Skip to main content

tv   Moyers Company  PBS  August 19, 2012 6:30pm-7:30pm PDT

6:30 pm
. this week on "moyers & company" once upon a time in america history is the building block of all knowledge in our society. and it is the most important part of the most significant tradition that human beings have which is story telling. >> funding is provided by -- independent production fund with support from the partridge foundation. the clement foundation dedicated to heightening critical issues.
6:31 pm
the bernard foundation. the john d. and katherine t mcarthur foundation, committed to a more just and verdant world. the bessie and jesse sink foundation. and by our sole corporate sponsor, mutual of america designing customized, individual and group retirement products. that is why we are your retirement company. >> welcome. this is once again public television time when we remind you there is nowhere else on your tv dial where you can see programs like you are watching now. please take a moment t contribute to your local station. congress is in the midst of its summer recess escaping the heat of the swampland and the agony
6:32 pm
of legislative grid lock. most have gone home and many straight in the arms of angry voters. the clamor reminds us of another hot and humid summer 236 years ago when the second continental declaration of independence and riders rushed it to the corners of the 13 new united states. it was read aloud to cheering crowds. perhaps we will remember the declaration of independence itself, the product of what john adams called jefferson's composition. take time to read it aloud or to yourself. the founders knew when they let these ideas loose in the world they could never again be caged. yet, from the beginning these
6:33 pm
sentiments were also a thorn in our side, a reminder of the new nation's divided soul. opponents greeted it with sarcasm. jefferson was an aristocrat whose inheritance of 5,000 acres and a slave to work it mocked his eloquent notion of equality. he acknowledged that slavery degraded master and slave alike but would not give his own slaves their freedom. their labor kept him financially afloat. hundreds of slaves forced like beasts to burden from sunrise to sunset at the threat of a lash enabled him to thrive as a gentleman and pursue his interests and rise in politics. even the children born to him by the slave remained slaves as did their mother, only an obscure provision in his will released
6:34 pm
the children after his death. all the others scores of slaves were sold to pay off his debts. thomas jefferson possessed a healthy talent for composition. whatever he was thinking when he wrote all men were created equal he thought blacks were inferior to whites, inferior in body and mind. to read his argument today is to enter once again the pathology of white superiority that attended the birth of our nation so forcefully did he state the case and so great was his standing that after his death the black abolitionist david walker would claim jefferson's argument had injured us more and as great a barrier to our emancipation as anything advanced against us. for it sunk deep into the hearts
6:35 pm
of the whites and never would be removed this side of eternity. the ideal of equality jefferson proclaimed he portrayed. he got it right when he wrote about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. that is how jefferson, thomas jefferson came to embody the oldest and longest war of all, the war between the self and the truth between what we know and how we live. behind the eloquent words of the declaration were human beings as flawed and conflicted as inspiring. if they would look on us today they would think how amuch remains to be done. with those in mind this seemed a good time to speak with
6:36 pm
mohammed. he has made them his life's work. he grew up on chicago's south side, a member of the first generation of african americans born after the victories of the civil rights movement. he is the author of this acclaimed book, "the calmdon demnation of black men" he was teaching history when the new york public library asked him to research. >> i decided right after college that there was nothing more important to me than learning about african american history and culture really being able to learn first-hand the contributions that african americans have made to this country and the world. >> the center is known for documenting the history of all people with african dissent.
6:37 pm
i asked him to tell us how we tell america's story without what washing the past. why history? i ask the question because henry ford famously said history is bunk and you clearly disagree. >> i clearly disagree. i think this is a moment with questions about what the founding fathers intended when they established our system of government, how large it should be. the debate between jefferson and hamilton about whether it should be central government or small country of farmer republics. this question of what our original history is has shaped almost every aspect of the american experience. in other words, history is all around us. whether or not it is an accurate description of what happened in
6:38 pm
1776 for example or what happened in 1865 is secondary to the point that people's ideas about the past, people's sense of memory about the past shape their own sense of identity and how they imagine the world should be. and therefore in my opinion history is the building block of all knowledge in our society and it is the most important part of the most significant tradition that human beings have which is story telling. >> but how do we know to trust the past? or which part of the past to trust? because as you say history is story telling and we all tend to reach for the facts that confirm our story, confirm our narrative, our interpretation of the past. how do we learn to trust which part of the past? >> professional histor yns will be the first to admit that
6:39 pm
history is about interpretation and taking a fragmentary effort and making an argument. it is very little different from what lawyers try to do when they try to argue the merit of a case. >> when you hear somebody invoke thomas jefferson what image comes to mind? >> i think of jefferson's ideas that gave birth to this republic with a whole lot of contradiction. in that regard i don't think of thomas jefferson as exceptional. the fundamental conundrum developed in spite of thomas jefferson's ideas about independence was that resolved that slavery would exist after the revolution. >> i asked that question because it raises the argument, the story whether this reflected their hypocrisy or their
6:40 pm
humanity and therefore is an eternal reality that we want to do good things and we believe certain ideas and ideals but we also act otherwise. >> contradiction is part of the human experience. we wrestle with it every day. thomas jefferson and half of the other slave holders who were presidents all lived daily contradictions. they could literally look out their windows and see enslaved people in the land of the free and home of the brave. but the fact of the matter is that they had great responsibility for building what would becomedemocracy. >> it took me long past college and graduate school to figure out that eight of the first ten of our presidents were enriched by their ownership of capital land or slaves. we were never taught that these
6:41 pm
men actually created a government, a constitution designed to protect the further acquisition of property for the privileged classes. that didn't get discussed. >> it's also the difference between an individual living a contradiction in terms of enslaving another as a proponent of freedom. and the ways in which those same individuals help to build philosophical and idealogical justifications. thomas jefferson notes in 1787 which was one of the first scientific arguments for why black people should be treated differently from whites by virtue of their racial inferiority. the scientific notion that black
6:42 pm
people were fundamentally different whether by hair texture or body odor gave birth to the enduring justification that even in america, even in a place that represented a tradition of republicanism in the world that you could actually reconcile freedom and slavery as long as the people who were enslaved were not equal citizens, were not made of the stuff of equal humanity. >> and then you had to construct a system that made sure to never be seen to be equal members of society. >> that system was already reinforcin reinforcing. so you had the system that provided a modus but you had to explain it still. it was to that task that theologians, philosophers,
6:43 pm
scientists, journalism politicians weighed in and said it made sense. these people are not of the same god even, that they represent a different species created by god to serve white men. >> if you can remember when you first heard the words all men are created equal, you remember how you reacted to them? >> when i was old enough in particular in college when these kinds of documents you have time to critically engaged i can remember having visible, palpable sense that this wasn't true. that the framers had lied, that the words didn't match the reality. and that was just a response. i didn't have a sense of history enough then to sort of unpack all of that because there was so much rhetoric of equality and
6:44 pm
opportunity. i can't overemphasize the point enough. i grew up in the 1980s. john wayne is the president as ronald reagan. and all of that rhetoric of opportunity, all of the king's legacy was part of that moment. and so to all of a sudden encounter those words in a moment of reflection and then to know growing up on the south side of chicago that everything wasn't all perfect and equal meant that there was work to be done. there was a reconciliation, a reckoning, so to speak, that needed to take place. for me that was exciting to have the space and the opportunity when i got to graduate school to study it. >> it took me a long time to learn that the man that wrote "all men are created equal" also wrote the" money, not morality is the principle of nations."
6:45 pm
is one more true than the other. is it more true that all men are created equal or money not morality governs our policy. >> if we use the benefit of hind sight history has born out that money not morality is the principle of commercialized nations. at the moment when this country was building the political infrastructure, the set of ideas to have three systems of government with checks and balances and property was crucial to who would participate. so it took us another 100 years to infranchise black male voters and then another 50 years to infranchise women. history teaches us something about the relationship between citizenship and property was which was a contradiction. it wasn't about all men. even the gender notion of equality. >> we the people did not include
6:46 pm
blacks, women, native americans. >> that's right. which even in this conversation and let me say this clearly. the fact of what happened to native americans in this country in the 17th century, the fact that it is still not part of the conversations about this nation's earliest history is evidence of how little it is part of our secondary educational experiences and our colleges. in other words, i am obviously a proponent of historical literacy that focuses in particular on african americans. even as i talk to you and have this conversation about the declaration of independence it is almost an after thought to think about native americans and how the 19th century, the moment of the expansion of the frontiers of this nation which really was an escape valve for european immigrants who came here whether it was from ireland
6:47 pm
or whether they came from australia as an english indentures was built on th backs ofan oedin the sen t cou itsctn how sufficie not true f a of the very speci nlyr that
6:48 pm
ldg,yha f writn o, op mbeheor e eysp tas sla prt
6:49 pm
urpensan ug ainwa n mhatomegeciutthhi mofnyinouon
6:50 pm
cit. o licaanbuss.
6:51 pm
>>hy politihite or >> because it helpshe get elected? why elsedo politicians do what they do? this is pledge time for tev stations will briefly step away fr t ask for your support. for the rest of you "moyers & compin jt a moment. we now continue with "oys & company." >> i read just the other day that 76%, three-quarters of college graduates arear ith the bill of rgh a mo a cldn't say who was america's arch rival during ther pretend i'm a freshman in your class at indiana university whichouefto come.
6:52 pm
how do you plan to reume from my ignorance of the past? >> if igeto mtyou then i'm going to encourage you to take a u.hior crse for starters. the pbl is that our colleges and o sense of public sphere are shrinking. colleges and universities are giving increasing weighto e science, technology, engineering and mathematics. ey haven't cut out the humanities. ionwa t overstate or say there is a crisis. universit presidents have to be responsive to state legislatures and if thoseapn tbe republican there is a lot at stake whenit comes to what is the appropriate history lesson to be tg to our children.
6:53 pm
ntto pinut that in texas, for example, a couple of years ago tre w move by the state regions toeme o to lessen the state's history of civil rights activism. they simply reovderin inviduals. so chavez gotend ronald reagan and others got more for actical purposes in terms of number of wordsn peor certain acts in history. >> and they wanted to diminish martin luther king's role and increasee gingrich's role. >> so that in my opinion is of a piece. it is of a piece that both lks t college as a place where history is less important to the fact of making money. the bureau of labor atti produced a report just two years ago in late 2009 where it
6:54 pm
identified the top ten growing fields for all americans siof them were low wage entry level servicework. the preponderance of which all were in health care basically taking care of an aging baby boomer population. what are we going to do about a y a going to go to history. if you don't recognize what is at stake and the fact that money has been a motivating principle for shaping our society then people don't have a sense of personal responsibility for chgi the reality that they live. they simply accepted that inequality is the tnaz rt ot society and they will accept anything that a politician will sell them. history is sufficient to making the point that you actually have to protect gains that have en
6:55 pm
ma obelffsomething called justice inequality. the challenge is if they are historically illiterate then they don't have access to that store of ideas and that evidce experience that will help them shape whatever they need to shape for this particular moment. >> is that what you meant when you saidecently that black history for young people is "life saving?" >> that's exactly what imet. > that black history begins with slavery, irons, lynchings, auctions, decades aftereces oppression and repression. how can you say it is life saving? >> that is interesting. because it doesn't begin with al o that. we can debate the finer points of the character of what black history is. what is it thato op conceive of when they hear black
6:56 pm
history? there is the history of oppression. it is a ifying experience in the united states in the american context. many people will argue that the cultures of africa, many cultures, tribes, nations celebrated tremendous achievements by the standards of the world of the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th century before colonization. depending what it is you are trying to convey to a child you can tell them that before the white man came if you go you will see a thriving civilization. you will see the invention of languages that preceded english. along side that trajectory that you described of struggle, pain and oppression is one of survival, triumph and
6:57 pm
creativity. part of telling the story of black history is to celebrate the ability to exist in a society that is working against you and attempting to demonize you and still be able to triumph over it and still be able to produce original forms of art such as jazz music. that's powerful and that is empowering. it's because of black people's political traditions starting with political activism in the context of slavery to this day that america actually is a more democratic society, is a society that has more equality than it did 200 years ago. and that is also a powerfully inspiring history because were it not for black people, for example, in the immediate after math of the civil war the south might have taken another 50 years to have public education. it was because of black
6:58 pm
political representatives in state congresss that they blaszed legislation to establish the first public education systems in the south. that is a major contribution and demonstrates how important making real democracy is and this country has including many minority groups have to thank for that tradition. >> so i'm sitting there in the front row of your lecture at indiana university and i heard you say there is a thin line separating the past from the present. i raised my hand. i say all right. if that's the case, what does history have to tell me about stop and frisk? i ask that question because our brethren at the public radio station in new york ran a series in which they reported that one in five people stopped last year
6:59 pm
by new york city police were teenagers 14 to 18 years old. 86% of those teenagers stopped were either black or latino. most of them boys. last year more than 120,000 stops of black and latino. the total number of boys at that age in new york city isn't much more than that, 177,000 or so which suggests that every teenage boy who is black or latino in this city of new york is likely before he graduates is likely to have been stopped and frisked by the police. you are a historian. what does history have to tell me about stop and frisk? >> it tells us that it is an old and enduring form of surveillance and racial control. so if we think about the moment immediately following the civil war there was the invention of something called the black codes in every southern state.
7:00 pm
those codes were intended to use the criminal justice system to restrict the freedom and mobility of black people. if you crossed any lines that they prescribed you could be sold back to your former slave owner, not as a slave but as a prisoner to work off your fine after an auction where you were resold to the highest bidder. it tells you something about the invention of the criminal justice system as an oppressive tool to keep black people in the place from the moment where 95% of the black population became free. it is still with us because ultimately as a social problem crime has become like it was in the jim crow south, a mechanism to control by people's movement in city. just like douglas bachmann
7:01 pm
described in "slavery in another name." >> what happened to blacks after the civil war. >> the invention of convict leasing. it had many sources but the one with the economic project to rebuild the south on the back of imprisoned leased african americans sold to private industry. and the net widened because there was a lot of money to be made in doing that type of work. in the work we learn how elastic were laws like vagrancy laws intended to empower any citizen or law enforcement official to check. the papers of a black person moving freely. if you couldn't prove that you were currently employed, bound to a tenant farming contract or share cropping agreement then you were by definition a vagrant, a criminal and subject
7:02 pm
to, in this case, convict leasing. if you are a share cropper and you are being cheated and you step away he can call the police and say this person just left my property and they don't have a job. you get picked up, you are done. you are off to a convict lease. the point is that elasticity, the ability to use the law as an instrument of control is exactly what operates in the context of it. it operated in new york. stop and frisk as a policy is not that old but as an informal practice numerous instances happened in brooklyn and harlem. here is the point. today's stop and frisk if you look at the form that a police officer fills out the boxes create tremendous opportunity for discretion.
7:03 pm
so suspicious behavior. probably the one that is most indicative of this is one box that says wearing clothing known to be associated with criminals. what does that mean for an 18-year-old black or latino boy in new york city? he has sagging pants? is that sufficient grounds for investigating whether or not he is a criminal or not? does he have a white t shirt. is he wearing a backpack that could contain drugs? in other words, it is incredibly elastic. >> it could include a hoody in florida. >> it allows law enforcement in this city just like in alabama to have the widest berth of discretion to challenge a person, a black male on the streets to ask them where are
7:04 pm
you going and do you belong here. if you don't have i.d. you can be subject to arrest in the city. they are the hallways monitoring program that the nypd uses to go into private buildings to make sure there are no drug dealings happenings. as the village voice reported a young man walked out in his pajamas to empty his trash and happened to come across an nypd officer. the officer asked him for his i.d. to prove he lived in the building and wasn't a drug building. he didn't have one, he was fined. that is discretion. that is abuse of authority. that is the racial context. here is where race matters today. why race matters today and defies the logic that this is about saving black people and a color blind public safety agenda is because no white community in america would tolerate this kind of treatment in the name of public safety in its communities. you couldn't go to an east side
7:05 pm
apartment anywhere in new york city and start asking 17-year-old white boys for i.d. when they were out in their pajamas because their political power in the city and other parts of the country is sufficient to get a politician to question whether or not that is the america that we want to live in. when it comes to black and brown people today as was true 100 years ago they are subject to certain criminal justice policies. those lasted way into the civil rights era and informal practices have been going on for over 100 years. >> you have written a biography of an idea here. and the idea you are writing about is how blacks came to be singled out nationally as an exceptionally dangerous people. >> think about it this way.
7:06 pm
there is no moment in time where race is not a primary factor in the treatment of black people. and so the crime issue if you just equate crime or criminalization or racial stigma there is no moment where race is not an organizing principle for how black people's behavior is defined. policies evolved not because they were invented in that moment but because they continued in that moment. and immigrant communities got police reform and black people got police repression. >> in the north 100 years ago in your home city of chicago blacks were only about 2% of the population, maybe 4% of the population and yet stop and frisk became very popular there. >> in the after math of reconstruction there was a
7:07 pm
meeting of the minds between progressives and white supremacists. and the meeting of the minds wasn't what we might think it was. this was also the same moment where people like jame adams and leaders started the naacp. they were deeply concerned about political disenfranchisement and civil rights. in this one space southerners were far more influential in terms of telling northerners that black people were not ready for citizenship and that they were not responsible for following the rules of society. and northerners took note and essentially developed policies and practices primarily policing of urban space. policies like stop, question and frisk helped to create the
7:08 pm
ghettos of harlem of chicago, of west philadelphia that were in their infancy at the turn of the 20th century. it was only on the basis of criminalality that progressives and other liberals said that we are going to let you work out your own salvation and let you stay in these isolated communities until you exhibit the behaviors, the respectability. all of this may sound appropriate to viewers listening today except that the same didn't hold true for european immigrants who gave so much trouble to civic reformers. they didn't speak the language. they brought old world cultural trades. they were loud. they wanted to pedal their wares.
7:09 pm
they lived in dense places. they were brewing wine and other liquors in their bathtub. some were extortionists. they didn't say we are going to let you work out your own salvation. they said we have to get in here and americanize these people. >> that's social welfare, public parks, job opportunities, social ability but not you say for blacks. >> they were pinned off in a way that crime became the legitimate reason and rationale for that segregation. in other words, crime among immigrants and working class whites were understood to be a consequence, not of their moral character or of their cultural framework but of economics and class. so even europe's peasants and europe's marginalized and dispossessed benefitted from a discourse, a way of ranking the world's people that said any
7:10 pm
european no matter how dasterdly or despicable has the stuff of europe, has the stuff of civilization with just a little bit of help will be on their way to greener pastures. black people were understood as being fundamentally flawed in their nature. >> you go on to say in the book that blackness was refashioned through statistics. that statistics about black crime were ubiquitous. was that deliberate? >> it was over time. the black people were enslaved. there was no point in tracking them statistically because they weren't a population problem. once they were free they were turned to statistics.
7:11 pm
they said we have to figure out how many black babies are born each year and what do they die from. they eventually they turned to crime statistics. the initial point in using statistics was not to celebrate the presence of black people but to determine how much of a presence physically black people would have in the nation. and as it turns out because enslaved people don't go to prison, they are dealt with as plantation now as free people they are going to prison and in 1890 for the first time a statistician said this is disproportionate prison population of black people. only 12% of the population. as it turns out if we just let them be they will commit enough crime and go to prison and we won't have to worry about the economic resources that have to be distributed amongst the irish and now amongst the black people. so the notion of refashioning
7:12 pm
their identity as a criminal identity was intended to be a mechanism to limit social resources on behalf of black communities to say because they are criminals they don't deserve even education. >> you are not denying that there were crimes? >> i'm not denying that. >> but that somehow the black criminal became a representative of his race. >> correct. >> to think and talk about african americans as criminals you write is encoded deeply in our dna. >> correct. but the question became, are we going to help black people like we help the immigrants? the answer was, because they are criminals, no. and that was a rationale rooted in racial logic. it was a rationale tied to ideas
7:13 pm
that privileged europeans as people who could benefit from the help of white reformers and black people could not. it effectively created the circumstances that gave birth to modern segregation in our biggest cities. as those populations grew the basic infrastructure we made it. >> it was amazing to me to go through and find so much of the evidence you collected. you have president roosevelt telling black college graduates that criminality is a greater danger to your race than any other thing can be. one after another saying you blacks are your own worst enemies. >> it is the same dominant ideology we have today. it is not packaged in the same rhetoric.
7:14 pm
it has given birth to policies like stop, question and frisk that mayor bloomberg consistently defends. policies such as mass incarceration. we are still living with the same basic ideas and arguments about the relationship between black criminality and social responsibility between segregation and public safety today as we were in the 1890s in the country. >> here is the testimony of one of the most influential scholars of the time, a harvard scientist and prolific writer. here is what he wrote. there can be no sort of doubt that judged by the light of all experience these people, blacks, are a danger to america, greater and more than any of those that menace the other states of the world.
7:15 pm
here arguing that america would self destruct if it gave blacks the right to vote saying negros could not rise to a base higher than savagery. seeing the negro does belong to a lower why should we ever degrade and disgrace both ourselves and our posterity by entering into more intimate relations with them. may god forbid that we should ever do this foul and wicked thing. this is not talk radio. these are prominent scholars harvard writing this. you are saying that in some way these sentiments still effect today.
7:16 pm
>> absolutely. we have the biggest prison system the world has ever known, one, by the way that came of age in this moment right after the end of the civil rights movement. at precisely the moment that black people have their second shot at equality in america, legally, we could -- you know as well as anyone that we didn't need the 1964 civil rights act if the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment had really been sufficient to creating equality. right after that moment even under lyndon johnson there is an expansion of federal support for local law enforcement on the basis that black people's crime is a danger to civil society.
7:17 pm
again, all of this may make sense to a viewer and to a listener if they didn't know that those same threats to civil society posed by european immigrants weren't treated in a fundamentally different way. that's the point. crime in and of itself was not sufficient to justify a punitive law and order political response or a set of ideas that exist today as they did then that saw black people's crime as evident of some moral inferiority. some natural propencity to want to hurt people. for the european immigrant in the hands it was all true. these people can't help themselves. they are a threat to society. the progressives said no. what is more telling about the progressives is they actually got rid of statistics. they stopped using the language of statistics, 15% of all crimes in the city are committed by the irish and 45% by the italians. they stopped talking that way
7:18 pm
and saying these are the children of immigrants who are becoming americans and we must help them. we must put them on the path to success. that is how they started talking to them, so much so by the 1930s the federal government started collecting arrest data across the nation. this information is produced quarterly and annually called a uniform crime report. so soon you will see in the new york times the latest data which tells us whether crime is rising or falling over all in our nation's cities. that was invented in 1930. here is the point. this is a very important one. prior to that uniform crime report which nationalized and standardized arrest statistics, local arrest data was collected in philadelphia, new york, etc. if you pull out an annual report, the page would look like this. tracking offenses by category.
7:19 pm
it would say italian, german, irish, mexican all the way across. it would look like an excel spreadsheet. by the 1930s with the federal government systematizing national arrest data and becoming the most authoritative basis for understanding crime at the local level and national level guess what it was. whites, black, foreign born, other. that was for the first three years. by 1933 it was white, black, other. effectively what it did was erase the category of the white ethnic criminal. black became the single defining measure of deviance from a white norm. so as long as blacks in that accounting showed disproportionate levels of any activity across the categories white was always normalized. in effect it made invisible
7:20 pm
white criminality. we don't talk about the white prison population. no average person on the street can tell you how many white men are in prison or white men between the ages of 18 and 35. the truth is the number is greater now today than 30 years ago because the size of the prison system has also increased the number of white men. >> so this is how black criminality emerges as a fundamental measure of black inferiority with consequences down to the moment. >> correct. that's right. >> thank you very much. thanks for joining us. >> it's been great. that's it for this week. >> it's been great. that's it for this week. see you next time.
7:21 pm
-- captions by vitac -- funding is provided by -- carnegie foundation of new york celebrating 100 years of philanthropy.
7:22 pm
the coalburg foundation, independent production fund with support from the partridge foundation, the clemeant foundation. dedicated to heightening public awareness of issues. supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and createavity in our society. the john d. and katherine d. foundation committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. the bessey and jesse foundation. the hkh foundation. and by our sole corporate sponsor, mutual of america designing customized, individual
7:23 pm
7:24 pm
7:25 pm
7:26 pm
[uplifting music] ♪ - a jewel of new mexico, a place where if billy the kid was resurrected, he would recognize it from the time that he last saw it. - rolling hills, a little bit of mountains,
7:27 pm
a river, green-- very pretty. burkhardt: among these mountains in southern new mexico lies fort stanton-snowy river national conservation area. once home to billy the kid, occupied by both union and confederate armies, the buffalo soldiers, and the apache mescalero tribe, its history and culture are rich. today it remains largely as it existed 150 years ago, offering new opportunities above- and belowground. - it's a huge area for recreation. that includes everything from trails-- like, for horses, mountain bikes, hikers-- to our caving program, which is also a huge part of our resource here. burkhardt: directly beneath this postcard new mexico landscape is fort stanton cave, an obscure recreational caving site since the 1960s. but signs of human visitation date back to the civil war, and recently, hints of even earlier visitors
7:28 pm
have been discovered. - we've recently found evidence of where cane torches were being hit on the ceiling, like in mammoth cave, only here, the fragments have stuck into the mud, so we actually are gonna be able to get a radiocarbon date one of these days. burkhardt: but perhaps the most intriguing feature of fort stanton was discovered in 2001 when spelunkers investigating signs of additional caves revealed snowy river passage. - his comment was something to the effect of, "how in the blankity-blank-blank are we gonna deal with this?" and of course, those that were hind him said, "what? what is it?" he said, "i don't know. it looks like a snowy river." and that's how snowy river got its name. burkhardt: snowy river is now considered the longest calcite formation in the world, with almost 17 miles of cave passages documented and no end in sight. this natural wonder has turned out to be a scientific gold mine. - they're doing science that hn't been done before, or it has been done before,
7:29 pm
but they're doing modifications of it and improvements on it and just really amazing work. burkhardt: newly discovered bacteria at snowy river are helping scientists understand possible life on other planets as well as new cures for disease. it's also an opportunity to study how humans impact underground environments. and the findings have resulted in a more holistic approach to managing public lands. - when we do management actions on the surface, we know that what we do up here is gonna infiltrate into cave passages below. and what goes into cave passages will eventually come up someplace, in groundwater, well water, springs. burkhardt: a fragile, interconnected, and, now, protected landscape. for this american land, i'm bruce burkhardt.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on