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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
This Juneteenth, we discuss 155 years since the end to slavery in America with historians, Eric Foner and Carol Anderson.
Then what we should know about the people we don’t know. Best-seller author, Malcolm Gladwell, on why our interactions with strangers often go
Plus, reimagining America. The Smithsonian’s Lonnie Bunch tells our Walter Isaacson about the need to catch up on the Africa-American story.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour working from home in London.
Today, America marks Juneteenth. It was on this day in 1865, two and a half years after President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation that union
soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas to announce the end of slavery and that they had been freed.
This year, the day is particularly meaningful and fraught as the United States, and indeed the world, are faced with graphic evidence of the long
journey to justice still ahead. With the killing of George Floyd sparking demands for an end to police brutality, and coronavirus devastating
America’s black community, now news that the first Trump administration official has resigned from her senior post in the State Department to
protest the administration’s response to race and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Incredibly, President Trump had originally planned to hold his first post- COVID political rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, today on Juneteenth.
In 1921, that city was the site of a terrible massacre of hundreds of black residents by their white neighbors. Now, a massive outcry has forced the
rally of the president to be postponed by a day. And I’m joined now by two distinguished historians, Carol Anderson, professor of African-American
studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She’s also the best-selling author of “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.” And Columbia
University history professor, Eric Foner, whose Pulitzer prize-winning work explore slavery, the civil war and reconstruction that followed.
Welcome both of you to the program.
Let me just start by getting a pulse check. I just want to know after all the work you have done on the history that you teach and that you’re so
intrinsically involved in, how shocking has it been for each of you to see what we’re seeing, certainly with the death of — the killing of George
Floyd, and before that, Ahmaud Arbery, and before that, you know, Breonna Taylor, all of these people you we’ve seen. Let me just ask you first,
CAROL ANDERSON, PROFESSOR OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES, EMORY UNIVERSITY: The deaths haven’t been shocking because they’re part of a pattern, but I
think it’s been the convergence of the coronavirus, the economic collapse and Trump that have really laid bare and led to this kind of uprising and
this call for really understanding our history so that we don’t keep doing this. And that’s been heartening, seeing that kind of activism.
AMANPOUR: Professor Foner, to you. Are you heartened by the activism and also by the sort of cross-racial protests that we’ve seen? It’s an uprising
on the streets today that’s not just within the black community but for the black community by whites and others as well?
ERIC FONER, PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF HISTORY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Yes, I agree. I find the events that are going on now inspiring, actually. I mean,
I have — I’m old enough that I’ve seen these movements come and go. The civil rights revolution of the 1960s, et cetera.
But I think you’re right, it’s not just the multiracial character of these protests and marches, but the fact that they’re happening all over the
country, including in really small towns and cities that have never been a major focus of racial justice demonstrations. So, yes, I think it’s a
wonderful moment in a way, even though the things that are being protested are, you know, dire problems in American life.
AMANPOUR: And it is extraordinary because all over the world we’re seeing it as well, here in the U.K., in Africa, elsewhere, you know, their rights
are being questioned as well. The colonial history is being revisited as well. I mean, it’s a real — seems like a massive global moment.
So, I want to ask you, Professor Anderson, maybe we weren’t as familiar with Juneteenth as we should have been on a mass scale. What is the
significance of it, and particularly as it relates to today?
ANDERSON: I think that the significance is that you get this moment where the general from the U.S. army gets to Galveston, Texas in June 19, 1865
and informs the enslaved that they are, in fact, free. The war has been over for several months, but they are, in fact, free. That sense of freedom
— and that was a freedom that had been borne by years of resistance, of uprisings, of running away. And so, that resilience, that taste of freedom,
We know, though, that it was fleeting. And so, what we’re dealing with today are the residuals of the inability of the U.S. to come to grips with
slavery and all of its legacies.
AMANPOUR: Professor Foner, do you think the fact that President Trump was going to have his rally not just on Juneteenth, of course, it’s been
postponed until tomorrow, but also in a city that is the center of one of the worst massacres of black residents by white neighbors? Of course, that
was like 1921. But that — I mean, can that be an accident?
FONER: I don’t think that President Trump is well educated in American history. So, I can well believe that he personally did not know very much
about the Tulsa massacre. On the other hand, I do believe that there were people in his entourage and the White House who certainly did know, and
when I heard that he had chosen Tulsa, what it reminded me of was how Ronald Reagan in 1980 launched his presidential campaign in Philadelphia,
Mississippi, which was the site of, you know, the murder of three civil activists during the freedom summer of 1964.
Launching your campaign or relaunching it, in the Trump case, in a place like that sends a message. It’s a subliminal message, it’s not overt, but
it sends a message about who you think your supporters are and what is important to you. So, I don’t think the choice of Tulsa was just an
accident or inadvertent, it sends a message not that President Trump approves of the massacre of hundreds of people, but just, you know, which
side are you on, fundamentally, and choosing Tulsa tells us something about that.
AMANPOUR: So, then, let me ask both of you, because he is obviously a divisive president and has used division at certain very, very key moments
of his political career. Even now, he’s threatening so-called, you know, anarchists and troublemakers that they will be treated “roughly” if they
protest his rally in Tulsa.
So, I want to ask you both of you about the concept, because you are professors of African-American history, of this constant cycle of what
looks like progress followed by backlash. So, progress, you know, in the south, and then progress in civil rights followed by white backlash to what
black Americans have gained.
Professor Anderson, can you just put that into context and sort of connect it to today, because it matters about what might happen next today?
ANDERSON: It matters so much. It was the basis of my book, “White Rage,” in fact, looking at that phenomenon and looking at it via policy, that
whenever African-Americans make a significant gain toward their citizenship rights, you see a wave of policies coming up to undercut those rights. We
see it coming out of the civil war where African-Americans are no longer property, where you get the rise of a Supreme Court that is just
eviscerating the amendments that dealt with the matters of the servitude of slavery, citizenship and the right to vote.
And we see that again coming in the great migration where you had African- Americans fleeing the south and going north, and again, a wave of loss to block their access and to block their aspirations for decent housing, good
schools. And the brown decision that ended Plessy v. Ferguson separate but equal, you saw public school systems shutting down across the south so that
black children would not get educated, but white children would get funding to go to all white private academies. And that leads us to the civil rights
movement and then to Obama. And it was the backlash against Obama that helps feed the rise of Donald Trump.
So, it behooves us, as we used to say in church, to be able to know those powers and to not get complicit or complacent in what this incredible
moment means as we’re seeing these policies being generated, because we know the backlash is coming.
AMANPOUR: Professor Foner, you write about, obviously, a lot of instances because of the reconstruction work that you’ve written about. But you write
about a specific case study. I think it’s the “40 Acres and a Mule.” So, after the civil war — I mean, you’re going to explain it to us, but the
freed slaves had been given land to be able to, whatever, farm, build, have some economic security for themselves only to see it taken away from them
FONER: Yes, you’re right. Of course, there was some land distributed at the very end of the civil war by General William T. Sherman, 40 acres of
land in parts of South Carolina, Georgia, and a mule to come along with it. That land was all given back to former owners of the order President Andrew
Johnson who succeeded Lincoln.
And, you know, you can fast-forward 60 years. The Tulsa massacre was really sparked by black economic progress. You know, Tulsa — the black
neighborhood, they was called the Black Wall Street. There were many, many businesses of all kinds. They were systemically destroyed. So, as Professor
Anderson said, unfortunately in our history, there have been, you know, too many incidents where progress in racial justice, progress of African-
Americans rising up the social scale has then led to violent backlash and retreat.
We have to make sure that this time that does not happen. I’m cautiously optimistic that this time we will see more permanent changes as a result of
this, you know, large-scale demonstrations that have been taking place throughout our country.
AMANPOUR: So, I think I want to explore that with both of you. How does one keep up the momentum? Because I guess it’s not going to be protesting
every day from now until, you know, structural racism is dismantled. So, how does the protest on the street translate into a political movement?
And I just want to read for our viewers some of the terrible, structural disadvantages built into the system. I mean, you know, there’s so much of
it, but look, we’ve just got a few here. The net worth of a typical white family is nearly 10 times greater than that of a black family. African-
Americans are incarcerated more than five times the rate of whites. Blacks are twice as likely to experience barriers to voting as whites. On every
single level, jobs, housing, health care, criminal justice, voting, blacks face obvious inequality and justice.
And I just want to ask you, because Mayor Bottoms of Atlanta, where you are, Professor Anderson, has said about this moment. For the first time in
my lifetime, white people are unapologetically able to say, I’m ignorant and perhaps I am complicit. That is a silver lining that we get to have
open conversations about what white privilege means because usually, that’s a conversation we have behind closed doors.
So, Professor Anderson, do you agree and how do you see a systematic progress on all these issues that we’ve just mentioned in order to level
the playing field in a proper way?
ANDERSON: I think one of the key pieces is the power of the right to vote and having that honored, and then having policymakers who understand
structural systemic racism, that we’re not talking about the kind of racism where there’s one bad person and — but we’re talking about how it’s built
into the system where have been an African-American with a college degree doesn’t mean that you’re going to have the same kind of wealth as a white
person with a high school diploma, that these kinds of structural barriers must be overcome. And that’s going to take the word of policymakers and
it’s going to take the work of the people continuing to hold these policymakers accountable.
So, that’s one of the key elements. The protests, moving into policy and politics, and having it sustained over time.
AMANPOUR: So, Professor Foner, where do you think white people fit into this? I mean, certainly we have heard — we’ve seen on the streets that
there is a lot of, you know, comradeship between whites and blacks on the streets. We’ve seen whites do all sorts of hash tags and reach out, but
we’ve also heard from African-Americans that they’re getting a little fed up with constantly being texted, how are you, what can we do, as if, again,
putting the burden on so-called the victims of this injustice, for them to also now tell you how to fix their situation.
Historically, as you study this, where do you see the white people and the white privilege and white advantage being able to take the initiative and
do the right thing going forward?
FONER: You know, movements for racial justice have always been interracial in this country, whether you go back to the abolitionist movement, the
NAACP, when it began, there were many whites in the leadership mostly, the civil rights movement.
Now, today, yes, it seems like it’s slightly more multiracial than we’ve seen, especially among the younger generation. You know, I think what’s
demanded of white people is what’s demanded of everybody in this country, that is to think seriously and creatively about how to address the kinds of
problems that you indicated before.
Social progress always comes from this combination of grassroots activism and political leadership, enlightened political leadership. That’s how
slavery ended in the first place. It wasn’t Lincoln himself, although he was important, but slaves demanding freedom, abolition is working with
them, the Union Army. It requires everybody to sort of say, this — to identify the problem and say, OK, here is how we’re going to address it.
The one factor that is missing right this minute is political leadership, at least at the top. Possibly that may change later this year, but without
leadership from Washington, it’s a lot harder. Not impossible, but a lot harder to think about ways of addressing the structural problems that still
exist in this country.
AMANPOUR: Again, Carol Anderson, you’ve written a lot about voting, and we’ve seen, obviously, the attempt to suppress voters, voters’ rights, the
suppression of the vote. And we’ve seen what happened in Georgia, as you mentioned, we saw what happened in Wisconsin earlier. There is real fear
that integrity of the 2016 election could be compromised, do you share that fear, and what do you think has to happen, even if it’s on the streets, to
make sure a free and fair election can take place in the United States in November?
ANDERSON: I think it is happening now. You saw in Georgia, yes, we had lines three, five, seven hours long to be able to vote. But you saw people
standing in that line determined to have a voice in this democracy. And I think that’s one of the things that we tend to forget is the resilience and
the determination of so many Americans who are real thriving democracy.
It’s also going to take our civic societies who are doing that heavy lifting, of pounding, on these voter suppressors in the courts. It’s going
to take an education campaign about — because on the Georgia absentee ballot, it had the wrong date on it. So, it took then a mass effort to get
the right date for the primary to the people. So, it’s going to get this kind of multi-pronged effort to overcome a massive voter turnout, massive,
massive. So massive that the little tweaks there and takes there in the voter suppression that eat out (ph) that electoral college victory for
Trump, that can’t happen this year.
AMANPOUR: Professor Foner, finally, first, do you think there will be massive voter turnout? Because it was a little questionable certainly in
the African-American community last time around in 2016, and many of them say, we vote, we vote, we vote, but no administration actually meets our
needs. And Reverend Barber, William Barber, has said 61 percent of African- Americans live in either poverty or low wealth.
So, there’s that, but then there’s also, what if society blows it this time? This is an amazing moment that everyone said could be a tipping
point? What happens if even this doesn’t work?
FONER: I think there will be a lot of frustration and anger if this massive outpouring of demands to change does not produce some very
significant results. You know, throughout American history, even though we pride ourselves on being a democracy, at least rhetorically, the right to
vote has always been contested. African-Americans could not vote except in a handful of states before the civil war, and then in the south, their
right to vote was taken away in the late 19th century and well into the 20th century.
We see voter suppression laws being passed today in many states. Georgie — putting aside the long lines, Georgia has thrown many, many people off the
voting rolls for trivial reasons. So, efforts to stop people from voting go way back and are continuing today. And I think, you know, it’s very
important to maintain that in a democracy, the right to vote ought to be respected, not challenged. That’s all I can say about that. We are hoping
that a genuine democratic election will take place this fall.
AMANPOUR: Professor Eric Foner, thank you very much. And to you, Professor Carol Anderson, I see you’re wearing the 1619 badge on your lapel there, of
course, 400 years since the first slaves came to the United States. I just want to end with a quote for our viewers, something you wrote after
Ferguson in the op-ed. You said, with so much attention on the flames, everyone had ignored the kindling. And I think that is absolutely, you
know, relevant today. Why is this rage happening in the streets? Thank you both so much, indeed, for joining us.
ANDERSON: Thank you.
FONER: You’re welcome.
AMANPOUR: And we continue our conversation now with Malcolm Gladwell, the best-selling author of “The Tipping Point,” “Blink” and “Talking to
Strangers,” and his podcast, “Revisionist History” reinterprets key moments from the past. The topics of policing and race appear throughout his body
of work. And Malcolm Gladwell joins me from New York now.
Welcome back to the program.
MALCOLM GLADWELL, HOST, “REVISIONIST HISTORY”: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: I just want to, I guess, catch up with you as well on the significance of Juneteenth, what you just are getting from this moment and
this movement right now. You’ve written so much throughout your work, the threat of race and policing and these social movements of all types. Where
do you sort of feel we are in your line of investigation?
GLADWELL: Well, I remember when I was writing my last book “Talking to Strangers,” at the very beginning I have a line about — which is organized
around the case of Sandra Bland, one of most high-profile cases of police violence involving an African-American. And I have a line about how I had
gotten sick about — of the fact that every time one of these cases happens, we pay attention for a couple of few days and then we move on. And
I say, and I don’t want to move anymore.
At the time, I was — when I wrote that line, I was profoundly pessimistic. But now, I feel like there’s something about this moment where no one wants
to move on, and this is the most encouraging thing I’ve seen in my lifetime when it comes to race relations in America. I mean, it’s — I honestly feel
something of genuine importance is happening right now.
AMANPOUR: That’s really, really heartening to hear. And because you’re talking about Sandra Bland, which, as you say correctly, bookends your book
“Talking to Strangers.” You wrote on page 6, prejudice and incompetence go a long way towards expanding social dysfunction in the United States.
Police officers still kill people in this country, but those deaths no longer command the news. I suspect that you may not have had to pause for a
moment, you may have had to pause for a moment to remember who Sandra Bland was. We put aside those controversies after a decent interval and move on
to other things.
Again, are you really convinced, and what convinces you, that this terrible spate of killings, you know, culminating — well, not culminating but
George Floyd was really — I mean, just — as people have called it, an 8- minute 46-second public lynching for the whole world to see. Shortly after that of course, Rayshard was killed in Atlanta. So, I mean, still goes on.
What is it though that makes you think this is, to quote you, a tipping point?
GLADWELL: Because what typically happens in these cases, and, you know, the list of these cases is a mile long. And what typically happens is, we
have a discussion about the particulars of the case and a discussion about what the victim may have done to bring it on and what the officer may have
done to exacerbate it. Was the officer involved racist, a bad cop, et cetera, et cetera? In other words, the discussion is entirely personal.
And those kinds of discussions, framing of these issues, are a way of dodging the bigger and more important question, which is about the system
that produces these kinds of inequities. For the first time in a long time, I feel like we’re not just content to have a conversation about the
individuals, and now, we’re having a conversation about the system. That is the crucial shift.
You did not see that — in Ferguson, we spent an enormous amount of time speculating about who Michael Brown was and what was he doing and what was
the cop and was the cop innocent or was the cop guilty? Now, I feel like we’re saying, wait a minute, is there something fundamentally wrong with
the way we’re organizing law enforcement in many communities in the United States?
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, that leads me to just a reflection. I listened to the great director, Ava DuVernay talking to Oprah Winfrey in sort of,
you know, a group gathering about what’s happening right now. And she pointed to a picture of the kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. But also, she
described it, as you saw in one frame, the victim and the attacker and the policeman. And you have never seen that before. In a way, the face is so
recognizable. And before, people were able to maybe never recognize the police again. But in this case, that face is out there in the same frame.
What do you make of that? And, of course, we all saw the casual nature of that policeman, Chauvin, with his glasses on his head, his hands in his
pocket, and just doing what some African-Americans have described as what a hunter would do to a deer.
GLADWELL: Yes. Yes. No, there is no — I think you’re absolutely right. One of the things — you know, when I was writing my book, I chose the
Sandra Bland case because we had video and audio of the entire encounter between the police and Sandra Bland, and that was unusual because usually
what happens in these cases, we have some kind of fragmentary evidence, maybe a partial video, maybe a — but we’re left to fill in the blanks. And
because there are so many blanks, it allows the other side to equivocate, to say it’s more complicated, you know, to do all kinds of ways of
minimizing the issue.
With this — with George Floyd, there is no equivocation possible. You know, we have the whole thing now. And I think that is — I think you’re
absolutely right. There is a point at which those who would normally roll their eyes or shrug or dismiss can no longer do that because the evidence
is too overwhelming.
AMANPOUR: Look, you’ve written a lot about policing and race and in “Tipping Point” you actually talked about the broken windows theory. And it
looks like your theories and your beliefs on policing have evolved. Broken windows, of course, is a theory that you have to respond to every single
smallish crime in order to deter bigger crimes. How is your and why has your thinking on that evolved?
GLADWELL: When I wrote “The Tipping Point,” the crime decline in New York had just started, and it was mystifying, no one knew why. Crime was
plunging and there were all of these kinds of theories, that was one of them. And I — I’ll be honest with you, I was enamored of that theory. And
I quickly realized that as I say the way that idea of policing was enacted the streets of New York and other places, that it was, first of all,
probably not the reason for the crime to crime. But two, it was an invitation to another kind of abuse.
And so, when I wrote my second book, “Blink,” I also, that book, you know, ends with another famous police shooting in New York and my attempt to
explain it. And by that point, I had distanced myself entirely from broken windows.
I mean, I think I — I think I was wrong. I didn’t understand the way it would — that idea would be used by law enforcement, and I think a lot of
other people were wrong as well.
AMANPOUR: Malcolm, can I ask you — you’re obviously part black yourself. You’re of Jamaican heritage.
How have you experienced racism, systemic, structural racism, if you have?
GLADWELL: I don’t think I have.
I mean, I think my mother has. But I don’t think I have, for a number of reasons. I am a — I’m biracial, which matters. I grew up in Canada, very
different environment than here in the United States. And there’s also a class reason.
I think that one of the things that we need to understand is that these issues we’re talking about are — they are not simply and solely about
race. They’re about race, they’re about class, they’re about geography. They’re about — it is a very different matter to be an African-American
in, you know, a very conservative small town in the South than it is to be an African-American in New York City, or some — or Toronto, where I grew
So, like, there is a complicated interplay of factors at work here, and I have been lucky enough to be spared a lot of that. I have an enormous
understanding and sympathy for what’s happening, but it’s not — I would be lying if I said it was my own experience.
AMANPOUR: Your book “Talking to Strangers,” your latest book, it’s obviously all about trying to figure out how to deal with people who you
What — what does — how does that fit in to the current debate that we’re — happening right now?
GLADWELL: Oh, well, squarely.
So, one of the things I talk about in the book is how difficult it is for us to make accurate assumptions of strangers quickly. The kind of that’s
available to us in that moment is fragmentary, is noisy, is largely incorrect, and leads — can lead us to make catastrophic errors in reading
This has — I will give you a very concrete way in which this has come up. I read — I listened to this fascinating interview the other day with a
scholar of law enforcement in America, who was talking about the institution, the cultural practices of law enforcement in America.
Now, there are many police forces, for example, that require police officers to resolve difficult situations within a specific period of time.
They put them on the clock. So, what you can’t do, you’re under pressure from your superiors in your department to resolve whatever — you come up
with someone who’s noncompliant, you don’t have the time to sit down and talk them through.
So, what do you do? You got 90 seconds before you got to move on. Well, the fastest thing to do is to Tase them, right?
So we — have I given us one small example of institutionalized practices that impose a psychological impossibility on a police officer. No one,
especially a police officer in a high-stakes situation, can make sense of someone in 90 seconds.
I was watching the tape of that horrible incident in Atlanta with the man shot in the Wendy’s. And so much of that is about how the police officers
were in a hurry, right? The guy’s not harmful. He’s not going anywhere. It’s the middle of the night. You’re not busy.
You didn’t want to — he’s just had a little bit too much to drink. You can imagine a scenario where all they do is drive his car off to the side,
drive him home, talk to him, I mean, spend 20 minutes with him or half-an- hour with him.
Instead, what do they do? They jump to a conclusion about him, and they try and arrest him. And they set in motion a sequence of incredibly unfortunate
So, these issues of time, for example, are huge in all of this. We need to structure these problematic encounters so that each party has a chance to
get a fair shot at understanding each other. We’re not doing that now.
AMANPOUR: It’s awful.
And his niece, of course, in the press conference said, I mean, all they had to do was call us, and we would have come in and collected him, take
AMANPOUR: And he was, in fact, sleeping off the drink. That would have been presumably what law enforcement would have encouraged, rather than
driving with it.
But I want to play you a sound bite that’s come to light, because it turns out that he did have a brush with the law. There was some element, I think,
of credit card — problem with his credit card. And he was arrested. And he was taken to court.
And his public defender basically said, you know, unless you plead guilty, you might get 10 years, blah, blah. And he pleaded guilty. And he got one
year, and he was released after that.
But this is what he said about the experience:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAYSHARD BROOKS, SHOT BY ATLANTA POLICE: I just feel like some of the system could, you know, look at us as individuals. We do have lives.
It was just a mistake we made, and not just do us as if we are animals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, he’s basically summing up a lot of what you have said, I mean, validating this notion that no time, no care, no empathy, just a sort
of a view of how to deal with this situation.
And when you listen to all these conversations about what has to happen next in terms of definitely reform, but maybe even massive change, and not
just reform around the edges, where do you see it going?
And particularly with all your — you study human behavior, human nature, different types of people, races, creeds, et cetera. How do you see all
sides getting together, as they must if this is going to be real change?
GLADWELL: Well, like I said, I have permitted myself a rare moment of optimism recently, because I do see in this tragedy the seeds of a
willingness by a number of different — by the way, in the — I said tragedy — I should have said tragedies — the seeds of a willingness on
the part of all sides to sit down and have a real conversation.
I don’t think — I think that 99 percent of police officers in this country would welcome a far-reaching discussion about what their role is. I think
that they have been asked to do too much. We have given them jobs — why are police officers dealing with people who have substance abuse or mental
health issues? They don’t want to do that.
They’re not trained to do that. It’s a crazy system we have thrust on them. We have systematically cut back on the amount of spending on — in those
two areas, and just off-loaded that responsibility. The responsibility of dealing with and caring with some of the most troubled people in society,
we have off-loaded onto police officers.
They didn’t ask to do that. They’re not trained to do that. They would be so welcome — they would so welcome a conversation where we said, OK, let’s
figure out a way to take that burden off your shoulders, and all of a sudden maybe they’re not under the same kind of stress that causes them to
make rash decisions when they’re dealing with otherwise harmless or innocent people.
There is — there’s an opportunity here now for us to fundamentally reshape the way we deal with people who are in trouble, right? That’s the common
element in all of this.
AMANPOUR: Malcolm Gladwell, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
And, of course, it does depend on police unions wanting to go ahead with this kind of restructuring. And they seem, at least from reports so far, to
be resisting. We will see.
Now, our next guest has spent his career trying to reckon with America’s troubled past. Lonnie Bunch is the first African-American and the first
historian to oversee the Smithsonian, which is the world’s largest museum complex.
Before taking on the role last year, he led the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is in Washington,
D.C. One of its exhibit rooms tells the tragic story of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black American teenager who was brutally murdered in 1955.
And here he is now with our Walter Isaacson, Lonnie Bunch, talking about curating a response to the current historic upraising.
WALTER ISAACSON: Thank you, Christiane.
And welcome to the show, Secretary Lonnie Bunch.
LONNIE BUNCH, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION SECRETARY: Thank you. Very pleased to be with you.
ISAACSON: We often think of history as some bunch of things that happened in the past.
But, right now, with both the pandemic and the protests, we are living real history. How do you at the Smithsonian gather the artifacts that we’re
going to use later to try to interpret an amazing moment of history like this?
BUNCH: I think you put your finger on what is so important.
Part of the job of a museum complex like the Smithsonian is to make sure that we’re collecting today for tomorrow, not just yesterday. So, what we
do is, we come together and say, how important is this moment historically?
We think this is obviously going to be one of those lenses to understand 21st century America. So, we have begun to collect in a variety of ways. We
collect the signs that people carry, the signs that were along the fence along by the White House, collected some of those materials.
We have gone around, though, interviewed people, asked people to share with us the images they have shot on their own phone of the marches and
demonstrations around the country, what their photographs are.
And then what we do is, we always make sure that we’re reaching out to many of the families of people who have been affected by police violence. So,
the goal is to give as many ways to understand this subject for the future by collecting today.
ISAACSON: You were the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. And there are so many
exhibits there that touch us, especially today.
Of course, for me, the most powerful is the Emmett Till exhibit. And I know you have been a friend of his mother too. Explain to me the curation of
BUNCH: Well, part of what I wanted to do was to make sure that the museum tapped emotion and that people saw that history shaped them yesterday and
And when I was president of the Chicago Historical Society, one of my dear friends was Studs Terkel, the great oral historian. And Studs would come to
my office. And he’d say, have you met this person? And I said no. And he said, well, have you met Emmett Till’s mother?
And I didn’t know she was still alive. So, she came to my office, and we’re going to have an hour lunch. And she spoke for seven hours about what
happened from the time she kissed her son goodbye to the time she buried him.
And it was one of the most emotional days of my life. And I began to sort of spend time with her. And she used to tell me that she carried the burden
— this was her word — the burden of Emmett Till for 50 years. And now other historians, other people need to do that.
And I sort of felt, I needed to care. So, I left — unfortunately, she died. I left to come back to the Smithsonian. And there was a discovery of
the original casket of Emmett Till. And the family called me and said, it’s being not displayed properly. It’s being uncared for. Can you do something?
And I have to be honest. I thought, do I collect the casket? But then I kept hearing his mother saying to me that this was the most painful moment
of her life, but, by having the casket remain open, she wanted the world to see what they did to her son. And through her actions, she basically
rejuvenated the civil rights movement.
So, I thought it was important to craft an exhibition that would let us mourn Emmett, but also see the power of his mother and what she did. And so
we have created, where we have recreated the sense of that funeral, and people see it in the museum as maybe the most sacred space in the National
And do you think that the murder and the funeral of George Floyd might also be such an inflection point? And, if so, how might you be able to deal with
that at the Smithsonian?
BUNCH: On the one hand, as a historian, this is part of a long history, a long history of American democracy, embedded in it sort of systematic race,
systematic racism and discrimination, and that there’s been a long history of broken black bodies.
But I think the visibility that this has generated, the fact that diverse people around the world are campaigning to change America, that what you
realize is that this moment is an inflection point.
And to watch how people mourned him as he moved from Minneapolis to North Carolina to Houston was really a very powerful story, reminded me,
candidly, of the return of Lincoln to Springfield. And people sort of mourned in different places and shared their love and their pain.
So, I think that this is really — his funeral is really one of those things that obviously you document from a historical point of view, but it
really becomes that symbol that says, it’s enough mourning. Now there’s time for action.
ISAACSON: This confluence of the pandemic and the protests, do you think that will help us or maybe even force us to focus more on the black
experience in America?
BUNCH: In some ways, the dual pandemic, obviously, that has told us that – – about health care disparities, obviously, the impact of the sort of death of George Floyd, the decline in our economy.
I think what it’s done is said to people that, once again, we need to shine a light on all the dark corners the American experience. And one of those
corners is the African-American experience.
And I think what happens, what I’m hopeful is that, first of all, you’re seeing more people talk about history, asking, help me understand what
Juneteenth is, or what’s the history of protests in America?
So, anything that gets people trying to understand how history shaped who we are today is extremely important. I also think that what this has done,
though, it’s really said, we, as a country, cannot avert our eyes to what’s right in front of us, to the fact that so many of the people who die from
COVID-19 are people of color, and that this sort of kind of systematic racism that we’re seeing unfold with the police department is really a lens
into something bigger, a lens into saying that this might be one of those moments.
This might be a clarion call to say, can we move America forward, like we have done and other times in the past? So, I am hopeful that this will be a
But, also, as you know, as a historian, I worry about how long this will be sustained. And will there be the kind of leadership at all levels that will
allow us to make this kind of change?
ISAACSON: Recently, in the past few years, we have seen a revision of history, including in the great “New York Times” project and other things,
that focus more on the centrality of race to the American experience.
Do you think this is proper? Or do you understand some historians who are pushing back and saying we have overdone that?
BUNCH: You know, I think I understand the historical debate, but the reality is that race, the African-American experience is central to the
American experience, and that this is a story that has shaped us all.
And I think our notions of citizenship, our notions of freedom, our notions of economic possibility, our notions of who we are as a nation have been
shaped in fundamental ways by the African-American experience, by grappling with questions of race.
So I think that you cannot overstate how central this is, that what I want to see happen is that all of us, regardless of race, regardless of who we
are, understand that our identity as a nation, our identity as really community has been shaped by the interactions with African-American
And so, in some ways, I would push back to say that we can learn even more about who we once were, and really reimagine who we can become by learning
more and paying more attention to how important the African-American story is, not as an ancillary story, not as an exotic story, not as an
interesting story, but a central story to who we are as a people.
ISAACSON: And how central was slavery and the institution of slavery in the founding of America?
BUNCH: Well, in some ways, slavery is embedded in everything.
I mean, if you look at the history of this country, you realize that everything from foreign policy, to economic considerations, to culture, to
education was shaped by the institution of slavery, and that not only is it the economic engine of the country, but, as you know, that on the eve the
Civil War, more money was invested in slavery than in banking, commerce and business combined.
It really was the economic engine of the country. But it also then shaped the way the country moved forward. It shaped the way people began to think
about, how do you control an African-American community? Slavery is gone. Suddenly, there’s the convict lease system, where many people are actually
controlled and put in the criminal justice system.
So, what you really see to me is that slavery is something that, one, Americans are just now beginning to come to grips with, and seeing it as a
story of all of us, not just as an African-American community.
And, two, I think that, in many ways, some of the patterns, the attitudes people have towards each other, the sense of sort of violence and the use
of violence to control communities, all these have roots in the period of enslavement.
And so, in some ways, slavery, as — I always love this quotation where a former enslaved person said, though the slavery question is answered, its
impact is not. It’s in our streets, it’s in our courts, it’s in our highways, it’s in our restaurants, it’s in our lives all the day every day.
I think that, in some ways, until we grapple with the legacy of slavery, it will be in our lives all the day every day.
ISAACSON: There’s been a move — it started here in New Orleans two years ago — to remove some of the Confederate monuments, Robert E Lee’s statues,
which we did down here.
And some people push back and say, well, you’re erasing history, you’re losing history. What do you think of that? And is there a role the
Smithsonian can play in maybe taking some of these statues as artifacts, and curating them in the context of history?
BUNCH: I have always felt one of the most impressive places I have ever been is sort of Memento Park in Hungary, where they took the Soviet
statues, put them in a park and contextualized them, so you understood what they have meant and what they meant — what they mean.
I am somebody who comes from a community whose history has been erased. So, I don’t ever want to erase this. But, for me, removing some of these
monuments is really about a more accurate history, helping people understand that many of these monuments are less about the Civil War, and
more about segregation, white supremacy, battling against the kind of changes that occurred in the early 20th century and really during the civil
So, for me, this is not about changing history or erasing real history. What for me this is, is about a great corrective, about helping people
understand a more accurate history, a more complex history, a more challenging history, but a history that really says that, right now, we
have always felt that, in some ways, the South lost the Civil War, but won the peace.
And here’s a way to basically make sure that we’re telling a fuller history, not erasing Southern history at all, but placing it in the context
of what actually happened and the impact of things like the Lost Cause, what impact that had not only on America, but on African-Americans as well.
ISAACSON: In the reaction, both to the George Floyd killing and, for that matter, to the pandemic, what has impressed you?
BUNCH: I will tell you, I was really taken by a couple of things.
One, I was taken by the diversity of people who took to the streets, the diversity of people who began to write op-eds and say, wait a minute, this
is not only wrong, but it really opens the lens into other issues dealing with race that we need to explore.
And I think that the fact that you suddenly see, at least for the first time in my life, police chiefs, some police officers beginning to say, you
know what, what happened was wrong, we have got to find a better way to be more community-driven, was a very positive thing.
And I guess, for me, the last thing was that I was struck by a lot of the new surveys and polls that are being taken. As you know, for many years,
less than 50 percent of the American public thought that race or discrimination was crucially important.
Recent polls suggest that almost 80 percent of Americans now recognize how important it is to grapple with the question of race and fairness. I think
that’s all for the good. I think the question really is, at what point do we make sure that this becomes a long-term endeavor, rather than a short-
How do we make sure this is one of those tipping points where you see a country lurch forward?
Because, as you know, as a historian, there are moments where the country has lurched forward. And so this could be one of those. And I’m hopeful
that it will be.
ISAACSON: And what has disappointed you?
BUNCH: What has disappointed me has been that I have not heard enough of an outcry from political leaders at all levels of the governments, saying,
this is the issue of my tenure, this is the issue of my administration.
There have been people who have done amazing things, but I want to see it trickle down to all kinds of leadership.
ISAACSON: Are you disappointed that President Trump hasn’t framed the moral issue in the way that you have just described it?
BUNCH: Let me just simply say that I think all Americans of all political stripes should see this as a moment where you seize it and say, America is
a symbol to the world of what’s possible.
Here’s a chance to burnish that symbolism. Here’s a chance to say that we recognize we are a work in progress, and that, ultimately, we need to
continue to struggle to find our — to make sure that we can be the country that our founding fathers said we were.
ISAACSON: What does this current moment tell you about the question of, why does history matter?
BUNCH: I think, in some ways, I have always felt that history was the best tool to give people advice, information, understanding how to live their
lives and how to understand a situation.
If anything we can contribute as historians, it would be to help the public embrace ambiguity, because that’s what history is, right, and that if we
could help the public not look simply for simple answers to complex questions, but to understand the shades of gray, the nuance, to understand
that change doesn’t happen overnight, that it’s a long process, and to understand that, in essence, America is a work in progress, then I think
people are going to see history, not as simply nostalgia, but as a valuable tool to look for inspiration, a valuable tool to give guidance on how we
move forward, but a valuable tool to teach us that the great strength of a nation is to always work to be made better.
And that’s what you see throughout our history.
ISAACSON: Secretary Lonnie Bunch, thank you so much for joining us.
BUNCH: Oh, it is my pleasure. It’s a great honor to be with you.
AMANPOUR: Such an important conversation.
And, finally, Malala Yousafzai has just graduated from Oxford University. She, of course, is the young Pakistani who campaigned for girls rights to
education, and was shot by the Taliban eight years ago for that campaign.
Now she proudly holds a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. In an Oxford tradition, she was also trashed
with confetti and confectionery after her final exam.
She tweeted: “Hard to express my joy and gratitude right now. I don’t know what’s ahead. For now, it’ll be Netflix, reading and sleep.”
So, another big step in the worldwide quest for justice and equality.
That is it for our program. Remember, you can follow me and the show on Twitter. Thanks for watching “Amanpour and Company” on PBS and join us again next time.