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tv   Key Capitol Hill Hearings  CSPAN  November 29, 2013 10:00am-12:01pm EST

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the case that this was true and this is one of the reasons why it took a long time for the supreme court to accept the position he was talking about. .. position he was talking about but the most prominent person using that phrase a lot. >> host: but the original intentions that they should have to obeyed the bill of rights but it took almost 100 years for the supreme court to come around. how was it possible soon after it was adopted the slaughterhouse cases were thnored and refused to apply today in the provisio ban the po finally be vindicated? >> there is a funny story in that there is a trip that he took while he was in congress with a supreme court justice who ended up writing the cases and that there is a story about the
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fact he was talking to him every day about your slip the 14th amendment is supposed to mean. that may not have worked out so well rather than convincing. but i think the supreme court often does not go with what we might consider the correct interpretation of a particular provision. they have their own way of doing things and that is part of the reason. the other thing to say is that support for the kind of things that they know most interested in, fundamental rights fundamentally in the years following the civil war. once you got out about ten years after the end of the war, there was much less public sentiment for doing these things because it was hard and people wanted to move onto othe on to other subjn some way that had an impact on the way the supreme court viewed these questions and it wasn't
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until the 1960s that you saw the second reconstruction red by martin luther king, kind of the vindication of him other things he was trying to do. >> some judges who say they believe in the original understanding such is most commonly robert bork said the tt the supreme court was right not to apply the states because the 14th amendment wasn't supposed to do that. you show that is wrong and that steamy cup . >> yes, if you wanted to say that he was an 80 euros in credit person and so we shouldn't really pay attention to what he had to say no to that nobody would say that about james madison and say he was just one person so why should we care what he had to say about this or that. so there is no doubt as to what his views were that many of the
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subjects with respect to the 14th amendment. so unless you want to say that he was sort of someone who ought not be a paid attention to or whose legal skills were somehow inadequate which is something people who don't like the substance of what he wanted to do that happened would say you cannot reach a conclusion like the one you described by a fair reading of the others. >> as you described, he was maligned for much of history come seems dismissive as fuzzyheaded or insignificant. but you paint quite a different picture. i want you to tell us what kind of person he was in bringing to life this contemporary account published in the 1863 sharpened face into sharp all over as mind and body rather inclined he is nevertheless regard among all hands we want the ablest
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debaters in the house. >> he was a passionate person and a serious person. he was not as far as i can tell someone with a great sense of humor. he was a serious person who wanted to do serious things. he was someone who believed strongly in a quality of african americans. wheone of his best friends was s covert classmate who was african-american and they corresponded for years and that was a very unusual thing in the middle of the 19th century. he was an eloquent man. when the republicans in congress needed to somebody tak to get ud make their case, they asked him. it was more the style in those days and that can be a little frustrating when we read the speeches now. but he was someone who i think was a relentless champion of his views. the type of person where if you
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were in a meeting he was someone that you would respectfully listen to because maybe you didn't like the person so much or you thought that they were really friendly but you knew that they had thought about it deeply into the very strongly about it. having said that, he was a wonderful family man, married and had three children who lived into their adult hood. >> you talk about the tragedies. >> he lost many children to illness in fact too that died during the civil war when it came through the town that he lived in. he was also kind of a pretty popular rock into -- rocket to he liked shakespeare and all of that i think kind of paints a picture of someone who was more
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a politician than abstract thinker. he wasn't a philosopher so much the way that jefferson was. but he liked the rough and tumble and mixing it up on the house floor and one of the things i think my favorite aspects of the book reprinting his bac back-and-forth dialogs h other members of congress, some of them from the south end of some of them got pretty nasty. he certainly gave it as well as he got. >> i was struck by what a high level for the dates were in how precise. it was something to read those. he had an interesting playing ship with general custer, is that right clicks. >> that is true. i understand by the way that after lincoln he's the second most popular of biographies in the united states which i didn't know until recently. he was from a town near bingham
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blank town and he was the person that got them into west point and also the person that was his patron and constantly kept promoting hindering the civil war, telling the secretary you want to look at him he would make a great general. we know after little big horn he did write a letter to his father saying i'm sorry to have heard about this but that's about all we know about what he thought about the end of his career which didn't work out so well. >> that was despite the fact that custer had a fair with one of his daughters. it was a juicy story. [laughter] so, custer kept going to bingham saying i want to get a reference point to west point. bingham as i promised a couple people. i can't do it for you. then he had an affair with the
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daughter of a prominent republican in town and this republican kind of unusually went to his congressman and said right in a letter and get him out of here because i don't want him seeing my daughter so bingham did and the secretary ot the time was jefferson davis so there's a letter from bingham to jefferson davis that he recommends custer. bingham is still fond of custer even though he had this affair, so there was some chemistry there that we don't know about. he liked his winds it's fair to say that he was not a prude. >> he was however if writing a 14th amendment wasn't enough, he was involved in a major constitutional events of his time including the trial of the conspirators of john wilkes booth who assassinated abraham lincoln and you tell the story of how she was criticized for
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his aggressive prosecution of the owner of the boarding house and in the course of this prosecution he advanced extremely expensive views about the authority in wartime are irrelevant including the view of the due process clause doesn't apply in wartime at all and therefore the conspirators could be tried in military tribunals. tell us what about that incredible chapter and his expensive views about the expansion. >> is a member of congress to bring civil war, bingham said in his speech the due process clause is for peace time and in wartime you have what we are entitled to only what due process the government felt like giving to you and he supported and played a role in drafting the legislation that suspended habeas corpus and said the president could detain people without charges indefinitely.
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when the assassins -- went booth killed the president, his co-conspirators were arrested and tried by military court, not by a civil court and he was one of the prosecutors to give the closing argumen arguments in thl and defended the constitutionality against charges that basically these people were citizens, the war was over so they were entitled to a jury trial. he had a variety of arguments that he made against that which to some extent have a reasonable length of the arguments that are made now with respect to the guantánamo detainees and he argued it's still wartime. it would give be wrong to give them a trial when they committed an act of war killing the commander-in-chief and also why should they get more processed than a soldier in the union army
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who was accused of a crime and would only get a military trial. is it even though there were a lot of people including lincoln's attorney general who did think that this was a good situational process to try to conspirators of the military court, bingham was never apologetic about it. he thought basically they got a fair trial and they were all convicted and some of them were executed. but he thought that it was a fair proceeding and he had done his duty by participating. >> i was surprised to read about that. how do you reconcile that executive power with his great devotion to civil liberties in peace time? >> one answer is a distinction between war and peace in that the civil war in particular is one that you might think all necessary steps have to be taken to win the war and that in essence it's even different from
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what we might consider others in american history into their impact on civil liberties. another thing one could say and i don't have any evidence for this but i did wonder as to whether eventually his experience with trial especially athat trialespecially as it bece criticized influenced his thinking that yes we really ought to be providing these sort of guarantees that maybe that was an unfortunate emergency exception and kind of an example of what we shouldn't b should bn the future. i don't have any direct evidence for that but there is some causal connection you might draw. >> how interesting. so in that case if you were a law clerk for justice scalia writing to tell him what john bingham would think about the guantánamo tribunals, what would you say? >> the injuries he would be for
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it because he made the statements very clearly as a member of congress and during the trial and there isn't much doubt. of course the supreme court hasn't really followed what he said in this respect either though you might feel differently about that as compared to some of the other things that he had to say that there was no doubt where he stood and i think to some extent that may be something that is taken into account in the due process cases. >> completely fascinating. other great conflicts that he was involved in include the impeachment of president andrew johnson and that was so tied up with the controversy over the ratification of the 14th amendment and johnson blank reluctance to enforce it that i need to ask about the different stages of this. first of all, tell us about the controversy over the ratification. the southern states were admitted to the union before
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they ratified and you wouldn't have gotten the necessary supermajority of state. what was his plan under which they should be read admitted to the union? >> the great debate is what we ask of the southern states to make them sort of full partners again in the united states? bingham blank view is there to be a 14th amendment that guarantees fundamental rights and the problem was that the law was inadequate and needed to be fixed and the southern states didn't ratified the 14th amendment than they could come back and be states again. in this respect his opponent was thaddeus stevens who demanded that we should want more out of the south including taking property away from the former owners and redistributing it to the free slaves, disenfranchising people who have been involved in the confederacy and the salon.
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so they had this great debate which view would prevail, and he ultimately won that debate although he made a few concessions to be a co- concessions. but he alternately wanted to do was it was just politically impossible in 90 would never get the south to sort of do what we wanted them to do if you took such a heavy-handed approach. i was a controversial argument and one in which sort of didn't quite play out historically that way that he had hoped that you have andrew johnson who was the successor as president against the 14th amendment and who did everything he could to try to block the ratification so that set up the predicate for the impeachment of the president by congress. >> congress passed this act.
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why did they pass it and how is that related to his efforts to thwart the 14th amendment? >> the south was occupied by the union army and congress wanted the south to do certain things to ratified to set up governments, to give the free slaves a right to vote that the president was commander-in-chief so she could tell the commanding officer don't do what congress wants you to do. so how do they solve that problem? the secretary of war at the time who was like the secretary of defense now was a man named edward stanton who was bingham blank longtime friend. they worked together in the same town in ohio and was a supporter of what congress wanted to do. as long as he was there it was hard for the president to get any contrary borders of aid to cause the secretary could say don't pay attention to what the
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president is saying. do what i want and what congress wants. what if the president fired the secretary of the war to congress passed a letter saying you can't fire a cabinet member by which they really meant just him unless the senate approves which they were not going to. this is a law that today would be unconstitutional probably based on subsequent things the supreme court has said before reconstruction. but at the time, congress had the power to sort of incest upon us and johnson eventually did fire stand him because it was the only way that he can sort of get his perspective out there and that's why congressman impeached him. they had an excuse to and teach him finally sedated -- survey data. >> this is between the president
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who doesn't want to enforce the 14th amendment and bingham and the congress to do. he was also afraid of the supreme court might support to the 14th amendment and he had a proposal the supreme court should be wiped out if it refused to support reconstruction. >> it's fair to say that most of the reconstruction framers if you will were worried about what the supreme court would do and other solution to the problem is to prevent the supreme court from saying anything about the constitutionality of what they were doing. this came in a variety of threats for example saying that you need a super majority of the supreme court justices two thirds to declare the constitution. that is something that he talked about and also the fact of just wiping them out. they never made it clear what that meant, but the message --
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probably a good thing. >> and also though it wasn't stated openly that well if they impeach the president they could also start impeaching supreme court justices. so eventually the supreme court found a graceful way to bow out and not decide any of the cases that were brought before them challenging the various acts of congress as unconstitutional. but some people see bingham was a moderate or at least as compared to thaddeus stevens and in some respects this was true but people that call for abolishing the supreme court aren't really what i think you and i would call moderate. it's either a relative term or it's just showing that people have different perspectives on how to solve the problems that came after the civil war. >> he wasn't a fan of the screen court you described of the criticisms of dred scott and his attempt to strip the courts of jurisdiction to review some of
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the decisions challenging lincoln. would he have thought congress or the supreme court for taking the rights of the 14th amendment? >> he believed congress should take the lead. he was a congressman so one might understand that but his initial proposal for the section that we now have simply said congress shall have the power to enforce fundamental rights and the quality and it didn't really say anything about the courts. that was modified because people thought maybe that would give congress too much power or it didn't give the courts the role and he kind of modified it into the language that we see now. but he was also very active in the years following the ratification of the 14th amendment and putting together legislation that would enforce the 14th amendment against the ku klux klan or other folks in the south who work trying to resist the will of the people. now given what the supreme court did to the 14th amendment after he left congress perhaps his
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suspicions about the court were justified and on the other hand you could sa see his face and congress wasn't ultimately justified either because congress at a certain point stopped the vigorous enforcement of the 14th amendment guarante guarantees. >> there is a debate about whether the supreme court is correct to strike down the landmark acts of congress designed to guarantee the quality under the 14th amendment including the voting rights act which implicates the 15th amendment and other laws what would bingham have thought about that? >> i think bingham would have taken a strong position that congress should be given great deference with respect to its enforcement of the 14th and 15th amendments. he didn't write the 15th amendment but he did play a role in the construction of it. i think that also he would have been surprised to have learned an important principle of the
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reconstruction amendment is that the states are all equal because certainly they were not treated equally in the period following the civil war the south was treated differently than the north when it came to ratification of these amendments and therefore they were occupied and kind of an effect given a strong reason to ratified the amendment under the threat that they would stay occupied until they said yes. now bingham wasn't against the states or states rights but i think of i that in the context f racial equality, he had a strong nationalist perspective. >> he had extremely powerful things to say about race and he believed that the essence as you put it was to eliminate any hint of affirming legislation. did he believe the 14th amendment was about protecting african-americans?
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>> yes. although, his vision went quite beyond that in the sense that the fundamental rights that he was talking about what apply to all citizens, white or black in the state or with respect to the national government. when it came to a quality i think what he was principally thinking about was african-american equality because that was the sort of problem that they were dealing with at the time so that was the central purpose. of course he didn't preclude the idea that it could be extended further. he supported the idea of the unwritten constitutional rights and he believed they existed we didn't know what all of them were. certainly he didn't make statements that were hostile to the notion that other groups besides african-americans were groups or categories beyond race could be included in the guarantee of equal protection. >> although he did not believe that the 14th amendment
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protected women when it came to political rights because he didn't think the 14th amendment covered rights and wen when that allegation on the women's quality advocates came to him, himcome he rebuffed their claims. tell us about that. >> the question is what about women and his position was that basically there was no constitutional right for women to vote. if states want to let them vote that was fine but there wasn't a guarantee of that. so he was giving a speech about a quality one day and susan b. anthony was in the audience. she raised her hand. mr. bingham, what about when and? and his answer was that i am not a puppet of logic i am the slave of practical politics. if you think about that for a second that it's a is an intereg political answer because what is he saying? i would like to help you but i can't get enough people to go
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along or was that his way of dodging the question? hard to say. he didn't say much about women's rights in any of the material that i could find so it isn't really clear what position and you probably didn't have a position that was that much different than other people in congress at that point in time. >> but his views shared by many in congress is that the amendment wil only protected cil rights and not political or social rights and he understood that about equal with the guarantees to be less sweeping than interpreted today in other words not prevent the government from discriminating against or in favor of people unless the civil rights was involved what does that say about what he would have thought about affirmative-action? >> that's difficult to say. some of his views were broader than what could be passed so one has to distinguish what he would have thought about it as opposed to what the 14th amendment ended up protecting or saying.
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for example, while he never took a direct position on segregation come if you look at his life it's hard to believe that he would have thought that that was constitutional or would have supported it. with respect to affirmative action, one way of thinking that it is that he was someone who believed in the quality under the law and affirmative-action in that sense is troubling because it is not providing formal equality, it is providing something more like functional equality or equality of opportunity. he didn't vote for things in the immediate aftermath that gave benefits only to the free slaves. but one could say that that was in a limited temporary emergency sort of setting. he never explained why he voted for these things so it's hard to answer the question so that the historian says i can't really
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answer that question definitively. you have to read the book and draw your own conclusion. >> the journalist in me wants you to keep talking on bingham contemporary politics but that raises a difficulty because we have to care about not only would bingham fault but the conventions that ratified the 14th amendment and not just the frame or. these conventions were forced to ratified the amendment at gunpoint and they are told you can't come back into the union unless you ratify. was that a legal and does that constitute the status of the 14th amendment as supreme law of the. >> i don't think so though it is certainly problematic. if you look at other examples of constitutional change in history you will find that there are lots of questionable illegalities involved so if you look too closely, you might be disturbed at what you find.
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he bingham p5 original thought was to say what if three fourths of the northern states ratified and it's part of the constitution. we don't need the south at all but he couldn't get enough people to go along with that said he would to this sort of plan b. if you will, which is at the south up to be given an opportunity to vote yes or no whether to ratified. it isn't a normal election but then again as bingham suggested that these are not normal times. they collapsed and only the army could provide some framework for making decisions. so really what else could you do unless you simply said that while, the south could come in the way they were before the war and that would mean that the war was kind of invasion becaus in l these people would have died and about what has been accomplished? >> when i teach a class about the subject does that undermine the legitimacy of some dingbat a
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overwhelming majority of americans on the victorious side of the civil war believed in? no, i don't think so. >> so the resistance of the southern states to ratify the aspect of the impeachment story which we didn't finish because now you have to tell us after andrew johnson fires them despite the tenure in office, bingham is one of the house managers to the impeachment and he is very strong position to the president cannot refuse to follow an act of congress once the supreme court is not. tell us more about that position into the performance in the impeachment trial. >> if you remember from president clinton's trial some members of the house act as the prosecutors and the senate acts as the jury. it took three days and was kind of a very big event and he made a number of claims.
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the prosecutors sometimes were advocating what things strongly to try to win the case in a way that maybe doesn't quite work otherwise. the president had no right to refuse to obey an act of congress even if he thought it was unconstitutional and wanted to test it in the courts. it was a clearly illegal thing in his answer is that is why we have elections and the problem with that is of course there were not elections going on for example in the south at that point. they were not allowed to be in congress until they ratified the amendment. the supreme court was being threatened with all sorts of terrible things if they were to try to interfere with what congress was doing.
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the position on that probably has some merit with respect to the refusals to enforce the law just because they think that it is unconstitutional and that we might see as going too far at least for some extraordinary circumstances. but bingham was doing his best to try to persuade wavering senators to vote to convict andrew johnson and remove him so that the 14th amendment could be ratified. >> as an edible image. we have the author of the 14th amendment and then leading the charge against the president who was trying to thwart him and they were rejected in the sense that the senate refused to convict. what does that say about the standard waxed as th does the se reject the views to carry out the constitutional wall cracks.
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>> via two thirds to convict. why did they fall short? part of it is because johnson is with senators and basically assured them that if you vote not guilty i will stop interfering with the 14th amendment and also by the way some nice sugarplums in terms of jobs for your friends and stuff like that. so ironically that was one of the senators that is discussed in john f. kennedy rafael encouraged he was a republican that voted not guilty and while he stood up to the party into salon he is one that got one of the nice jobs for his friends. the effort of impeachment the 14th amendment was ratified as s if you think that is the goal and the arguments were rejected you might say also that we were
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better off where the president was removed simply because he was opposing the policies of congress. so in that sense, while it was messy you might think a that the end result worked out reasonably well. it was a conservative group and many people said president obama should be impeached because he is refusing to carry out things in the healthcare law into delaying the employer mandate and he should be impeached for that. what would he say to that? >> the one thing we can say is that he was a strong proponent of the congressional power as a member of congress for his whole career for certainly any dispute between congress and the president he tended to take the site of congress. now, although he loved lincoln and thought he was a wonderful president said that it didn't really begin or apply to the
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republican president speak at the event -- basically come about bingham was reluctant to vote for impeachment. thaddeus stevens was saying that johnson should be impeached before bingham agreed to do. ultimately, bingham felt like they need to do some reason from a good reason and he felt that the violation was the reason i coulcouldn't convince enough senators to vote for conviction. so i think that with something like impeaching president obama may be the answer is that isn't going to work so why bother doing it. >> that sounds like that may well be the case. bingham had a kind of sad second act after these extraordinary achievements that you've described being at the center of the major debates over the civil rights and liberties. he then went off to be the ambassador of japan and sort of missed the follow up for the
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supreme court's refusal to implement the 14th amendment. tell us about his last years. >> he is not renominated another term in congress in 1872. basically he's been in congress for 20 years at that point. people are tired of him in their district area after he leaves, president grant appointed to be ambassador to japan and he spent his 12 years as ambassador and by all accounts he had a wonderful time and enjoyed being ambassador. he came back and at this point he was 70 and he lived to be 85. unfortunately, he just got old and also outlived his money. no pension in those days. so by his last year he was having all sorts of health problems, dementia basically and also by 1900 he died, the 14th amendment was simply not doing what he had hoped it would do. african-americans were not
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voting in the south come african-americans were not given equal treatment or being guaranteed fundamental rights and when he died the obituaries didn't really mention the fact that he had written this portion of the 14th amendment. he talked about other things. if you go to the town he's buried, there's a statute that has an inscription that doesn't say anything about the 14th amendment. it does say that he was for terrorists that would protect industries which doesn't really seem -- [laughter] so, that was said and indeed you could also say that because he was in japan in the years immediately following the supreme court's ordering the supreme court's initial interpretations of the 14th amendment that he was unable to influence those interpretations at all by either arguing cases or just making speeches and so on. we all might have suffered as a
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result of his absence. >> i see this great photograph of the statute and i was struck. it's a very nice photo, congratulations. but this is not easily available because not a lot of people pay attention. it's striking you have to physically take the picture of the statute for this kind of biography that he had why is it you say when the statute went up knowing that he was the fourth amendment, why has he been so it board since then -- ignored? >> part of the jim crow segregation and the leaders of reconstruction were viewed unfavorably. there is actually a movie biography of andrew johnson that came out in the 1940s where he's the hero and what a great guy because he wanted to bring america together to get past all of this bad feeling from the civil war and thaddeus stevens is played by lionel barrymore.
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those of you that remember him -- okay. he'he is depicted as a villain. so until the civil rights movement came along, people wouldn't take seriously the idea that folks like bingham were high-minded or pursuing a cause that was just. since then, some of the discussion has gotten caught up in the broad discussion of other legal issues like what you think about applying the bill of rights to the united states were different things that he was for and if you're not on board with what he wanted to do then you tend to attack him rather than the ideas. hopefully that is going to change and who knows maybe that will help you change a little bit. >> it certainly showed and well into the question now is how do we get this to steven spielberg and who will play him in the
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movie? >> someone with muttonchops sideburns. certainly why not tom hanks -- >> tom hanks would be great. >> he can play anybody. >> and lewis would be good as well, he would do just as good a job during a. >> we have time for one or two questions from the audience if there are any. my wonderful colleague has the microphone so please wait for it. yes ma'am. >> what i'm wondering is what would bingham think of the government shutdown that's going on right now and the dh that is going on between the republicans and the democrats. >> great question, thank you so much for asking. one thing to say is that bingham was a very partisan person. he was a republican.
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he didn't like democrats and the whole of reconstruction was partisan. there were very few democratic votes for the 14th amendment at that time. the parties were totally different then than they are now. democrats were mostly from the south and they believed in different things than what would be the case now. the fights the book talks about between congress and the president and insight of congress were very bitter. this was the time when a senator was beaten senseless on the floor of the senate and people carried pistols into the capital and had been in the house chamber. so i think that he sort of would have been comfortable with the thought of the very partisan and intense fighting for what you thought was right. beyond that it's hard to know what he would think about the specifics of health care or that sort of thing.
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>> part of the remarkable language of the 14th amendment is two words, any person. it doesn't mean citizen. citizen comes up earlier. it includes children, it includes demented people, people who are not competent. do you think that bingham really understood what he was proposing when he said any person? because children, old people, demented people, a whole variety of people don't get equal protection and would incarcerate people without due process. about a million old people that are incarcerated without any due process. so i wonder what do you think that he had in mind when he said what he wrote any person?
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>> he wanted to protect people who were not citizens. they had right, too and he said that that was a fundamental right that apply to all people, citizens or noncitizens so he wanted to make sure that recent immigrants were protected in their basic rights. whether he thought about it to the extent that you're talking about and covered sort of all of those categories i think in general he did but whether he stopped and thought about what about children and the elderly, that i don't know but what he had in mind was making sure that noncitizens were protected in what he believed were there fundamental right. >> wonderful. yes sir.
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>> gettysburg was 150th anniversaries of a movie cannot july 3 about the anniversary of gettysburg. it was called copperheads. they were caucasians that they were opposed to slavery. they thought it was more evil. however, they were anti-abraham lincoln because he took away habeas corpus so they were saying you felt as when they take away habeas corpus even though he was opposed to slavery they said that people that could have been innocent was like the human rights was being violated or taken away and then they also havhad a someone and i forgot hs name because the only big star was peter, but played andrew johnson as well and like you say, one vote saved him that the
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reason the one vote saved him was because his brother-in-law. andrew jackson was able to take his own personal wealth, give it to his brother-in-law and he was able to influence certain peop people. that is how he passed by that one vote. but it's called copperheads. >> what was bingham blank relationship? >> not friendly as you might imagine. he basically called them traders and gave speeches in congress attacking the most prominent of the copperheads who was also from ohio and didn't have much sympathy for those who were sort of antiwar you might say during the civil war. >> the article of the constitution center is for everyone to read the constitution and educate your self about it.
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ladies and gentlemen i can't imagine a better way of educating yourself about the 14th amendment and reading this spectacular book. please come and join me in thanking gerard. >> thank you all for coming. he will be signing books and we can continue our constitutional conversation. thank you so much. >> sarah griffin examines harlem new york in the 1940s and the progressive politics that marked the era. according to the author they set the groundwork for the civil rights movement. this hour and 15 minutes long program is next on booktv. >> ' good evening, everyone and thank you for being here.
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thanks so much to farah for inviting me to be in the conversations with you tonight. i told to farah the story privately but i want to share it publicly with you. when i was an undergraduate at harvard 18-years-old and i was taking a survey course in african-american literature, he was absent from one session and the replacement for the session was farah griffin from the institute that year. this was an incredibly wonderful because that year farah was at the institute and so was daphne brooks and gaffney ramsey and as any team-year-old who just was over the moon about studying, i was thrilled and inspired all the time by the work of these scholars. the day that farah came to speak to the class, we were studying
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cane which was already one of my favorite books and it was moving because i realized that while she was giving us this wonderful guidance it was the first time i had been taught literature by a black woman besides my mother who was of course my first introduction to reading and writing. so it is just one of those moments that i think should be marked. and you just continue to inspire me. >> that is one of the great joys in teaching. you don't know who is sitting out there and it turns out that it's this extraordinarily talented writer that i would read man it many years later wit knowing she was one of the students in that class. >> i wanted to ask you to share with us the introductions to
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harlem nocturne. it's beautiful. >> i will find my way around the preface. new york backend and they came. one that came as a child brought by immigrant parents and the others came as adult women seeking freedom to create themselves into their art. they were shaped by the city and the movement, the style, they walked and listened and gave to the city. they danced for it and new york back in thbackendback in the en. new york told her than anything was possible, told them there were no boundaries, that there were. the city welcomed visitors, students, teachers, entertainers they were not always received with enthusiasm. so at some point they all lived in harlem born as a migration of black people from the caribbean
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and the american south anti-black violence that erupted in other parts of the city and the entrepreneurial energy of african-american real estate developers. harlem, the race capital. eventually the immigrants daughter moved to another historic neighborhood in brooklyn. harlem, who wanted to live anywhere else? if given the choice to have chosen harlem that they would have liked having the choice. they protected the limitations meanwhile hoping to build a city within a city a place full of black and brown faces speaking a multitude of languages living high in the living room, making music and making words, making new people. it was a city of rhythm and change. a city of ground-based children and adults.
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a city that danced in modern choreography and african isolation. [applause] i would love to know what was your first introduction to these women and their arts? >> the book is about three wom women, composer and the jazz pianist. i was introduced at various stages. my introduction to ann peatrie was as an undergraduate at harvard many years before sharifa got there. i started reading ann peatrie and then her books were being reprinted for the first time due to the efforts of the generation of black women scholars.
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so i encountered her first as a college student and not in the classroom on my own independence a graduate student later on, she was the one whose work had the most sustained and longest relationship with and i had the opportunity to meet her and to get to know her towards the end of her life. the dancer choreographer i think i first encountered through the work of books by people like links and he was -- langston hughes that would tell me about these wonderful women or give me photographs of them before i knew who they were. a book like brown sugar by donald was a way of getting to know her as a figure before i knew her as a dancer and choreographer. and mary lou williams i didn't know although i grew up in a household where jazz was played all the time to read i didn't
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encounter a mary lou williams until i was an adult and it was during the time i started studying more about women's contribution to jazz music aside from people like billie holiday. so he starte i started discovery lou williams the latest of the three women but also fell in love. i am biased about these women that i have a critical distance from. what was the moment when you realized he wante you wanted tol their stories together? >> fascinating question. i actually discovered telling their stories here together at the schomburg they were born when i first moved to new york around 2,000 or 2001. there were a couple of small projects that i was engaged in and i did the research here at
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the schomburg for a lena horn the cd and i over researched the notes and i thought this is a really interesting era and all three of these women are very important in this period so i had a whole cast of characters as they were the three who survived that cast of characte characters. >> can you talk about the time to go because i think it is an interesting moment that gets lost in a lot of our popular imaginations of harlem and the artistic moments because it comes after the harlem renaissance and the politically engaged art of the great depression. it comes before the rise of the prominent voices before the civil rights movement gets
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launched in a powerful way. >> sharifa and i were talking about this, harlem is always exciting so you can kind of open up any historical decade and you will find something worth our attention. certainly you did that with your work in terms of the contemporary moment. but the 40s were fascinating. you're right everything is overshadowed by the renaissance people. they are so glamorous and talented and so beautiful and eloquent that they tend to overshadow everything. but the 40s were a vibrant period. you enter it coming out of the depression. there is a little bit of prosperity. the war is raining and it's also a period is the second great migrations that there is an influx of new people coming and
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i just found that it was very exciting. it's the birth of bebop and the period that malcolm x. is writing about when he first comes to harlem in the autobiography of malcolm x. it's before they become the icons they are walking the streets of harlem and so it's just fascinating unlike any of the other period that had come before and paving the way for what would come later. >> i'm just interested in the way ho hell doesn't follow on fm the 20th? i'm thinking of the word following the model of the patient that came earlier with the institutions that ann
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peatrie was working with also. can you talk about the lineage of the institutions that were possible and connect that maybe to the community of the writers? >> they were not just mine women, they were part of a generation that inherit certain legacies could also differentiate themselves in different kinds of ways and so when we think of the 20s we think of the relationship of patronage with black artists and we also think of individuals who are individual patrons were who are making access to the publishing houses available. i think in the 40s what you get are people who are much more self-consciously politicized, not that the earlier moments are not that these are people, these are artists who are coming of age in the period where there is
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a kind of activist momentum and they see themselves as part of the activist moment so that it's not just individuals offering patronage to them, but they're institutions that are providing venues for them to publish and perform and many of those institutions actually come out of those more radical sensibilities from the 1930s. they are artistic or organizations or publications that see themselves as having a kind of social action mission. >> because they unfolded in different ways you talk about that in the book. someone like mary lou williams, she doesn't consider herself an activist and someone like ann peatrie who puts distance between the more traditional
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ways of defining the work as political. bearing down on the three i wanted to show a range of engagement and different art forms. i want to show what kind of continuum of the political engagement of involvement so someone like a young dancer at a college who joins various kinds of political organizations while she is a student and who is probably the most what we think of as conventionally radical of the three actually joined the communist party for a while. so that helps to shape her analysis of the world so that would be for someone like ann peatrie who is a writer and is surrounded by people who are radical political activists and defend them when they come under that she keeps her distance and
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she doesn't join organizations, she won't call herself a marxist or communist. she has a sort of left leaning sensibility but she doesn't like to be labeled in a particular way and she is very active. she's engaged in various forms of activism. she says her interest is always and how can she be of assistance to people who are in need and sometimes that might be people who are in need because of their property and it might be through individual acts of philanthropy or supporting certain kind of activities. and fellow musicians who are having issues with drug addiction and she becomes a kind of one woman rehab center. so they all follow along a kind of continuum and what we think of as a political consciousness through very different means.
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it's hard to find that i did find some things and also all i ever felt was elite. but in the book you talk about different kinds of movements, physically or the movement in music, maybe a phrase of music or piece of music. a movement through a literary work and the actual movement people find themselves engaged in or living alongside if not directly. away from
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it? -- or shy away from it? did they keep it separate, and is it possible to separate them? >> that's a good question and a difficult one. i think that one of the things i try to stress is that even though they are political agents, and they're involved and see themselves as involved in a certain kind of political work, they are, all of them, are first and foremost artists. and their art forms, i mean, they have, you know, they define that differently. but they really are trying to find ways for the expression of their creative ideas. and so it finds its way in the work, and for someone like -- [inaudible] she starts taking dance can lessons at a place called the ne dce group she starts taking dance lessons at a place called the new dance group which was founded to use dance as a way to cultivating a certain kind of social activism. she's already engaged in that process and she's creating
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dances both that sort of narrate the stories of the struggles and difficulties of black people but also celebrate the joy of black people. she tries to create a dance, a movement vocabulary that is performed whether it's the dance of people in trinidad during carnival or sharecroppers in the south. she's creating a kind of dance okay very that tells those stories. she dances away of education about the expense of people of african descent. ann petry i think it really does, it comes about in the forms she chooses. in some way she's writing within the kind of social realism. but she also i think most importantly it's the people who story she chooses to tell. she doesn't come from an elite -- she comes from a fairly elite
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background but she chooses to tell stories about working class and working poor people. and to try to get a fully fleshed portrait of them and their struggle. so in that way that shapes are. and with mary lou, it's a little more complicated but i think that she tries, she's very much invested in making sure that there's a certain history of black music in particular, that black music carries with it a kind of archive. and that she tries to make sure that that history is in the contemporary popular music that she's playing and that it's also kind of in forming its moment as well. it carries the history but also tries to shape its moment. in those way i think their social engagement, you can see it or feel it in their art but they aren't sacrificing sort of
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their creative expression for the sake of their politics or their social consciousness. >> can ask a question about ann petry editing has always been there for me the reading your book, you describe the world in harlem, you describe some of the world literally on one of 16th street including the art center. just that moment of giving the address of whatever it is, why the street? >> that's one of the big questions about the choices that she makes. i have a theory but it's only a theory. ann petry writes -- people who don't know, the street was published in 1946 about a female character. she separat separated from her . she has a little boy. she struggling to make ends
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meet. it's a very kind of desolate view of what the possibilities are. engaged in a much more vibrant and diverse harlem than the one she represents in the novel. so this art center, for instance, that sharifa's talking about that produces, is a place where children can come and learn various forms of the visual arts and various artists are involved in it, petri and her son -- excuse me, the character and her son never have access to any of that. none of that is represented there. so in some ways i think it can be a critique that petri so insistent upon telling a certain kind of story that she flattened out certain possibilities of what's available to people who live in harlem. on the other hand, i think that -- and this is where i think that she's fully aware
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that there's so many people in harlem during her time that even though these resources are available that they don't necessarily know they are available, that they don't have access to them, that they aren't able to take advantage of them and that we can't take our eye off of those people who our sort of theories and activism, you know, sometimes we don't see them. and i think she wants to shed that light. so i think it's a real paradox in her work, you know? >> it's a paradox i can identify with. [laughter] in terms of what you choose to represent and what you don't. >> right. >> something someone told me when my book came out, it was people of a certain class in harlem feel like i didn't represent them. >> right. >> i won't go into any details. [laughter] read between my lines. >> no, i think, i understand that. and i think that was, you know, you probably can identify with petri, that was a criticism that
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petri got also. i mean, when we think about, you talked about the difference between the harlem renaissance and this period. when we think about the harlem renaissance, the books that were most championed or were books that represented the better class of negro, is literally what they would call them. and so the, petri and her generation of writers were not representing that version of harlem life or black life, and it's a consistent criticism at the time particularly from the african-american press that she is not representing the best of the race, so to speak. right. so, i mean, i'm sorry to hear you had to deal with the same thing, but there's a long history of that kind of critique. >> and what about the reception of her work and the other women? >> one of the things that i was fascinated by when i did the is >> one of the things i was tested by when i did the research is that i, you have these assumptions that you bring to a project.
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i assumed, oh, this is interesting. all of them are working during this period, and because they are black women they probably are not getting any attention for their work and that's why so many of us don't know about them today. what i discovered at the schomburg reading through microfilm because that everything was online yet, was that i was absolutely wrong and that all of them got a tremendous amount of attention or the work. petry was widely published. i mean widely reviewed in both the black press and the mainstream press and the left wing press. pearl primus was the darling of the new times critic who is a very powerful man at the time. mary lou williams had a radio show, her long works were premiered in town halls. so the actual had a great reception, reception i couldn't have imagined that they had.
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and then they sort of fall off of the radar later on. now, within that reception there's a variety of responses to them. some people are celebrating ann petry's work. some people in the black press are saying it's too downtrodden. some people on the left press the same it's not revolutionary enough because it doesn't provide a political way out. there's a variety of responses but at least the work is intended too seriously. which is what we all want to want our work to be attended to. so they get the recognition at the time. >> the double the movement, victory at home and abroad for civil rights, at home and fascism abroad. it's something all three women encountered. it made me think about these
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different levels of their political concerns, community-based concerns, thinking of them as racism and think about the situation in america generally and then there global concerns. i wonder if you could talk more about their work, conceptualize their work in some of those contemporary movements that weren't just local to harlem, and also the global political movements. >> i think of the three at that particular time, of the three, pearl primus is most probably most articulate about the kind of understanding of global issues. particularly as they relate to people of afghan descent. most vocal about seeing the war against segregation, or the fight against segregation. this is kind of the height of jim crow so they're fighting against jim crow, but she
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absolutely sees that not only as a fight, the fight is necessary for democracy in the united states, and a fight that is necessary for democracy kind of against fascism abroad. but with their, she also always cognizant of what's going on in the caribbean and what's going on in africa before she even visits africa. she comes out of the household that is kind of garden-based household. her family, they aren't card-carrying party nights. she already has these international global sensibili sensibility. it's most apparent in what she says and in a work, and less apparent what's going on with petry and with mary lou williams, although all of them recognize the local struggles they are involved in as being
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struggles ar that are about the question, larger questions of democracy. they are all linking issues of race with issues of poverty and class. none of them are separating those two things. that they see the struggle against jim crow not only as a way of freeing african-americans but as a way of freeing this nation at the same time that world war ii is claiming to free the world in some ways. >> i was thinking about their moment and some recent discussions that happened about artists being politically engaged or not. could you talk a little bit
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about that, the context that gives rise to a generation of engaged artist versus the lack of context of that today, and really i'm interested in kind of tracing the line of where it got dropped? >> yes. complex set of issues. it's funny that you mention harry belafonte because he actually someone who knew all three women in different ways. actually ann petry as part of the american negro theater right here in this building, and so she knew fortier and belafonte and ruby dee and ossie davis. we think of ruby dee and ossie davis, that's part of that generation. we think of them as very kind of socially i give politicized artists. one of the things i think that was clear was none of them, and
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they see this with the women, none of them were kind of sitting back saying we're going to strategize in building movement as artists, that we're going to sit back and we're going to strategize and build a movement. i think that they came along at a time when the long, we think of as the long black freedom movement had a new breath and it was happening. it was, this is also a time when ella baker is living in harlem. there's a lot the ongoing political activity. so there's already a movement in place whether it be through what adam clayton powell was doing. there's already a movement in place and that these artists find their place in that movement. it's the movement that embraces them, that they can acquire a certain sensibility and
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analysis. if you here harry belafonte talk to your struck by his level of analysis. and so i think instead of being so hyper critical of contemporary artists what they do and what they don't do, i also think that they aren't any moment where there's a kind of heightened political activity on the part of any of us, that is not a moment of that kind of local movement and i think if it were, it might produce a different context and that might produce a different set of responses from the artists themselves. >> i want to shift gears a little bit. in reading your book, can you talk about writing her life after having done the work with billie holliday and you know,
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your different approaches -- you're writing about music and i always find it the most challenging thing. i didn't write about music for harlem, but i'm just curious since this is how you have it to music and what's this like for you? >> mary lou williams was so intimidating to me to write about. and i initially wanted to write about her, then i decided i wouldn't, and the reason why i wouldn't is because i didn't think i knew enough to write well about her music. and then i had friends and colleagues would say that's what you should write about her. sometimes you choose subjects that force you to grow and learn something that you don't know. and i felt most at home with billie holliday. i lived longest winter. and i studied her and had written about her. i think what i wanted to do was i wanted to choose a woman who
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was engaged in the production of music who wasn't a singer because we know the singers. we know some of the singers. that's usually our way, our way of thinking about women in jazz. i wanted to try something else like what does it mean to think of yourself as a composer and an arranger at this period in such a male-dominated way? all three of these women, i think their sense of themselves was just so incredible to me. and especially mary lou williams. they were so few examples for of what i was just trying to becom. most of those examples were male. and yet she pursued a. get out so confident in her talent and her ability and her importance. and so i think i just, i sort of learned to welcome the opportunity to try and learn how to write about her, and how to write about the music it and
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then it was just a process of listening and listening and listening, and trying to really write down what it was that i heard. and it was such a moving encounter. i mean, if you don't know her music i strongly recommend -- i hope this book will make people listen to it. it was such a moving encounter and so powerful to me that i just decided to write about that element of it. there's something very soulful and ambitious. she's an incredibly ambitious writer and arranger. and i love her because she thought, duke ellington is writing this long for him and he gets a concert at carnegie hall, so why not me? so she does. she also -- yes, so i will say that. she was the biggest challenge and on the one for whom i thinki
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learned the most. >> i love reading about her coming to town. can you talk to the people who haven't read the book yet, talk about that moment that she is a mentor to the be boppers? >> she's the oldest of three women at the time of the book. by the time she missed in your to the already very well known. she been called -- she had arranged for duke ellington. i mean, she's a star. she's a celebrity by the time she moved to harlem. so much so that newspapers like the amsterdam news and its precarious they rarely wins boost on its a big deal. and all the young musicians are not well-known or struggling while not, mary lou williams is here. they want her to hear the music you want her to critique it. they wonder to tutor them. and she does. she welcomes them.
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and unlike many musicians of her generation, she doesn't dismiss them. sort of the way max roach would event with a hip-hop people, where all the musicians might have been like -- we have to listen and, in fact, embrace this. this is what mary lou williams was doing. she was a star and she's performing every night downtown, but the four she ends up at home in her apartment at hamilton tears she stops all because she's excited by what's going on. she here's some of what she's already been doing there as well. she thinks it's this whole new set of possibilities. so becomes, it's a very important site for her favorite important site in the chapter about her. >> what about some of those other sites that you could speak
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about people's voices and newspaper? >> or the new dance group were pearl primus, they detect these locations which were important to the possibility of this kind of work, something i think is lacking today. >> absolutely essential. i don't think they would've been able to do without those locations. ann petry is writing. should vital. she's cells at space but when adam clayton powell finds people's voice she comes on board with the number of very interesting journalists. and it's the way she gets to no harlem. she's a reporter inches reporter i am just to walk all of harlem. she writes from high to low. she writes about everything. it in forms or fiction, the stories she covers sometimes
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inspired stories in her fiction. i think now we think of certain space of being intellectual and their very narrow. we think of the academy or the classroom or something alike that. all of these spaces that such incredible intellectual energy and political energy. so for ann petry it would be the people's voice. for pearl primus they would be the new dance group where she is taking dance lessons and learning from any number of people. and for pearl and for mary lou williams it's a place like café society, a nightclub where any given night langston hughes and eleanor roosevelt might be in the audience. but it's also companies also important to note where these women create the own spaces. mary lou williams also creates a space into a partner which becomes one of the most important for the development of bebop music. she brings that energy into her
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own home and opens up her home for that kind of place, that kind of activity. what happens to them, i mean i think one of the lessons of history again is that these sites come under assault. they don't just disappear or grow out of fashion. as the decade it will ensure you we get the kind of anti-communist fervor that comes at the end of the '40s and early 50s there is an assault on places like the people's voice and on places like café society. so those venues old, and when they fold you know longer have those kind of places to nurture the voices in the way he would have in the early part of the decade. >> thinking about today's harlem, the celebration of restaurants and sights of possibility, like a restaurant is not -- i like going out occasionally i always feel like
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we are really detached from that kind of space making and what it's for. even the private time. >> i would like to ask you about -- i have a question for you about given that you document this moment of harlem in transition and change. that might be one of those changes, the celebration of a certain kind of opening a restaurant in space. i think those spaces can become that but they aren't necessarily meant to be that. what's fascinating about several of the spaces in the book are that it's the actual work and activity of the artist themselves that turn these spaces into something else. but you're right. what the things that happens at the end of the narrative is something like the urban renewal act which really destroyed a
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sense of continuity and community engagement of local establishment, local bars, local businesses where people can develop community and places them with something else. that making this one of those moments of transition. and then it's sort of like out of those ruins what does a nude generation create? and so one of things in reading your work i was reading teresa's book just as i finished -- well, that's a lie. there were many drafts. one draft, the bundle them in draft of "harlem nocturne" i read in the first thing i thought was wow mac come when someone writes another version of "harlem nocturne" continued it will be studying like her book will be one of the books that they study. but one of things i thought about was from your perspective, from your vantage point what are the similarities and differences
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that you see? because you clearly know all of these very tricky kind of worked your way through all of them to get to what you're writing. what's the major continuity arm major difference that you see? >> cash, i don't even know where to begin. the first thing that popped into my head was the research that -- didn't start on this research by the expense i had of being involved with the rezoning campaign which was purely going to meeting following signs and going there to observe and going there because my friend michael adams would go there to it wasn't very motivated but it was a moment when i had been away from new york, for harlem for about a week. i came back and it was really aware of all of this change happen. it just hit a critical moment.
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and so i became involved in that campaign, and after it was finished and after the campaign was lost and it was rezoned even though you don't see the physical, you don't see the high rise condominiums to get but it's legal to build in there now, i was in researching and i found narratives of meetings that happened in like 1965 that were almost the same meeting where there was a plan in place to redesign the street. searches, i became aware of this cycle of questions, and a consistent response from the community. so that's just one similarity. it was the same activity happening 50 years later. and the way the community has
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been the subject of a real imagination, or a plan. i'm going off-track. >> the differences, i mean, i think what you raised about the spaces and the way that the work of individuals created the spaces is something for us to really consider deeply. as much as i can say, restaurants or places to go have a drink or there are also amazing institutions like harlem stage which is nurturing incredible work and funding new work. another institution, and, of course, the possibility of the schaumburg in its radicalizati radicalization, and really just the continuity that exist in this building is an incredible thing. you talk about i guess some of the work that ann petry doing at
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the branch working with a theater group. so i'm always looking around and sing on 138th street you can go and see the site of where marcus had his first meeting in harlem. in a meeting room of a church, or other spaces but i'm always interested in like what happened there, and number of interested in inhabiting the space. there's projects i do or want to do and i'm energized by the possibility of those collaborations. so that's i guess for my eye is. i lived in new orleans which is an amazing school for the committee, and arts and politics, existing at the same time, as the same thing. so i felt like i came through that place and returned to harlem with a new perspective of what was needed and what was
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possible. >> it's possible. i think that's a great place to end because even though they narrative of "harlem nocturne" in the '40s, beginning of the 50s where we get a kind of depression that comes on board, i tried to end it by showing that there is always a new generation that sees a new set of possibilities. my women -- i call them my women. they are not my women, but they leave parliament, but a whole new generation comes. maya angelou comes. so there is always kind of generating sense of possibility. and it's all good. [applause]
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>> questions? i think we have time for questions, or are we done? >> i think there's time for questions. >> i think there's a mic here. >> when you talk about the notion of place in harlem, you know, this new restaurant, they are just opening up. and it seems almost sort of prosthetic to me that in preparation for the opening of these museums, excuse me, for these restaurants, original neon sign was taken off and given to the yet to open african-american museum in washington, the smithsonian. and i would just like to ask
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both of you if you really seriously think that harlem can avoid becoming a place where the schaumburg us were like a synagogue in chinatown? [laughter] >> that's very real. >> i ever get expressed that before, and i think it's absolutely something anyone who cares needs to have their eye trained on. i also think as long as there are black people in the streets of harlem, and it just like even as a civic, everything i passed through, the most amazing poetic way, like that is its own space making. i have my own in a debate about,
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yeah, i had a conversation about you looking at the renaissance ballroom and you know really well the story of what's happening and what happened there. i don't even know the of the data stored what's happening. the renaissance ballroom being a space that was deliberately created by black people to have a place to socialize and have a business. being blocked from landmark status to something michael thought against in order that the corporation could make a condominiums there. so i was talking to a friend about this, and here's this, the very deliberate nature of the building and what it meant and that people describe brick by brick to build it seemed to be a really dark story about, about
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our persistence here. and my friend said to me, you know, as like people we've always had to be fugitive in the way we inhabit space, and the way our culture is inhabiting space. so i think there are different ways to live with that problem and to live with that question. it is dominated by capital, and the capital is not something we can control. the black people who control capital are interested in more capital. so it's not the first thing that people are trying to do. the idea that people -- that's a transient thing to be celebrat celebrated. unfortunately, we've all settled for our culture national history and not just black people, all
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people's history. we are quite used to that being the way things go. what were alternatives, possibilities for the sequel? what kind of space might it have been? i think as long as, i feel that story was written, you know, -- >> i think that, well, so the audience, michael is one of the very important figures for both of us, in terms of also just knowledge of harlem, architectural history and activism. and i think that question is very real and it's not just real about harlem. it's really about all of these historical black places all over the country where we go whether they be in washington, d.c. or atlanta or you know, any place where -- central avenue in los
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angeles. and in some places harlem is one of the last strongholds because of what it's been, kind of hold on to this historic identity. and i think what's interesting about this moment is some of the it's frightening and angry by this moment companies which are document is a prophecy that sharifa sites james johnson -- i forget when that was, early 20th century, when harlem is really the raise capital saying that black people will not be able to hold on to harlem. he says that at the end of black manhattan. so it's a prophecy which which we have been living but i think of us felt that we would witness in our lifetime. i think what is so frightening and compelling about the question that you raised is that now some of us can actually imagine oh, this might happen in
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our lifetime. this might happen on our watch. so i think that's both the written should -- the richness and the fear of the question that you raised. >> i also think importantly, you have to keep in mind that it's not just a question about black harlem being black harlem, but the way i try to think about it, express it, people who survive and build this neighborhood being able to say where the families have been. and a value being put on that kind of continuity. and it's not a value that is alive in many places around the world. so i think that's -- annie, that is -- i think that is the thing we want to keep at the front of
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that conversation. that it's not so much that we want a sign to be there or we want people to be here. but doesn't that mean something if you're able to say where people have been? and the invigorating discussions that you see if you spend time on you see people on blogs, if you can't afford it, why are you there? there's a monster that consumes places and land. and we know that monster will. i don't know like how to fix it but i just know that isn't it about like people being able to live, people being able to enhance the possibility for their life? yeah, i guess i'm just always struggling with myself on how to frame a question in a way that is meaningful.
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and in so doing hopefully have conversations and be able that can change something. >> the change that matters. >> my question is about technology. interestingly enough towards the end of this discussion you raised the question of how today's generation or the conscious artist in today's world differs or similar to those in the past in the '40s and such. what are your guys thoughts on how technology affects about equation? doesn't help? does it hinder? some people think it causes close and some people thinks it draws us further away from issues and what have you. such as the ideas on that would be cool. >> i think it has both. there's always the kind of paradoxical nature of any technological change. and as black people we have a vexed relationship to it, but i think at this moment is actually
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in some ways does both. technology, if you think it but things like social media create community, create possibilities, create a kind of, a way of mobilizing that is unprecedented, and we see it, we see it whether it's tahrir square or occupy our people mobilizing around stand your ground and trayvon. that technology enables that in some way, particularly social media in naples that in some way. and yet in other ways technology reinforces certain divides. you have access to it, you know, it both creates community but it also creates is contact between people. selecting the answer to question is that it has both of those things at the same time. >> i'm just thinking in my head
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about the way that people gather and thinking about the way these women gathered and energy they gained from their communities. i know that people gain a similar kind of energy from following someone on facebook or twitter or instagram. and i'm also interested in the way how we define what kind of groups we belong to has changed, so the defining, the most important thing about you may not be that you are a black woman living in harlem in 1943 but it might be that you're a person who owns these issues and uses at and by his glasses. like you're a part of that community. that's who you are. so i think that may be where some of it's happening, and for
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a person like me who i feel like i struggle with something where just because the year i was born, i remember in tv and also have some access to a quickly disappearing younger generation. my sense is that if were just speaking about african descended people, like that is not the most important thing about a person today, and i don't understand. i'm just beginning to that question, question my own assumptions that someone who is born in harlem today who has impulses, that they may not define themselves according to these standards. so maybe that's the question. and how that is changing, isn't just, is it that we have achieved our country?
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or have so many things been thrown into our passes more enticing than that? so, i guess that's -- the question i'm causally grappling with and i had a chance to visit early this month, and i put the question of the, like, does history even matter to you? and i think it does but i think it's in a different way than i take for granted. >> and hello. first, i want to thank you for this book. it's a great read. so informative and there's so many different things i'm going to pursue further. great detailed notes any. also, thank you both for your contributions to literature and culture and what you're doing. it's very important. many questions but i want to go back to the book.
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i was very curious on pearl primus and her life and the work that she was doing, i feel like -- by question is, how dangerous was it for her during this time? i feel that that wasn't -- i didn't hear that story for criticizing white america and jim crow, you know, like what kind of resistance did she face? how harsh was at? >> first of all, thank you for already reading the book. appreciate that. one of the things that's interesting and i think this is because she was in new york and she was ensconced in a certain kind of community that she doesn't feel the sense of danger in the same way, that she's part a day progresses political committee of artists. in fact, when -- what she does before she leaves new york is new york is segregated but it's
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not segregated with the sign, right? she doesn't quite feel the limitations on her mobility in new york. so when she's about to go south she's nervous because she's thinking i never been out. i've never been to jim crow south. so she writes there is people through various networks, including a group of young activists that robin kelly us -- writes about in her book in alabama. young black activist with affiliations to the communist party to take her in and take her up, and she takes advantage of these various networks. but the language that she uses, and what really stands out to us is not language that she's the only one using at the time. and so was interesting to me is a danger we expect her to be experiencing in the 1940s, she doesn't expect it so much in the 1940s. or use of that language and her engagement of us networks come
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back to haunt her later on with the rise of mccarthy and it becomes danger. what becomes dangerous is what you said, with whom you affiliated yourself in the past, more so than the kind of actual danger and a moment to sort the political danger that you can look back and says who did you know and when did he know them and how did you know them, and were going to stop her mobility not because you said those things and did those things in the past. but that doesn't take away from the courage she displayed during that period. >> good evening. i have a question. i was just startled when he spoke about how these women were actually very celebrate in the time and it's kind of a tragic moment to think that we've lost them so speak because these are women who are celebrated in the same way that artists before and after. do you think that's a function of the time in which they fall or is there something about these women and the art that
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caused him to kind of fall into historical absence? and to follow up with at do you think that we still are in a moment, do you think we saw the dangers of letting artists that we celebrate died in the same way? do you think that is still possible today? >> i think that's always possible, you know? it's always possible. and the work of who gets remembered is rarely about -- people will tell you these are classics because they are great works and their universal. there's some truth to that but their classic because generations will decide there would be for our attention and worthy of keeping alive and they tell us something that we want them about who we have become. or because somebody, history is important to them and this version is important to what happens with these women i think is they fall out of style. aesthetically. there's a rise of new voices like baldwin and allison.
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the early off one, but have a different perspective on america and what black people are in america that become, there's more room for that perspective. the fact that they are women have something to do with it. what i do like about this story is unlike the sort of story where she dies in obscurity and then poverty and then laid on alice walker and other people rediscover. that's not the case with these three women, that they do fall sort of out of fashion but a newer generation, the generation of the 1960s, the generation formed a black power, civil rights, feminist movement really to kind of look back and say, oh, these are some foundational people. these are foundational. so i the end of their lives befe they all die, each one of them is celebrated for the work that she does and is recognized as a mother because they get a
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generation does sense of history in what's important. it's not only the work of what you do in your moment it's the work of the generations that follow to ensure kind of life and longevity and immortality. >> thank both of you for a wonderful conversation. one of the things i was very serious about was the history of the period that shaped these women in terms of the local ideologies, their activism, and then the broader context, something that michael talked about and what sharifa talked about, it's the space they once occupied. and citing james weldon johnson, we can't hold on to harlem of the i don't know whether or not that's true, if there is
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resistance. so my question is, given the political context of a time, that historical period, contrast today when people, in fact, are being pushed out and there are few alternatives for people who are being pushed out, why do you think that there is absence in the spirit of a radical resistance that existed during world war ii where there was radical politics? very ideological and changed, which is not true today, and there is acquiescence to the inevitable. we can't hold on. and can you give some political
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context for that in terms of contrasting the two periods and what we have today that i think has had in our artistic impact unlike anything that we have seen as this community, this historic community is slowly dying. thank you. >> i think that -- thank you for many things, but for the question in particular. i think that there was a sense with this generation, with this group of women, that there was no such thing as kind of inevitability or accept that they were engaged in struggle and that they would always be engaged in struggle. there wasn't a sense of acquiescence. you might lose a battle but it wasn't because you didn't fight it or that you accepted the inevitability of it. i think that all of them inherit
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-- they come to this space during a time when it's come out of the depression where there are a certain set of possibilities and organizing possibility and harlem is not only -- they aren't looking at harvard as a space of cultural nostalgia. it's very much a vibrant cultural space where one is engaged in both a cultural, social and political life, and that's shaping who they are. and i also think that what we see, what we are still living with his that we have inherited what was a conscious assault on those movements that they were a part of. that's been sort of resurrected themselves again later on and then there's the conscious of violent sort of repression is assault that we see kind of
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rearing their heads in the '30s and '40s, and the mccarthy era and the conservatism of the mccarthy era closes those possibilities offered they come up again in the 1960s, or other repress the facts. one of the things that i hope is that resurrecting this history will be a reminder of that legacy. is a set of possibility that is available to all of us and it is a birthright to all of us. it's not that generations just jealously. i think there's an aggressive assault to foreclose the possibility and for those people seem to possibility of fighting the inevitable. i hope that answers your question. >> it does applaud the. >> it really does. i hope that one of you ladies will get around to giving us a biography on claudia jones who
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was deported. she settled in england but she is of that period, a truly epic woman in terms of for confronting the government and what was taking place. and one so rarely hears about her, or any reference to her during that black history month, that one month that captured our everything, our mind. but i hope that someone someday gives this the lady some justice. >> there's a book which is about claudia jones, and it's the first biography of claudia jones. they were essays. but there is a book and for anybody, in young writers
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whatever project i think -- i have a book of women artists of there's also a similar book, containing bug that could be of the women activists that would include claudia jones or ella baker, all of them were in harlem at this period. >> barbara has done a great job on ella baker. >> good evening, ladies. thank you for your conversation this evening. my question kind of ties in with the first question, and the lady that just left, but more based on cultural appropriations. you know, we started some art forms. we enhanced some art form. i'm talking about the black
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artists. and what i've been seeing -- i mean, i don't mind if other cultures share our music, appreciate our music. and to some extent i know it's always been going on, especially with music. he would take hits from black artists and crossover 1950s. and what are your thoughts on fighting it are what should we just accept the slide question, what are your thoughts or ideas, other than teaching to our children what we can do to stop the -- not appreciation but appropriations. one recent example that just comes to mind is, i didn't see it but mtv music awards or video
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awards, you know, we're just like it was some kind of theme, black theme, for lack of a better example, you know? r. and b. but not one artist, not one black artists, won any awards for hip-hop, rap or r&b. and annuity infamous twerking incident. so i was like we were represented at the mtv towards a white artists who are using our artistry, you know, to enhance their careers. and what scares me is i see a lot of our young people picking it up 12, 13, justin bieber and justin timberlake and robin sick, r&b artist. they don't see black artists,
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you know, and that's scary. i have to explain to them that r&b was started by black artists, rhythm and blues tells about the history what little i know. but just your thoughts, if anything, thank you. >> i didn't see mtv either. but the first thing that comes to mind is those kids that you talk to are hopefully, and i probably creating something new right now, and i just know i've been astonished watching people joined it is like these kids in l.a. dancing or these kids in pairs dancing or whatever, and it's always on the move. and i think the part that is deserving and as always deserving as long as it's been happening is the money that follows the appropriations, and
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that, but at the same time those kids in l.a. are trying to make money. we need to teach them how to make money off of what they're doing perhaps as close teaching them the history of these forums. so i guess there's a kind of critical consequence about, about, about media, about the into she can about the way industry makes money from art and always has. but the main thing as i just think that it's always on the move, i don't much energy to spend on being offended by miley cyrus. i don't know. .., i don't care. i was sick of hearing about my lee cyrus.
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we have so much to do, stop wasting energy on this girl, what she's doing. i think that, you know, the cultural appropriation question is one that bothers us, absolutely, that cultures are, you know, they are borderless. i mean, we live right next to each other, always cultures informing and influencing each other, and you're right is that there's so much new produced that one of the things that black culture does is it is constantly on guard, constantly creating and recreating something new. you mentioned justin bieber a you mentioned that song thaty was ubiquitous everywhere. is it, you know and this is what you can tell young people, that it's we listen to that and we think that sounds like funkadelic from years ago.


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