman known as the welfare queen grew up in the jim crow south helene upbringing, well
10:30 pm
documented. she landed in chicago and became the source of the welfare queen myth. it was so manipulated by journalists and politicians import group rates today and shows how stereotypes take hold and shape the american imagination. so the queens biography is really important social history. it's a tale of the power or phrase, of the single narrative to take shape and have an important -- in this case destructive influence in thent world. josh is a director of slate and for five years -- i think that's
10:31 pm
probably a minimum, i think he's probably understating it. the research is incredible in this book, the reporting is extraordinary. we have archives nobody has looked at, he is interviewed people that haveerv been ignore, it is just remarkable. it is an honor to speak with him about it. after the program, i hope you will go to the independent bookstore in the back and josh will sign a copy. thank you. [applause] i really like the book if you did not guess. >> thank you so much for the kind introduction. that was great. keep going. [laughter] >> first i'm going to get you to work in that work, it is
10:32 pm
beautifully designed book by little brown, and edited by the wonderful vanessa but would you please read the cover information. >> there is a block of text at the top of thete book and what t says is, in the 1970s linda taylor became a for wearing, cadillac driving symbol of the undeserving poor. but the original welfare queen was demonized for the least of her crimes, she was a con artist, kidnapper maybe even a murder, this would be ever before sold story of a character with a vicious stereotype. >> extraordinary. so, in 1976 campaign speech,
10:33 pm
reagan -- 30 addresses, 15 phone numbers, but who was she, first of all let's set the stage, can you bring us back to the 70s and reagan's campaign. >> in 1976 reagan is running for president for the first time, he had done aru few terms opener of california but his candidacy was not taking all the circe, gerald ford was income net and reagan's own party. so this was very underdog challenge. and reagan was in new hampshire and trying to go from being an unserious candidate to somebody who is seen as a legitimate child are pretty he's going from small towns toan small towns in
10:34 pm
new hampshire. he hits upon the antidote that becomes this crowd favorite where people really respond. in the story he tells the quote "woman in chicago he does not say her name, he does not say the phrase welfare queen but he does say she is 30 has 15 phone numbers and get to a dollar amount at the end of the story and says if you added upt her cash for income annually was $150,000 in welfare and social security. and i was able to find a recording of him saying that at a luncheon in north carolina actually and when he says that the crowd gasped so loudly that .it's reverberating in the room and reagan is the amazing political performer and it's all about the performance. and he gets feedback like i'm
10:35 pm
going to keep telling this. he tells it over and over again and he is ability to make ita sound like an outraged every time he tells it. >> he really captain to this outrage and this idea that somebody was getting something for nothing. and -- i did not realize the origin of this story which became the defining moment that originated in chicago. >> it did. she first becomes a public figure in september 1974 and becomes a public figure thanks to the shop congo tribune which writes about her in the post prizewinner. in which he identifies her as a woman was getting welfare checks
10:36 pm
under multiple different names despite the fact she drove a thdillac and about to relieve for hawaiian vacation. all these signifiers that this is not a person deserving of government and taxpayer money. the first story was, part of a series that she had been writing about the department of public aid and this is yet another example of the department of public aid, it was about a bureaucracy that was not minding the doors and did not care even though there was -- this woman driving a cadillac and getting up her money. but very quickly the story changes from one about institutional problems to about this woman in the tribune writes about linda taylor and dozens upon dozens of times. in a couple of weeks, the term welfare queen appears in the headline in reference to her. >> was ever an attempt you could
10:37 pm
find to really get anything of the real story? >> the tribune as far as i can tell never got an interview with her. speak to them, the black newspaper in chicago and her version of events was that she was a victim, she is being persecuted by the police and by prosecutors and she had not done the things she was accused of doing. whereas in the tribune there sources were those beliefs and prosecutors and government officials who called her the biggest welfare cheats of all times and they basically would level accusation after accusation about her and it was not -- the tribune did not get
10:38 pm
at the truth value of any of the nystuff, for them it was more in the realm that this is what these people say she did and it was notches welfare fraud, through accusations about kidnapping, homicide and they kept piling and piling on. >> she was a victim but she also was demised when she was really complex and you mentioned the historian checked, what does african work in media, did they catch on to this customer. >> yeah, jet would cover her and other outlets but that's how i first got on the story. my friend of mine sent me a link to the story that had the broad
10:39 pm
outline of the story and the fact that she was a whopper keep queen, the dollar figure and before i saw lester, i had known that the term welfare queen had been associated directly with this individual and that was fascinating to me and that was the route to my obsession with the story. the story in the bok press. the story which is really important iin think. you went back and looked through her childhood -- can you talk about that? how her childhood shaped her? >> sure. so she didsh? grow up in the so, she was born in a town that i never heard of and has a fantastic name of gold dust, tennessee which is where you want your life to start you would think. she was born in 1926, and she
10:40 pm
grew up in a white family that had originally been from alabama and they had been from a part of alabama, in the north of the state were white separatism was essentially official policy where black people were not allowed to be in this part of the state. so taylor, what i came to understand and believe based on my reporting that she had awh black father and this was a secret shame and her family and affected her life and all these differentha ways. bee was essentially denied an education because of it, certain members ofer her family were not associate with her at all, one of her cousins told me about a family gathering that she remembers attending, this would've been in the 1930s
10:41 pm
probably where she was sitting outside the gathering in a car by herself and nobody talks to her and she does not talk to anyone. so she's in a situation where the people that are supposed to love her and care foror her andr protect her, reject her. and she becomes a vagabond and lives is itinerant youth. she moves west when she's very young and ends up in california. her story is marked by race an d all these different ways. i was able to find her record of her marriage when she was in california and she married a white man and her race was marked as hawaiian which is kind of odd but looking into it more, california had a band at that time.
10:42 pm
if she had been listed as mixed-race or black, then her marriage would'vema been illegal and it was legal for hawaiian person to marry a white person. so these are the sorts of tribulations that a legal regime and all these different states that she had to deal with. >> did she perceive herself as african-american, or did -- do you have any sense of how she regarded herself? >> is shifted over time which is interesting to me, in the 1970s she professed that she was black and she was certainly proceed that way by the press and by folks -- with the reagan rally welfare have been racialized that the welfare recipient and the majority of
10:43 pm
recipients were not black in the public imagination when you're talking about a black woman. but there was times in her life when she represented herself as white and then when she first began -- one of the articles her noted her ability to shift her race was part of her exception and meet her devious and she could change her race by changing her wig that she could be black and white and latino. the was not treated with complexity or sensitivity. in the real story of her is extraordinarily complicated but he the 70s it was like this is a part of her criminal background -- >> how did she get to, chicago? why did she and appear?
10:44 pm
>> after she moves west she ends up back in the south around arkansas, missouri,h tennesseey the mississippi river. her stepfather had been a labor on icon plantation, wage labor and that so she grew up and she ends up back in the environment and there's a story in the book enat i found unbelievably fascinating about how she becomes acquainted with the black family in arkansas in the late 1950s. she helps this family get out over really terrible situation where they were sharecropping and constantlyth in debt and abused the plantation owner. by the force of her will and personality manages to extricate the family from the situation and they come up north together, they go to peoria, illinois and she's there for a couple of
10:45 pm
years and then was on to chicago from there after having are falling out with that family. this is very epic journey for her to get to chicago and chicago is a place -- she is here for about 15 years in the place where she establishes of the whole and was reagan calling her a woman in chicago in the place where she's fixed in time and memory. >> this is such a complex story and is not been documented before. your ability to create a timeline -- how did you work on this. can you illuminate your sources, how you documented it, and how it seamlessly written in those
10:46 pm
moments on the timeline. >> there is a timeline so if you ever confused look to the back. keep that bookmark. but it was a really difficult task to construct where she came from, where she ended up in how her life ended because she lived under so many different names and so many different places, that was a lot of theto work putting this book together and simply finding where she went. after she gets convicted of welfare fraud in illinois, she essentially disappears there is nothing ever written about her until i startedyo researching ts book and she lived for another 25 years after that. so i defined where she ended up. and so there was a combination
10:47 pm
of speaking to family members, speaking to people who knew her in these places of her life and record request to almost a filling every agency in the country. every place she lived all the counties, states, federal agencies that interacted with her, getting an enormous pile of paper and a long time to switch through it and put it in an order. >> it's complicated that she went by so many different names right customer that must've bee- >> 's club located for multiple reasons because of that. to give people insight and how thisis goes, in order to get paperwork on somebody from the fbi, they need to have proof of death, they are not going to give you credit about a living person. when i was able to confirm that she died i found she died under the name of constant void.
10:48 pm
no paper is under that name. that is the name she came up with afterer her criminal explos have basically beenn done. banana birther certificate under a different name and then i had to construct a rickety chain of documents, she's constance wake phil here and the ups as constant floy engine constance d and some people are like no we don't believe you. in a lot of cases and was able to get the information i needed. >> you did a lot of interviewing for this book. do you find many faithful reliable sources.
10:49 pm
>> yeah, people tended to have very short-term relationships with her and she was not someone who talked about her past. so the folks that i would interview would often have a very narrow window in which they could tell me about. yeah i knew linda springer in 1986 for six months and then she did not pay her mortgage and she left. i don't know where she came from and i don't know where she went. people were generally reliable it's just they were reliable about a narrow set of information and that's how she wanted it. she was able to commit a lot of crimes and scam people and people because she created the new personas wherever she went.
10:50 pm
she had an ability, a very strong emotional intelligence where she could be the person of whoever in front of her wanted her to be. and to get in front of people's lives and destroy everything and leave. andd so, that was a very consistent pattern and people -- because this is typically for mee people i spoke to a memorable experience it was imprinted so people could describe scenes and events that happened in cs a way that was y an vocative. >> so there's all these frauds but you point out in the book there was more significant crimes with actual people.
10:51 pm
is that in your introduction? you want to talk about the introduction. >> sure. in the authors note for the book, ith wanted -- it's similar to what i was setting out to do with the text on the cover. it's a big challenge for me in telling the story is that, in explaining how the stereotype came to be of the welfare queen, i did not want to strengthen the stereotype or a permit -- this is somebody who did can fit well for fraud and drove a cadillac and all that is true. but i wanted to be careful in how i presented that as a singular story and on represented anything larger than herself. so, in the introduction until the story of purchaser park who is a woman who in 1975, this is
10:52 pm
one year after taylor had been named the welfare queen by the chicago tribune, taylor moves in for the woman who she met at church a friend of hers, and the exchange that they had is that taylor would move in and take care (because patricia was sick but she was getting sicker and sicker and she eventually died. she died in june of 1975 and found of an overdose. and they were at the time, taylor was a sub fact in the stuff. and being investigated as a. homicide. ultimately the prosecutor decided he did not have enough evidence to charge taylor with the killing and i should also add before her death she signed over her estate to linda taylor.
10:53 pm
this is extremely suspicious and the prosecutor recognize that but he did not have enough evidence. so i interviewed her ex-husband who told me that he was 100% sure that linda taylor killed his wife and also extremely sure that i had not h been investiga or treated fiercely since his wife was a black woman and she felt like a race meant as a victim she was not seen as important. this is at the same time when taylor's welfare was being treated as a crime of's the century and this woman in chicago and seen as not really a tragedy but more of curiosity, oh the welfare queen may be killed someone. it's not seeing something that should attach itself to her story. this book is about reagan entering his name and reagan
10:54 pm
does not talk about her being suspected of reagan's critics and saying that reagan got it wrong they don't mention that she could bring committed a homicide. that was raised from her story. >> so critics got it wrong, what did they say that she did. >> there is a lot of backtracking done during reagan campaign, there is's a story in the washington star that got vindicated to the new york times and got a lot of play in the tone of the story is, reagan says a bunch of stuff in his speeches let's see if it's true. there is a whole succession of antidotes that contract and for the taylor one the things the contract are the dollar amounts. reagan says she's the $150,000
10:55 pm
and the reporter says actually she's been prosecuted for stealing $8000. so that is the thing that reagan got wrong, he exaggerated the extent of her welfare fraud. he did exaggerated. the best estimate i was able to find was in the relevant agencies in illinois believed she still $40000 over a period of multiple years. so it was not inaccurate to say that reagan was exaggerating but certainly incomplete to make the point that this is the only thing that he is gotten wrong about linda taylor and she has said that she stole more than checks was still. >> can you talk about the kidnapping she was a serial
10:56 pm
kidnapper i believe, she was also a serial kidnapping complaint it. part of her fbi file, i've a packet of documents where the fbi would take, she was going under a different name at the time that they were saying she's making another complaint that one of her children got kidnapped and then she says her daughter got taken by somebody left a ransom note. she was constantly high kidnapping on the brain. and then in 1967 she gets a arrested by the chicago police and they tell that story in the book that she was taking care of a young girl on behalf of an acquaintance and she moved in did not tell this woman where she had taken the child and taylor son who rescued the girl and brought a her back to her
10:57 pm
mother. but she was never charged, there is another kidnapping that i write about in the book that she was knocked charged with. then an extreme famous kidnapping in chicago in 1964 were a baby gets taken a day old baby gets taken from his mother's arms in the hospital by woman dressed as a nurse who is never seen again and the baby is never seen again and in the tribune, multiple times in the 70s reports that they reopen the case because taylor is seen as a leading suspect. ale man the she lived with in te 60s attest that she had taken the baby, dressed as a nurse that day, there's all these other circumstantial evidence connecting her to it. but unsolved she was never charged in that case either.
10:58 pm
>> in the baby question wreck. >> never found. >> she was a victimizer and a victim. when you are working on this book were you wrestling with this? >> the qu├ębec city of the story is what drew me too it. the complexity in terms of the recording and research challenge was at the time a fun challenge. but also the more complexity and we are talking about the reagan backtracking and i think one reason the complexity of the story did not come out at the time there is not particularly ideologically continual to anyone to tell the full story of
10:59 pm
her because reagan wants to broadcast that she's an extraordinary welfare sheet because it shows the wealth welfare system is broken and he's a person to identify and also to fix it in reagan's critics are more concerned making reagan back then telling a fuller story about the person and again, they be she's not much of a welfare cheat but she's also been accused of kidnapping and murder. the thing i think that is important for me to get across in the story, the fact that the welfare queen stereotype and linda taylor's name and story are indicative of the power of
11:00 pm
the distorted and the power of the story and the fact all these vulnerable people, in many ways the poor people, poor black women they don't have a platform that ronald reagan has, there's the chicago tribune and the ease in which her story was completed with the story of the people who are innocent and law-abiding was really striking to me and horrifying in a lot of ways i wanted to show her story in contrast with that. >> it's fascinating they become thisn and persisted in the culture and later you have much
11:01 pm
welfare. and her story expands for decades and influence. into the hole welfare the form debate. and so reagan talks about her when he loses and 76 and runs successfully in 1980s until the story during the campaign and he tells a story when he's tried to pass his first budget he tells the linda taylor story to newspaper editors, congressional black caucus which isne the theme and i find it had to imagine butpe happy. he tells the story over and over again and he succeeds in passing major cuts to families of dependent children andil that helps them the case and then when bill clinton ran for president in 1992, welfare
11:02 pm
across pretty much the demographic is unpopular because of the fact that it was hammer consistently so much for decades that folks were getting governments benefits that their cheaters so when he says the phrase and welfare as we know it, according to the folks on the campaign and the most popular thing he says on the trail and it's a lack of specific that is the key. it allows everyone to create their own idea of what that means and i am not sure if clayton actually intended to do anything. once he was elected they decided to focus on healthcare which does not go super well. but then will republicans take
11:03 pm
over congress in 1994 he and his pals say let's end welfare as we know it, great idea. the knees boxing and forced to do something. it becomes a bipartisan push and they do end welfare as been known to that point. it's signed by joe biden and john kerry and turns welfare public aid from something that was -- essentially if you're poor that you qualify to temporary assistance for a family and it's a limited pool of money so't it does not necessarily get it even if you would've qualified before. >> so i'm sure you all have questions. please step up to the microphone
11:04 pm
inop the back and if you do -- will keep talking don't worry. so she went to prison for welfare fraud and she went to florida, and she had been strained from her family and the trajectory of her life. but then h her family brings her back. can you talk about that. this is the end of her life. >> her son johnny was someone i spoke with for the book. >> -- how did you find him? >> it's a long story. how i talked in her family was in one of the court files for her welfare case there was a note in the case that was not
11:05 pm
necessarily attached to anything that was written out in script linda springer alive in florida and i had annoyed you, i heard that name but ifo was not in the news coverage and i did not know she had gone to florida. armed with that name and location i was able to find a whole string of documents and florida, mortgages and civil claims where shem had stolen frm people in the trail that she left behind and i was able through the series of names and locations to track down to find her family. and her son had lived in chicago for long period of time and he felt like she had basically ruined his life by virtue of
11:06 pm
being born into this family, he had been dragged around the country, he had been victimized by her, he had been abandoned by her often on and he wished he had been -- >> she was not a mother. and yet at the end of her life and the '90s and she ended up being institutionalized by the state of florida and he decided to take her out of the institution and bring her back to illinois because she was his mother and he did not want to leave her like he had been left so many times. it's another way in which this is a complicated story for him and everyone who knew her.
11:07 pm
>> i really bring her to life and the time to life so well. we'll go to questions. >> i know you spent a good amount of time working on this book and you just explain that you were able to interview and research.. i'm curious as to how much the travel with your busy schedule and working -- how much time did it really take for you to hit the road being able to find the information, a lot of internet searching? an interview by phone or did you have to show up face-to-face interviews. >> i spent a pretty good amount of time on the road and given all the places that she lived, i went to florida, alabama, arkansas, tennessee, illinois,
11:08 pm
riarizona, california, not for months at a time at each of these places but i wanted to be able to go and see what she saw and in some cases talk to the people that she had talked to as far as a challenge of getting sources to talk to me, i wrote a lot of letters to a successful strategy in some cases i would go and meet people in person either to do and in person interview because you can connect better but sometimes i felt as a reporter people is more inclined to talk to you if you take the time and trouble to show up, people can react one of two ways, sometimes not excited to see you but all respect the time to come and visit them. i would do that as well. >> hi, love the podcast is
11:09 pm
supplement the book. thank you for that. with this wave of 80s new wonder woman movie, were seen as this come up, would you like to see the queen have any other media, documentary series or anything else? >> sure, bring it on. [laughter] there is something cinematic about the story, i think it's challenging to tell it because it does spent a huge amount of time and she is so many different identities and so many chapters of her life i feel like that's beyond my expertise to tell anyone how to do it. one thing i will say as far as a documentary for instance. for me, i found now is the time to tell the story because a lot
11:10 pm
of action takes place in 1970s and you fast-forward 40 or 45 years. a lot of folks are not around anymore. a bunch of people that i spoke to in the beginning of my reporting has since passed away and i was in some ways disappointed that i had not found the story sooner because thereer is people i would've lid to talk to especially about the early part of her life, she was born in 1926. i was glad there was folks i was able to talk to in the longer you wait the fewer people around who knew her. >> you have time for one more question. you have to fight to the microphone. >> i know some of the difficulties with the research that there is not ale whole ligt
11:11 pm
of personal dialogue of hers. i forget the exact context but i think in chicago and how you feel your holding up and she said pretty well as a blackli woman. >> she was asked out of court. how she was feeling and she said compared to some of you white people i feel pretty damn good to be black. >> what do you think she meant by that and you think she had at the end of her life a sense of guilt how she felt about her laole jubilation. >> as far as the quote goes, i think she felt persecuted by white people at various points in her life and she felt she was persecuted because of her race
11:12 pm
in her defense attorney told me that she also had a need to be defiant and she did not want to admit guilt or weakness so part of that was her wanting to throw accusations back at those accusing her and that goes to second question as well. she never admitted guilt to anything that she ever did. it was always, she's been wrongfully accused or people that were accusing her were found guilty with some things. it is certainly useful for me too know that her personality and that's how she saw the world but i was never going to be able to look to her to get an accurate account or an account in which she would own up to
11:13 pm
guilt or complicity or anything. >> we are out of time. please go buy a book. read it. it is a wonderful book. one way linda taylor was very lucky that she found you to write about her. and it's an extraordinary book and congratulations. >> thank you so much. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> the new c-span online store now has book tv products. go to to check them out, see what is new for book tv and all the cesium products.
11:14 pm
here is a look at her life tuesday coverage on c-span oppressed converts on the senate to take action on gunfire contracts legislation by the house. at 230 eastern, chronic presidential candidate pete buttigieg speaks of thigh was safer. on c-span2, we will hear from the defense undersecretary for research and engineering on what the pentagon is doing in the areas of 5g, missile-defense and other technologies. at 1230 the senate hold a session during august recess window as they do business schedule. at ten eastern officials from microsoft and facebook during the discussion on the campaigns and how to counter them. >> walked book tv for live coverage at the national book
11:15 pm
festival, saturday august 31 starting at tinian eastern our coverage includes author interviews on her book my own words. sharon robinson talks about her book child of the dream, rick atkinson author of the british are coming and thomas malone founding director of the mit center for collective intelligence discusses his book super mines. the national book festival live, saturday august 31 at 10:00 a.m. eastern on book tv on c-span2. >> book tv continues now on c-span2. television for serious readers. >> up next michael kranish rights about a biography the world's best man. and later a look at jonathan hanson's book about the early life of fidel castro. [aus


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on