How the Word Is Passed is a novel that takes place in the future. It follows three characters as they try to find their identity and purpose in a world where people are no longer known by names but instead go through life with designations of what job title they have or which type of animal label has been affixed to their head. The story touches on many topics like social class, racism, education systems, religion and more. As might be expected from an author who wrote both Memoirs Of A Geisha: A Novel And How To Be Two — Everything I Never Told My Kids about Us

The “How the Word Is Passed” is a book that discusses how language is passed from one generation to another. The book includes chapters about how languages are passed and the different ways in which they can be changed. It also discusses how the word is passed and its implications for society as well as our understanding of time.

How the Word Is Passed — Book Summary & Review

A front cover of the book,

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How the Word Is Passed is a well researched examination of America’s slavery history. Clint Smith’s reportage on significant historical places emphasizes slavery’s significance, rather than its peripherality, in the creation of the United States. From Jefferson’s Monticello Plantation to Galveston Island, Smith demonstrates how slavery not only influenced but also built modern civilization. Its past may be found in our land, in our policies, and in our recollections.

“At some point, the issue will be whether we have the collective will to cope with this past, not whether we can understand it.”


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“There’s a Difference Between History and Nostalgia,” says Chapter 1 of Monticello Plantation.

The Monticello is a 5,000-acre farm that housed Thomas Jefferson, his family, and up to 130 African-American enslaved people. Some of the slave families of Monticello stayed for three decades on the property.

When Smith arrived to the plantation, he was taken aback by the fact that the vast majority of the guests were white. The plantation’s ratios were “reversed.”

The plantation was perched on the crest of a hill, surrounded by a sea of various trees and undulating hills that ran in all directions. The slaves worked for approximately 40 years to create Jefferson’s estate, which is 11,000 square feet and has 43 rooms. At the foot of the hill lies a cemetery where 40 of Jefferson’s enslaved employees are interred. There are a few scattered headstones, but the identities of the persons buried there remain unknown.

Black people, according to Jefferson, are “inferior to white people in the endowments of both body and intellect.”

Due to the farm book, which maintained records on each slave, Jefferson’s relationship with slavery was obvious. The names of the slaves, their dates of birth, and the date of purchase are all recorded in these log books. What they were permitted to consume is also included in the book. “Half pound of beef, half pound of cornmeal, half pound of salt fish.” Jefferson was a great spender who would sell, lease, and mortgage enslaved people like property to pay off his obligations.

Lucia Stanton, a historian who worked at Monticello, said that “reconstructing the life of the slaves at Monticello is challenging.” Only six images of former slaves exist, and their words are preserved in four memories and a few letters.”

Some of the letters explain how slave children used to play on Sunday afternoons during their free time, how they sang songs late into the evening, and how weddings were celebrated.

This notion has corrupted history courses in schools with a rosy tint.

“So many people, particularly white people, had only an abstract understanding of slavery and those who were enslaved by it. They are oblivious to the faces. They are unable to visualize the hands. They are unaffected by the dread or the laughing. They don’t see these individuals as children, or as people who have birthdays, marriages, and funerals, or as people who love and celebrate one another as much as they love and celebrate their loved ones.”

In actuality, the plantation resonates with earlier expressions of love as well as malevolent laments. There was an unquenchable yearning to live a complete life, one free of the constraints imposed by their forced work.

The Declaration of Independence was conceived by Jefferson at the top of the hill at Monticello. It was also the same location where he defeated Sally’s brother, James Hemings, and lined up 100 slaves for sale.

The plantation included a nail-making facility, and a teenaged enslaved worker named Cary had been instructed to manufacture 1000 nails every day or “be punished with pain if he did not fulfill his quota.” Brown Colbert, one of his buddies, felt it would be amusing to conceal one of Cary’s tools as a prank. The act of concealing his instruments, on the other hand, was not amusing. He grew so enraged as a result of his dread that he smashed his companion in the skull with a hammer, knocking him out and placing him in a coma. Jefferson was at a loss about what to do with the youngster. Is he deserving of a whipping? Starved? What effect would this have on his connection with the other Monticello slaves? “Place him so far away that he’ll never be heard from again, so that it would look to the other nail-makers that he was murdered,” Jefferson said of Cary.

Jefferson was intimately aware of the impact of dividing families, since he sold over 100 slaves, some of them were children ages 5 to 13. He prioritized financial incentives above human ethics.

All of this will be segregated in order to “pay off Jefferson’s obligations posthumously.” According to historian Edward Bonekemper, nearly one million enslaved persons were separated from their family throughout the time of chattel slavery.

Even now, with the Trump administration separating 3,000 children from their parents at the southern border in July 2018, human behavior has reproduced itself. Parents were told that their children were being taken to “the showers,” only to discover that they had been sent to an unknown location.

There is evidence that when Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died in his mid-forties, he had four decades of sexual relations with his slave, Sally Hemmings (aged 16). Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston were Sally’s four children, all of whom lived to maturity and shared stories of their upbringing. Jefferson did not see them as his children and had “no fatherly sentiments” toward them. His connection with Sally exemplifies the complex, complicated ties that white males have with enslaved women, as well as their sexual dominance over them. Jefferson and his white associates were free to do anything they pleased with Hemmings. Both parties were aware that there was no legal remedy.

There were 89 tour guides at Monticello when Clint Smith came, and only four of them were black.

Smith spoke with the guides there and discovered that they faced several obstacles and harassment from guests, who would sometimes “say some very harsh and outrageous things.” Visitors harassed them, others flirted with them, and even strangers asked whether they were “connected to Sally Hemings.” A staff worker was taking a break at the café when a white lady approached her from behind and embraced her, crying, and apologized for slavery.

“We very much believe that white people should be doing this job as well,” the guides stated, but “felt strongly that a museum based on the experiences of Black people should be staffed primarily by Black people.”

“David, Clint Smith’s guide, believes that any guide must be able to strike a balance between presenting the truth and not pushing them to the point of exhaustion. When you attack people’s perceptions of Jefferson, especially white people’s perceptions of Jefferson, he says, you’re really confronting their perceptions of themselves. ‘I’ve realized there’s a distinction between history and nostalgia, and recollection is somewhere in the middle,’ he remarked. ‘I believe that history is a tale about the past told using all available facts, nostalgia is a fiction about the past told without facts, and somewhere in between is memory, which is a mix of history and emotion… History is, after all, about knowing what you need to know… But it’s nostalgia you’re looking for.”

The Whitney Plantation, Chapter 2: “An Open Book, Up Under The Sky”

“The Whitney serves as a test bed for historical ambition, an attempt to rewrite what has already been altered.” It’s a hammer trying to straighten four centuries’ worth of misaligned nails. It’s a space that asks, “How can you convey a tale that has been told incorrectly for so long?” For others, it’s a location that doesn’t quite live up to its billing, a jumble of displays that fails to convey a coherent tale. Others see it as an essential, though flawed, correction to a past that has long been misunderstood or disregarded, a location that does much more good than damage. From both views, it has sparked debate about how plantations can convey the truth of slavery in ways that few other locations can.”

The Whitney Plantation, near Wallace, Louisiana, was established in 1752. It all began with an indigo plantation. Because of the French ships that came back and forth from West Africa to North America, bringing both kinds of seeds as well as personnel who understood how to produce them, rice and indigo were the pillars of southern Louisiana’s plantation economy. Because of the need for indigo and rice, Senegambia provided 60 percent of Louisiana’s enslaved population.

There were almost 20,000 enslaved individuals in Louisiana in 1795. The US abolished the transatlantic slave trade during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency in 1808, but this didn’t halt the unlawful trafficking of 331,000 slaves between 1808 and 1860.

“Written on the wall in front of me was a remark from Julia Woodrich, born in 1851 and enslaved in Louisiana: ‘My mother had fifteen children, none of them had the same pa,” Clint Smith wrote. Every time she was sold, she was given to a different guy. My mother had one boy with her employer, who was the son of my missis brother. She had to take another guy every time she was sold. After she was sold the final time, she had fifteen children.” Throughout slavery, sexual abuse was prevalent, and it followed women wherever they went.

Slave bodies were employed at medical colleges, which pushed the profession ahead. They were exploited at all stages of their lives, even after they died.

Throughout Whitney Plantation, there are dozens of life-size clay sculptures that are exquisitely sculpted from the curves of their lips to the bridges of their nose. From a distance or at a short glance, they seem to be genuine. They were dressed like slaves and had sunken, sensitive eyes.


The “Children of Whitney” sculptures were created to confront visitors with the realities of slavery and serve as a reminder of individuals who were born into this cruel institution. By 1860, approximately four million individuals were slaves, with 57 percent of them under the age of 20.

In 1850, children under the age of ten accounted for 51% of all black fatalities. In contrast, Caucasian fatalities accounted for 38% of all deaths.

The Whitney Plantation included 22 slave cottages, which were used by slave descendants until 1975.

A big bell stood to the right of the slave hut, its color faded from years of exposure to the elements. Historically, the bell served two roles. It had two purposes: first, to announce the beginning and end of each day, and second, to call a slave who was due to be punished. Visitors are encouraged to ring the bell in respect of all those who have been affected by the disaster. “The bell’s metal tongue swung within its body as its chime resonated like a heavy heart,” Smith stated after he pulled the cord.

“I Can’t Change What Happened Here,” says Chapter 3 of Angola Prison.

An overhang with a black sign and bright red lettering reads: ‘LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY’ at the entrance to the Angola jail.

The Angola Museum is a tiny white structure with a large porch on the right side of the street. As you enter the museum, you’ll see an image of two dozen black men being led into a field by a white guy on horseback, each with a digging hoe.

Visitors will view this image before entering the gift store, which sells shirts, ash trays, sun glasses, and shot glasses with ‘Angola Prison’ inscribed on them.

The ‘prisoners weapons,’ which included shanks constructed from used toothbrushes or broken typewriters, as well as firearms brought in by inmates, are displayed in one area.

Samuel James purchased eight acres in Angola in 1880 to hold the state of Louisiana’s convicts. Some of the detainees were sent to Angola, while the majority were forced to work on levees and railways in slave-like circumstances. During Samuel James’ reign, 10% of the captives died.

James died in Angola in 1894, and his control of prisoner labor made him one of Louisiana’s richest men. From 1901, Angola was administered by the state of Louisiana. The majority of the detainees were black, and they were hungry, abused, and imprisoned in old slave quarters that had belonged to Isaac Franklin, who owned one of the greatest plantations in the United States. A cotton plantation that generated 3,100 bales per year.

Even now, African Americans make up about 80% of the 6,300 men imprisoned in Angola, with 71 percent receiving life sentences.

At Angola, prison laborers and their families were entitled to free housing, and employees took advantage of jail labor late in the twentieth century.

An employee’s youngster characterized Angola as a “nice place to live” in a book about the country. “In the morning, there would be a variety of veggies brought about, and we had chefs, yard boys, and house boys, and we could have two or three if we wanted.” History has a habit of repeating itself.

Buildings with tangled barbed wire stood on the opposite side of Angola Prison, separated by an endless dirt road. The Red Hat cell block is the name given to these structures. They were created in the aftermath of the attempted breakout in 1933 and housed inmates who were subjected to the harshest, darkest conditions imaginable.

This jail has a total of forty cells. You’d be inches away from touching the jail walls if you walked inside the cell and stretched your arms out to the side. There was a toilet in the cell, but it was never used since the water was turned off. Because the guards wanted them to “smell the odor of their own bodily waste while eating,” detainees had to use a bucket that was only emptied every few days when they were taken out of their cells for a shower.

The inmates in the Red Hat cell blocks were fed leftovers from other convicts, which generally came in a wheelbarrow smelling like pig crap. Every day, prisoners were beaten, and those who were not broken were killed.

The electric chair, which commenced operating in 1957, was housed in a single room facility just across from the cell blocks. A black guy who killed a white man would face the death penalty. Those who were innocent, on the other hand, were sometimes treated the same way.

Willie Francis, a black 17-year-old from Saint Martinville, Louisiana, was wrongfully accused with narcotics possession. Officers examined him for a different case, the murder of a white pharmacist named Andrew Thomas, which was abandoned. Willie eventually signed a confession for the cops, but he pleaded not guilty in front of a jury of 12 white individuals. Willie’s attorneys made no opening statement, did not call any witnesses, and did not raise any objections. The jury needed barely 15 minutes to reach a conclusion. Willie was condemned to death by lethal injection. However, the chair was incorrectly set up by the two drunk guards earlier that day, and the currents didn’t kill him, but rather tortured him. Willie died a year later in a working electric chair.

In Louisiana, two-thirds of those on death row are black, and one out of every 25 persons put to death is innocent.

Advertisements In Angola, the average sentence is 87 years, and inmates are paid two to seven cents per hour for their labor.

During the prison tour, you can still see an image at the Angola museum showing two dozen black guys lugging equipment on a field. History is repeating itself.

Mark King composed a poem in 1992 that drew a parallel between the harshness of slavery and the current situation of the Angolan prisoners:

“A century of drudgery, blood, and agony.”

Lives squandered and buried in shame.

Slavemasters are in charge of the slaves’ everyday responsibilities.

Sadistic masks dating back a century.

This deathly country has gone unnoticed by the rest of the globe.

The locals are still perplexed as to why.”

“I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but I like it,” says Chapter 4 of Blandford Cemetery.

The 30,000 Confederates slain in the Siege of Petersburg (1864–65) during the American Civil War are buried at Blandford Cemetery. The grounds were 189 acres in size, making it Virginia’s second-largest cemetery.

The cemetery’s entrance is marked by a huge stone archway etched with the words “Our Confederate Heroes.”

Slaves who were given the opportunity to fight with the Union army were referred to as “the white man’s pawns on the front line.” Thousands surrendered to the white confederates during the civil war, who showed no compassion. The slaves would be tortured, murdered, and stacked on top of one another. “No such insurgency, within or beyond the bounds of war, would be permitted,” they said.

Cemeteries containing the remains of former slaves have never gotten enough financial assistance.

The People’s Memorial Cemetery, located across the street from Blandford Cemetery, is a smaller, more modest burial cemetery. Enslaved persons, as well as black soldiers of WW1 and WW2, are buried here, which was purchased by 28 members of Petersburg’s free black population in 1840.

There are no flags on the graves, and there are no hourly tours for visitors to memorialize the fallen. There’s a lot of history here, but there’s also a lot of stillness.

The People’s Memorial Cemetery is sparse in compared to Blandford Cemetery.

The ability to own slaves had little effect on white southerners’ allegiance to the Confederate cause. The pledge was made with the goal of keeping black people at the bottom of the social ladder.

Chapter 5: “Our Independence Day” on Galveston Island

Galveston is a tiny island off the coast of Texas in the United States. On June 19, 1865, there is a long-held legend that Union General Gordon Granger stepped on the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston and read the order declaring the end of slavery. Every year since 1865, the Sons of the Union Veterans have reenacted the reading of the proclamation on the same balcony as the audience:

“The people of Texas are thus notified that, according to a proclamation from the United States Executive, all slaves are free.” Former owners and slaves are given perfect equality of personal and property rights, and the previously existent tie between them is replaced by that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are instructed to stay in their current houses and work for a living. They’ve been told that they won’t be able to collect at military stations, and that they won’t be supported in their inactivity there or elsewhere.”

“History coursing through his body,” Clint Smith recalled the sensation. The little island where a quarter-million people’s independence was declared.”

Two years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, General Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued to assist military strategy.

It was intended to portray the Confederate states as anti-slavery in order to discourage Britain and France from joining the Confederacy. It also permitted the Union Army to enlist black troops, resulting in 200,000 soldiers being recruited by the war’s conclusion.

The Emancipation Proclamation extended to the eleven Confederate states, but Texas was one of the states that rejected it despite the pressure. While several slaves were able to flee beyond Union lines, the majority remained enslaved for the remainder of the war.

Many whites clung to their bonds as fiercely as the previously enslaved Africans attempted to break free. The mayor of Galveston, in fact, collected up Black “runaways” and returned them to their masters. What they were doing was completely illegal. If someone was free under the law, they couldn’t be a runaway. Many Southerners, on the other hand, had a different opinion. To make matters even more complicated, Union Army officers did not always uphold the rights of previously enslaved persons.

The word of liberty quickly traveled over Texas, from plantation to plantation, farmhouse to farmstead, and person to person.

Even when liberation finally arrived, it seemed a million miles away. The financial assistance for those who had been enslaved was small, and there were few resources available to help them achieve economic and social mobility.

“We knew independence was coming, but we didn’t know what it would bring,” Felix Haywood remarked. We believed we’d make it big like the white people. We assumed we’d be wealthier than the whites since we were stronger and knew how to work, but the whites didn’t, and they didn’t have us to work for them any more. But it didn’t work out like that. We quickly discovered that although independence made black people proud, it did not make us wealthy.”

Black Texans made up 12% of the state’s population and 32% of the prison and jail population, according to the 2010 census, while white Texans made up 45 percent of the state’s population and 33% of the prison and jail population.

More over 20% of Black Texans, compared to 15% of white Texans, live in poverty. In Texas, Black women have a rate of infant mortality that is more than double that of white mothers. Black Texans graduate from high school at an 87 percent rate, whereas white Texans graduate at a 94 percent rate. The list goes on and on for almost every measure.

When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, Black Americans held around 0.5 percent of the country’s total wealth. Despite accounting for 13% of the population, Black people control less than 4% of the country’s wealth. Despite their contribution to the country’s riches, Black Americans are denied access to the great bulk of it.

New York City, Chapter 6: “We Were the Good Guys, Right?”

In 1624, the Dutch built New Amsterdam, which later became New York City. The Lenape Native Americans, an Algonquian-speaking population who had lived on the site since 10,000 BC, greeted the Dutch when they arrived.

Initially, their encounters were pleasant, but as conflicts over land grew, their relationship worsened. Two years later, the Dutch West India Company “bought” Manhattan from the Lenape for sixty guilders worth of commodities, almost a thousand dollars in today’s money. Damaras brought out a copy of the first known reference to the acquisition, a 1626 letter to the Dutch government relaying the news.

The red people of Manhattan Island moved to the mainland, where they signed a pact with the Dutch, and the area became known as the Pipe of Peace, or Hoboken in their language. Soon after, the Dutch governor, Kieft, sent his forces to the area and killed the whole indigenous inhabitants.

Only a few of them managed to flee, but they spread word of what had happened, further inflaming tensions between the surviving tribes and the white settlers. Shortly after, Nieuw Amsterdam built a double barrier to defend itself from its angered red neighbors, and this served as the Dutch city’s northern boundary for a long time. The area between the previous walls is now known as Wall Street, and its mentality remains that of a fortress against the populace.

According to historian Donald L. Fixico, there were anything between a few million and 15 million Indigenous Americans living in North America when Columbus arrived in 1492. The population had reduced to about 250,000 by the late nineteenth century.

During periods of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, New York City had more enslaved Black people than any other city in North America. Slave labor accounted for more than a quarter of the city’s workforce. The number of enslaved individuals increased as the city progressed. About a sixth of New York’s population was of African heritage when the American Revolution started, and practically all of them were slaves.

New Amsterdam’s overall Black population was made up of a third of free black people. Many of these free Black people were involved in the Dutch settlement’s social life; they married in Dutch churches, used the Dutch court system, and adopted Dutch names.

This did not imply that free Black people were members of society on an equal footing. For black people, “freedom” came with a big asterisk. While some blacks were allowed freedom, it was done so to ensure the safety of a community that was devoted to African slavery. In 1664, the British defeated the Dutch and gained control of the province, robbing black people of any “liberty.”

Separation between men and women was enforced. Men were increasingly utilized as agricultural workers outside the city, while women were compelled to remain in the city to care for their enslavers’ houses and children.

In order to locate fresh employees, the British in New York were more reliant on the transatlantic slave trade, importing an average of 150 enslaved persons from Africa and the West Indies each year. According to historian David Brion Davis, enslaved individuals were held by about 40% of houses in British Manhattan. However, when enslaved people were forced to labor harder than ever before and an increasing number of Africans with limited immunity to new illnesses were imported to the New World, the death rate of Black people in New York increased. The death toll was appalling even before they landed on the beaches of New York.

Only around 64 persons out of every hundred abducted from Africa would survive the journey from the interior to the shore. Only around 48 of the 64 would make it across the Atlantic in the weeks it would take. Only 28-30 of the 48 people who got off the ship in New York Harbor would survive the colony’s first three to four years. At the time, Berlin and Harris described New York as “a murder factory for black people.”

New York had become so enslaved that, at the time of the American Revolution, it had the largest percentage of enslaved black people to Europeans of any northern town, with around 3000 enslaved persons in the city and 20,000 more within fifty miles of Manhattan.

In 1626, slavery was introduced to Manhattan. By the mid-eighteenth century, one out of every five New Yorkers was enslaved, and over half of Manhattan families had at least one slave. Slavery was outlawed in New York State in 1827, but it was not completely abolished until 1841, when the State of New York banned the privilege of non-residents to keep slaves in the state for up to nine months. However, both before and after the Civil War, the employment of slave labor for the production of basic resources such as sugar and cotton was critical to New York’s economy.

“One slave is too many,” says Gorée Island in Chapter 7.

Gorée Island seems to be a little hook from the air. The Portuguese first came on the island in the 1440s and quickly established a trade center. Its location close off the Senegambia region’s west coast made it a vital commercial location and a spot where European ships could resupply supplies before departing the continent. Over the course of two centuries, European countries fought for control of Gorée, which was inhabited by the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and French in that order.

The name of the island changed as the settlers changed. Ber was the Senegalese name for the island. Ila de Palma was the Portuguese name for it. The Dutch renamed it Goede Reede, which means “excellent port.” The name was changed to Île de Gorée by the French, who acquired control of the region in 1677 and generally maintained it until Senegalese independence in 1960.

From the sixteenth century, when it was under Portuguese authority and slaves were a component of the economy, until 1848, when it was under French administration and slavery was banned in all of France’s colonies, the island was a center of the slave trade. Gorée Island was long regarded to be the main point of departure for enslaved persons from West Africa for the New World. Because the little bit of land was surrounded by sea, it was also a difficult location for captive Africans to flee.

Gorée was designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1978, owing to its worldwide renown. In the more than four decades after it was given that honor, it has grown in popularity as a tourist attraction and a place of pilgrimage for individuals trying to make sense of the region’s history of chattel slavery. It’s a place to learn more about the heinous history of the slave trade and to be reminded of the need of being alert on behalf of all human rights.

“It is not possible for a white man, in all honesty, to enter this Slave House without feeling ill at ease,” Michel Rocard, who would later become the French prime minister, stated after being shown the location where the remains were reported to be housed before their last departure, in 1981.

Advertisements Around 33,000 persons were brought to the New World from Gorée Island.

History must be preserved proactively, and history must be nourished and nurtured, or we risk losing it. Every generation that has been educated about the murders and beatings must continue to relay the tale so that others might comprehend. Each generation must comprehend how we arrived at our current state, because if they do not, they will be unable to return to it.

The “how the word is passed quotes” is a book summary and review of “How the Word Is Passed: The Story of Language, Emotion, and Healing.”.

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