Annette Gordon-Reed and Abigail Cooper Discuss "On Juneteenth"

Transcript

A conversation recorded via Zoom on May 27, 2021.

President Ron Liebowitz: Hello and welcome to recognizing and celebrating Juneteenth, a community conversation with Professor Annette Gordon-Reed. This year I'm proud to affirm that Brandeis University is observing and will continue to observe Juneteenth as an official university holiday. It joins a growing list of universities including Antioch, Harvard, and the University System of Maryland, and other organizations such as Allstate, Ford Motor, General Motors, Google, the NFL, Nike, and Workday to mark this important holiday as it moves into direction of becoming a national holiday.

In this first year of observance for Brandeis, we are fortunate to have a special guest to provide insight, context, and conversation about Juneteenth with professor Annette Gordon-Reed and Brandeis faculty member, Dr. Abigail Cooper. Dr. Cooper is a faculty member in the History Department and the Department of African and African-American studies, where her work examines the work of ritual and revival and its meaning for political awakening in black refugee or contraband camps of the American Civil War. These camps were known as contraband camps because African Americans were considered to be between slavery and freedom as confiscated contraband property, in US controlled territory across the South. Her work explores kinship formation, post-war political participation, statelessness, and people who are in the midst of self emancipation.

I want to express my thanks to both Professor Gordon-Reed as our guest, to Dr. Cooper as our moderator, and to all of you for joining us today in this special conversation on Juneteenth. Now I'll turn it over to Dr. Cooper, who will introduce Professor Gordon-Reed.

Dr. Abigail Cooper: Thank you so much, President Liebowitz. It is my honor to introduce Professor Annette Gordon-Reed. She is the Carl M. Lobe University Professor at Harvard University and a professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Gordon-Reed has won 16 book prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize in history, the National Book Award in 2008. "The Hemingses of Monticello" was what she won for and it is a masterpiece. A selected list of her honors includes a Guggenheim Fellowship and the humanities, a McArthur fellowship, a fellowship from the New York Public Library, the National Humanities medal, the Frederick Douglass book prize, the George Washington book prize, and the Anisfield-Wolf book prize.

Dr. Gordon-Reed was also elected a fellow of the American Academy for Arts and Sciences in 2011 and was a member of the academy's Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences. In 2019, she was elected as a member of the American Philosophical Society. I want to add, I'm personally that I came into graduate school in 2008, right when"The Hemingses of Monticello" came out and at Penn, it changed the metric for what could be a dissertation and I really appreciate that by making the family of Sally Hemings the centerpiece and doing it with such rigorous research, she changed what was possible for history writing.

I want to start talking today about her book "On Juneteenth." [Book cover for "On Juneteeth" appears onscreen. Dr. Cooper is also holding up a copy of the book.] This book is germane to our "right now" because of the way that Black Lives Matter and our current political moment has definitely put Juneteenth on the radar. Juneteenth, to give you a very brief definition, June 19th, 1865 was the day when enslaved people celebrated the end of Legal slavery in Texas. This book, part history and part memoir, is written as only a daughter of Texas could write it. It connects a national story of enslaved people to her own family's experience and it makes the story of Juneteenth come to life. I wanted, professor Gordon-Reed, please, I wanted to welcome you and to give you an opportunity to tell us about your book.

Annette Gordon-Reed: Well, thank you very much. It's very, I'm very happy to be here with you and to hear you say those very nice things about my work.

My editor, Bob Weil, has been after me for a number of years to write a book about Texas. We were thinking about a larger book about the history of Texas, and he suggested that I might include my family as part of it, because my family has been in Texas for many generations. This would be a way, a hook, a way into the story.

This past year during the pandemic, after I had done a piece for The New Yorker about the holiday Juneteenth that did talk about the holiday, but also brought my family into it. We got the idea that maybe I could extend it, that I could do a small book that would mix the personal and the historical and I wouldn't just focus on Juneteenth, l mean, Juneteenth as a part of this obviously. But I would talk about the roads to Juneteenth, why Juneteenth was necessary? Why did they have to be a day when enslaved people were freed? Obviously, you have to talk about slavery and the history of slavery in Texas. Then what happened afterwards? What was life like in Texas after slavery was over? And so, I could bring other aspects of my life into the story. I talked about integrating the schools in our town.

On Juneteenth is about the day what happened on that day, but it's also about a broader engagement with the theme surrounding it; Slavery, race, racial hierarchy, the civil rights movement, and where we are now. There's a lot packed in this little book, but I wanted something that would be accessible and something that would tell a story about a side of Texas that I don't think many people think of. I talk in the book about Texas being seen mainly in terms of the West and it is a part of the West, it's the Southwest. But the western part of the state, which really was not the most populous part of the state, and not the reason Texas was formed as a republic, to have cowboys, I mean, if so forth that was part of it. But it was a plantation society and I don't think people think of it in that way.

Cooper: Yeah, I have to say, as a historian of slavery and emancipation, I so appreciated the way you put that history of Anglo Texas as a slave state at the center of the story. I'm hoping you can set the stage for us, the 19th century stage for us a bit. Yeah, tells a little bit more about the Anglo-Texas origin story that isn't just the "Remember the Alamo" tale that we might know better.

Gordon-Reed: Well, if you grew up in Texas, we take Texas history twice, in the fourth and the seventh grade. People know about Stephen F. Austin, who is considered the father of Texas. He was originally from Virginia by way of Missouri and his father was given the right to bring settlers into Texas. People who were going to come and become planters. His father passed away and he took up the mantle of Moses Austin and brought families into Texas and these were people from other Southern states in the main. People who would come there and expect to have slavery as a part of the labor system. People who were hungry for land, that was the big thing obviously. People wanted to turn Texas into, we're talking 1826, turn Texas into a cotton economy to sort of replicate what had happened in Mississippi and other places. Very good land; land for cotton, land for sugarcane. Galveston, a port to ship these things out. It was sort of a good place for this and these people came over with the expectation that they were going to settle and continue their way of life.

Now, Mexico had always had, and Texas is a part of Mexico at this point. They welcome the Anglo settlers because they were trying to balance them off. We're going to use them as not a buffer, but to stand also against indigenous people who were fighting back, the Comanche and the Apache who were, and there were other indigenous groups even before these folks. But by the time we are here where the Comanches and Apaches are in ascendency and so the Anglo settlers were welcome to be soldiers against them to hold territory. But Mexicans were little ambivalent about slavery and indeed outlawed slavery. They kind of look the other way for the Texas province because of the political nature of what I just said, why these settlers were welcome. But there was always this insecurity about what might happen if they decided to get serious about it.

At some point, the Texians, as they were called, decide that they're going to have their own republic, and they fight against Mexico and they established the Texas Republic in 1836, and unlike the American Constitution, which kind of pussy foots around about slavery, "persons held to service," that kind of thing. The Constitution of the Republic of Texas is very explicit. That this is a slave society, that this is going to be a slave holders republic and that it's a white man's government as well because people of color, African people, people of African descent, they can't become citizens.

This is why there was a big issue as I'm sure you know. This is one of the reasons that Texas was a controversial subject in the Union with people not wanting it to enter because it would come in as a slave state, and also the republic suffered to some degree because people overseas were not happy with this idea of the naked [LAUGHTER] statements about this. It's one thing to talk about slavery as a necessary evil and kind of "hem and haw" about it. It's not a "show that you think that it's a problem," but this is a full-throated support of the institution.

It comes in as a republic, it lasts for only 10 years. They're beset by economic problems. They run out of money. They wanted to become a part of the United States. It would also help them in their concerns about Mexico, if they were under the umbrella of the United States, and Texas comes into the union in 1845 as a slave state. From there has relatively brief time I guess in the Union before they joined the Confederacy.

This is a place that has a very, very hard history for African Americans. There was not a time where there was this slavery is a necessary evil. It was always this notion that this is what we're going to do. That's cause for the ambivalence that I talk about in the book. How do African-American people celebrate the Texas republic [LAUGHTER] that we wouldn't have been able to live in? A republic that was established for slavery. It did other things as well but for the protection of slavery.

Cooper: Yeah, I felt very much that whatever federalism concern might have been there, [LAUGHTER] it's so obviously subterfuge for instead, what it really designs itself as, is this is going to be a modern slaveholding republic where slavery will go on in perpetuity. You can see very much even during the Civil War you can see [LAUGHTER] those people who were trying to continue slavery are always moving into Texas so that they can do that. I found it striking. I thought one of the things that was really striking was the way you bring out Steve Austin's pitch, for why Anglo people needed to be able to bring in enslaved unpaid laborers because if they didn't they would be poor for generations. That there was no way to make Texas profitable, to make the land profitable without the labor, which immediately gives so much valence to the idea that who made [LAUGHTER] the land flourish? Who made it prosperous? It was black labor.

But I think what's interesting though is that it didn't have to. I wanted to bring out a quote from your book, it didn't have to be that way. This is where I see that you're very much struggling with your own affinity, your own identification with Texas, and your own grappling with that history.

"Still nothing is inevitable. Things could have been different. The choice for slavery was deliberate and that reality is hard to square with the desire to present a pristine heroic origin story about the settlement of Texas. There is no way to do that without suggesting that the lives of African Americans and their descendants in Texas did not and do not matter."

What I saw here was such a clear call to say we have to put slavery at the center of our story and reckon with that even as you were talking about your own identification and love for Texas. I thought that was such an important note to make. I wondered as we're talking about Juneteenth as Juneteenth will indeed put Texas back into the spotlight right now as we discuss it. Do you think that Juneteenth itself should be an opportunity for us to probe the long freedom struggle that starts with that legacy of slavery and how its centrality needs to be part of our stories?

Gordon-Reed: Yes, I think it's a good step. It's a good first step into that process. When I was growing up, it was mainly a holiday that was for African-Americans. I don't know. I would have been a kid, so I can't speak with total authority but my impression from what I was able to observe was that it was mainly Black people who were celebrating it. It became a state holiday in 1980 and even before then, the local news stations would cover the parades and so forth. You got a sense that it was broadening out in Texas and that it becomes a state holiday and I suppose now all people there celebrate it.

But it's a way to talk about these kinds of things, it's very, very tough because we grow up with these iconic figures, these names, Lamar who was not a great guy. Memorable, but when it came to indigenous people and slavery and so forth, and Stephen F. Austin, all of these people that we're taught to revere are involved in some really pretty rough stuff.

As historians, we're used to this kind of thing. We look at the past and we know the kinds of things that people do and we are accustomed to having, if not an ironic, it is some degree of detached look at them but that may not be the case with everyday citizens, people who aren't in this all the time. It's hard to think of or to tell people to think about people who they've admired as involved in something that was... flawed doesn't even begin to describe it. Who were involved in a tragedy in a way and you can't ignore that because it makes certain people feel uncomfortable. You can't take the history of my family and the family of millions of other Texans over the years and say, well, we have to hide that because this makes us uncomfortable. That's just another way of saying, the world is really about Whites, in Texas and your concerns don't really count. No, they do count and we can live together and we can be citizens together but we have to tell the truth about the things that happened and that's hard to do.

I'm sure you know they're grappling with that as we speak down there now with various laws that are designed to try to shore up the image that can't withstand scrutiny if you actually look at the documents. This is not a matter of my interpretation saying that Texas was formed as a slave holder's republic, it's in the constitution.

Cooper: The citations that you bring out, the pieces where they're cribbing directly from the Constitution and the Declaration and they're crossing out anything that could be potentially turned into equality for Black people is really stunning, which is also what makes the June 19th reversal. So stunning too because it's not just legal slavery is ended it's also the possibility. It's the announcement of start performing your equality with the people who had just yesterday been considered your enslavers.

Gordon-Reed: No. That's the amazing thing about a Granger's order. It's not just saying slavery is over. You're now going to exist in a state of absolute equality with people who were your enslavers. You can imagine how that felt for the people who heard those words and who thought that this was going to be the new reality both the Black people and the White people. As you know many of the White people were not pleased by this and some of the celebrations were met with violence on the part of Whites who resented the loss of these people as chattel, but probably also were ticked off by the language of equality because as you alluded to before Texas has a Declaration of Independence that basically takes Jefferson's structure but leaves out the part about, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, because that wasn't [LAUGHTER] their idea and they understood what an incendiary, whether Jefferson and these people believed it or not that was an incendiary statement because people took that to heart and made something of it.

Well, they weren't going to have any chances of anybody doing that with the Texas Declaration. Then the constitution that we've talked about that explicitly talks about, provides for slavery and you can't free slaves and Black people can't live here. This notion of equality, this notion of the future because I'm sure these people, the former enslaved, knew that this was you want to snap your finger and they will all be over that it would be a process, but the purpose of commemorating this moment for me is to commemorate what I know must have been the tremendous hope that they had at this point. Not that we're saying everything was done and it was all great because it wasn't, but the hope for a better future that was in the minds of these people who had suffered so much.

Cooper: I absolutely saw how even as our job as historians is to oftentimes explode mythologies, to really hold to the fire all of those different symbols. But I think what's really important about this book and about your engagement with the history of this holiday was how important symbols are. Even as a lot of White Texans, White Americans, as those who have received different heroic tales have to disassemble those received narratives. I feel very much your own understanding of I still want to revere and take seriously that the Black people weren't romanticizing. They weren't doe-eyed, fools doing a hopeful fool's errand. They were marking Juneteenth on the landscape because the more they marked it, the more it meant something.

You think about Texas in 1865, it hasn't been a state for that long and there are now a lot of Black people there. It's one of those things that Heather Williams in her book "Help Me Find My People" talks about more people had reunions in Texas than they did in Virginia in the former slave states of the original 13 colonies. That is very much about of that diaspora, that cotton diaspora, but it does show you how despite all of the efforts of those engineers you still have Black Texas very much impossible to deny.

Gordon-Reed: Yeah.

Cooper: I really hope that you can also talk something about the other point, which is the 1960s as a mirror image of the 1860s landscape because this is where you talk about being one of the first people to desegregate the schools in Conroe, Texas. I thought that it was quiet. It wasn't Ruby Bridges with lots of cameras, but it was still quite a lot considering how young you were in elementary school but also showing that even the 1960s, about a decade after Brown v. Board Desegregation wasn't happening until people actually were going to the school. That you were in those classrooms. I wanted to ask a little bit about that experience. Also your mother also figures very prominently here as an educator. Take us through that experience of you desegregating the schools in Texas.

Gordon-Reed: Well, as you're saying this is after Brown. This is about a decade after Brown and Texas and other states were resisting. They were coming up with ways around, trying to find ways around the order to desegregate, separate is inherently unequal and so forth.

They came up with what was called a freedom of choice plan and with the idea that people they would know what to choose. White people, parents would pick White schools for their kids and Black parents would pick the Black schools. My mother was a teacher in what was the Black school, Booker T Washington. It was a school that went from K through 12. She taught English. She and my father decided to leave my two older brothers in Washington School, "Booker T" as they called it and I would go to Anderson Elementary School, which was a White school.

As I talk in the book about their sort of shifting explanations for why they did this. By the time I... As they became more disillusioned by what happened with integration their, particularly my father, their answers to why they did this became much more pragmatic. They were saying, well, we just did it because we knew that the courts were going to strike down these plans and you would already be in place, and blah, blah, blah.

But I think they were more idealistic. I think they were doing it because it was a part of... this is the mid '60s, and there's the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, people were marching. There had been the march on Washington. There was a spirit in the air, and I think that they were moved by that. But as they began to see that it wasn't the panacea, maybe the answer that they may have thought it was going to be or didn't have as many great effects as they thought. As I said, well, it was less of a big deal. It was more about pragmatism than idealism, but I suspect there were idealistic.

It was a big deal. I was six. I knew it was something that was important. I talk about one of my relatives who lived in Houston and was very, very excited about this and went off to this really fancy department store, Sakowitz, and bought all these clothes for me. I had clothes obviously, but she was like, no, we're going to do this right. This is her contribution to civil rights, to participate in this. I knew it was a big deal but they had agreed ahead of time with the school district and the newspapers that no one would make a big deal about it. I would just go and it would be just an ordinary thing. My father drove me. I didn't take the bus because that might have been a risky thing. My father drove me and dropped me off, and I started there, and that was it.

Sometimes, there would be people who would come and stand in the doorway and watch like they were looking at some experiment that was going on here. I understood what that was about. But my teacher, Mrs. Daughtry, I think everybody remembers their kindergarten and their first grade teacher, was just wonderful. She was very supportive and didn't treat me any differently than other kids. As I say in the book, I was a good student so I think I made it easy for them. I'm not a troublesome personality. [LAUGHTER] I'm a pretty even-tempered person and I was good student so I didn't cause problems.

From that standpoint, it was quite good. There were some kids who were nice and there were some kids who were not nice. I particularly remember a family of girls who were very poor. I could tell they were poor because their mother had made clothes, she had gotten some material, a large amount of material, it was the same dress, different materials and so forth. I knew that they didn't have very much, but they made it a point always to come over and ask me to play Red Rover or whatever it was they were doing. I knew that not all White people were exactly the same. I don't know whether their parents told them to do that, or whether they did it, or whether they felt like outcasts themselves, because they were obviously, this was a very prosperous town. It started out as an oil town and had a saw mill, and at some point in the '30s had more millionaires than any place. I mean, it was that kind of place. But they stood out, I think, as poor, and I wonder if that was something that influenced how they treated me.

It was tough. My mother said I broke out in hives at some point. I don't remember that. But it's like everything. You look back on stuff and I focus on the fun things that happened. [LAUGHTER] My predominant feeling about this is not one of having been stressed. I think of the funny things that happened. That happens to human beings, that's what we do. I was there by myself until the next year, another family decided to send their daughter. This went on for three years and then the court struck down Freedom of Choice plans, and then everybody had to change schools, and I was already in place there.

I talk in the book about how a lot of Black people in the community really weren't happy about that because Booker T was a beloved school, and they lost that community. They lost, in some instances, teachers as role models, and some of the kids blamed me for that. I had this feeling, From the time I was six, I was always somebody who was in some ways on display. There were people who liked what I had done and they were people who didn't like what I had done. There were people I didn't know who could be very, very hostile toward me, or threatening towards me, and I just didn't know who they were. They knew who I was. It was this weird thing of being a person who is known for that and having different responses to it, positive and negative.

Cooper: I thought your piece on the way that you were a symbol of loss, you talk about a boy who was in the bus line with you. He was a student at Booker T and the switch was happening, and he punches you. You're very sympathetic to the idea of like, I was a symbol of a loss.

Also, you talk about your mom. Your mother was one of the few Black teachers who didn't lose their position but she moved to the formerly White school. Can you talk a little bit about her as an educator, because I think that's not something that's well known in our history of aftershocks of...

Gordon-Reed: Well, this is something that happened all across the South. People have written about this. The fact that, integration brought the kids together, but it didn't really bring the professionals together. There was not an equal exchange of teaching duties among Blacks and Whites.

She had gone to school. My mother went to Spelman and then she went to Texas Southern University for graduate school, but then she had us and then she was a teacher, a high school teacher, not just [LAUGHTER]. They worked very, very hard. She said, "I went to school to teach Black students." She was part of that generation that saw itself in a Vanguard. They were on the move after the '50s and the '60s, and people were supposed to be doing things to move the race forward. Is this good for Black people? [LAUGHTER] That's what she wanted to do.

Well, once integration came in and she became a teacher, most of her students were White. She loved all of her students and she was a great teacher. But that sense of mission that she had that had sent her to become a teacher had to change. The mission had to change. She said we can't talk to them the way they used to, talk to them at Booker T. You have mix understandings about education with this idea that they were part of a group of people who had, that word again, mission. That they were doing something that was for themselves but also for a group of people, for the people of Juneteenth. That this was connected to ancestors and the journey of African American people, well, from Africa to slavery and out of slavery and into resistance. That's what this was about.

Well, she couldn't do that. Couldn't talk the same way in a classroom where there were maybe three or four Black kids and 25 White kids because it had no application to White kids. She found her mission in teaching them and loving them as her students, but it was different for her. There was a sense of loss there even for her.

Integration of course, changed many things. I go back to my hometown now, which is almost unrecognizable because it's gotten so large. But even before then, in those years before it really began to boom, then I would go back, socially, it felt more comfortable. You didn't worry about going into stores or things like that, the kind of feeling you had as Black people during this time period. But the economic situation hasn't changed very much. The lives of Black people other than now you don't have to sit in the balcony, which is what we had to do when we went to the theater, or we don't have separate waiting rooms at the clinic anymore. But it didn't affect change in the way that I think a lot of people thought it might.

Cooper: Yeah. The way education is often positioned is like, this is the gateway to justice when the whole community needs to be there. I think one of the things that really struck me was how much you talked about the community experience, and education was an act of resistance that people understood intuitively.

Gordon-Reed: Yeah. The kids understood that. The kids would be playing and the kids would run in the house, and I would figure out, what's going on here? One of the teachers would be walking by or driving by and they didn't want the teacher to see them outside playing. Well, I don't know if Mrs. Daughtry or Mrs. Gilliland, my second grade teacher, happened through my neighborhood, I don't think I would have that same kind of response because we just didn't have that kind of connection. We were Texans, we were teacher-student. We had all those connections made sense.

For the people who went to Booker T Washington, education was not just in the classroom, your teachers were your teachers 24 hours a day. They were all around you, they went to your church, they were in your communities, and so forth. It was a different kind of feeling, and that was lost. I don't want to romanticize legalized Jim Crow, that's not what I'm saying. But it's like anything, there were gains and there are losses.

Cooper: Yeah. I think that's one of the things you feel as a theme throughout this book too, is the complicated histories. Another one of those is, you talk about indigenous histories in Texas. Texas itself has this hybridity, its multiculturalism, its history. I think one of the things you do as you're talking about origins stories, and I think this is also apropos because as you as a professor at Harvard, which is of course home to its own origin story of religious dissenters, the Puritans coming very well-read, founding Harvard for its clergy, and that has its own vision of a city upon a hill exceptionalism. But Texas doesn't usually figure into the equation as a particular origin story of America, and yet it's still very much a bellwether. It's big, it's the giant state. It's also this place where you talk about your father's own engagement with visions of indigenous histories and your own probing of what complicated histories those were. Could you talk a little bit about your own probing of the indigenous history and the way it dovetailed with African-American history?

Gordon-Reed: Well, I mean, it came through a lot of ways through my father who romanticized. We talk about mythology. It isn't just White Texans who have mythologies, Black people, all groups of people have mythologies. In his idea, there was a mythical connection between Indigenous people and African-Americans because of their respective conflicts with Europeans. That somehow, in his mind, they should have been allies and therefore they were.

Well, sometimes they were but sometimes they were not. Sometimes Indigenous people were slaveholders. They enslaved Africans, particularly ones who saw themselves as the civilized tribes or whatever you want to call it. People who were establishing themselves as Europeans with the hope perhaps they would be left alone. That if they became like that they would do. Slave ownership was a part of some Native American culture among some people. I don't know if my father knew this. If he knew it, it was not anything that he ever talked about, but the notion of Texas as a site of struggle for enslaved people and for Indigenous people was very much alive in him. He did have that mythical, this sort of a connection that he thought was that was natural. We know that it wasn't natural. It happened sometimes and sometimes it did not.

But I happen to be born about 17 miles from the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation. When I started, I talk in the chapter about how most of the popular Hollywood, the popular presentations of Texas, the Native Americans were, Indigenous people were people of the past. They were here, and they're not here anymore. Well, I knew that they were there because they were there in Livingston right outside of where I was born. We used to visit the Indian Reservation. This was in the '70s when Native American iconography and so forth were so popular. There were other romanticizing of Native Americans in popular culture.

It was an interesting thing to be another part of the Texas story. Another part of the story to have Native Americans brought into the mix and in a way that they're typically not because people are written off as if they had disappeared and they were there, they were always there, and trying to figure out how we fit in all of this. I had to think a lot about that. Had occasion to think a lot about that much more so than if I had not lived so close to this and actually had experiences with Native peoples who lived in that area.

Cooper: It's been really interesting to see as we've been having conversations about indigenous peoples and African-Americans. My students are always surprised to find out these complicated histories. Yet there's also that there's such an obvious exchange of knowledge, but there's also this idea of sovereignty and rights and how you engage with America, with what was Anglo-America and how Anglo-America oftentimes tried to create riffs between those who [OVERLAPPING, "Oh absolutely!" ] were allies.

Gordon-Reed: Absolutely. Yeah. We're talking about reckonings with race now. That is coming to pass between Native peoples and African-American people today too trying to find some "reproache mon", find some way to talk about these very complicated things. I think I say complicated a couple of times in the book because it just really is. Then you know this. The story is very seldom simple. You go in thinking this is how this works. We're having an idea about how something works and the more you look, you realize no, that's not really how it works. It's kind of like that, but not exactly like that.

Anybody who's looking for a totally comforting story from these things is going to be disappointed because human beings are complicated. As you're saying here, this is such a volatile and such an explosive mixture here. I say that Texas has all of the currents of American history run through it. The conflict between Europeans and Indigenous people, plantation slavery, the Jim Crow after the end of all of this, westward expansion, the question of Latino versus Anglo culture, all of it in this one place. They have a foreign country on the border there. No wonder it's so volatile.

But the idea, the image of the cowboy and the oil man, typically White, typically male, I say Texas is constructed as a White man. What does that mean for me and women, White women, all of the kinds of people who are not White men? That's why Texas seems a mystery to people because you have this idea of what it is and then all of these problems come out of there. What does that have to do with anything? What does it have to do with cowboys? What is this racial things? What's going on? Even though cowboys, many of them were Black, we don't know that either. That's not said very much. But it confounds people because this part of it is missing. A part of it is always left out of the story.

Cooper: You can tell these different facts that some people might have said I have studied Civil War history my whole life, but no one understood that the Black soldiers, well, they had three-year contracts and why do they all end up in Texas? Because their contracts weren't up and they get stationed in Texas oftentimes to suppress Native attacks.

Gordon-Reed: Yeah.

Cooper: Which in and of itself becomes a way that different Anglo-American structures were trying to create now your membership with us now necessities this.

Gordon-Reed: It's a very complicated story. The Union soldiers look great when we're talking about the United States Army. We're saying these things now not Union soldiers anymore. But the Army of the United States looks great during this time period. But when it's over and we turn to West, it's not so great. It's a problematic story for African-Americans and for White soldiers too. It's this idea of having a patriotic history that's story of nothing but cloudless glory and great things, it just doesn't work. You have to face the fact it's like life, it's very tough.

Cooper: I know that we're launching book talks, seminars around this book. Here's how they're going to retell the story in that one sound bite, which is not really doable. It does at least put on the radar it's not the 10-gallon [LAUGHTER] hat and White guy and oil man, cowboy, rancher hybrid. But whatever it is, it looks like something. We can just imagine Ted Cruz playing that role. It's instead, it's "Annette Gordon-Reed is Texas". It's very much understanding how much you have really put out there your identity with Texas.

I think one of the things I want to draw attention to in that coda is that Thomas Jefferson notes on the State of Virginia that an enslaved person and foreseeably its descendants could not possibly feel love for a country that once enslaved him and yet you're writing about love in the coda. Historians don't traditionally write about love, [LAUGHTER] it's outside of their lexicon. Yet you ask that question.

You, the reader might ask like, how can I love this place? Even you're asking of it changes the frame. You have been doing rigorous like here's where you have to see contingency, we have to see complication. We have to really go back and read. Yet you still say that doesn't necessarily mean discarding love or all the things that bring us to those origin stories. Because right now I can think about places; places I identify with, places I feel estranged from because of the news images or the different ways that we now have to grapple with our current now.

I wondered when we talk about love we would talk about Amore Patriae. We often talk about patriotism itself as a dangerous ism. A place is not just the place, the geography, but it's about the people. Especially as we see sometimes the news, or just our own neighbors and fearing a little bit of what's trying to be suppressed. People are hard to love. I wanted to ask a little [LAUGHTER] bit about love and critique. You talk about love necessitating critique. I wondered now you've written this book, you're talking about this book. Where do you stand [LAUGHTER] on your own feeling of loving a place and critiquing it. Can you talk us through some of that as we try to go through hard conversations that I believe we're only at the beginning of.

Gordon-Reed: Well, it's a tough thing. It's not an easy thing, but I think love means critique. It involves that. When I say this in the coda, because if you really care about a person, if you care about yourself, if you care about a place, you want it to improve. If you think that you can add something or suggest something, or find a way to help that person or that place find it's true self, it's highest self.

For me people have critiqued me, my mother and my father, and people who cared a lot about me. My mother didn't just say, "Oh, everything about you is wonderful and everything you do is fine and you're never wrong." If I did things that were not good, not operating, you could do better than that, be a better person than that, she thought it was incumbent upon her to tell me this. I don't mean, as I say in the book, how you do it matters. It's not about being mean to people or vicious or anything like that, but it's caring enough about a person to help them to become better. I think that is real love. It's not just whatever you do is fine. You don't really care.

I find it hard to think that that's truly caring about a place. If you don't try to correct or to offer suggestions. Loving a place, as you said to me, when I say it in the book that loving a place is, yeah, I like the geography to some extent. But I love geography of New England as well, and California is beautiful, upstate New York is wonderful too. But it's the people there, it's the experiences, it's the things. I use the Jefferson quote, when he says, after writing the notes on the State of Virginia and the liberal position that there should be emancipation but expatriation. When he's really down to talking about people he knows, he says, "No, they should be able to stay in Virginia because this is where their family and their connections are." That's what it is. Your family and your connections. Connections includes people. But all the things that you've done there, the experiences you've had there, the people you've buried there, the people you met there, all of that goes into it. Sure, there are bad people around [LAUGHTER] who try to make it difficult for you, but they shouldn't have the right to claim the place by their hostility to you. If they don't recognize your humanity, that's on them.

But I know people there who did recognize my humanity. I know people there who I loved and who loved me, and I had wonderful experiences there. I'm very excited about the young people and people who see themselves trying to change the state and to move forward, to make it not just a White man, but it's what it's always been. A state full of diverse people who care about the place and want to make it better, and who don't think that it's all about a hierarchy.

I'm optimistic. There are a lot of interesting news coming out of Texas these days, but there's good news that's about it as well. I've gotten so much wonderful letters from people and comments from people about the book and about their experiences and their hopes for the state as well. That I'm optimistic about it.

Cooper: Thank you so much. I'm forced to, no, [LAUGHTER] turn to our community questions. But I am so appreciative for you answering mine and you engaging me. I got sent them here and I'm going to just bring them up. Since we were just ending there, let me pull up this particular one, to interpret the purpleness of Texas. Someone [LAUGHTER] wants, is it how do you interpret the purpleness of Texas? There is a lot of news coming out right now, and Texas itself, when you talk about it being a bellwether certainly for education, and so much of this book is about education and what our education, how it needs to tilt. Could you tell us a little bit about what your take is on the future of Texas? We know, I want to say caveat historians are not prophesiers. [LAUGHTER] [OVERLAPPING, "Yeah." ]. We can't predict. We're not economists throwing out, here's the projections for next four years but...

Gordon-Reed: Model. We don't do modeling. I think that there are lot of people who want to turn the state purple and blue, or blue even. It's often said, I've seen people say that Texas is not a red state, it as a voter suppressed state. A lot depends on what happens with voting. If some of the measures that are designed, the anti-Democratic capital D and small d. Some of those things take place. It's going to be harder to do. But if we can stave off voter suppression, we may eventually be able to pull off what they pulled off in Georgia. We didn't make it this time. But I think that there's a hunger for that and there's an appetite for it. There's a shot, I think with the number of people who are moving there and the experience that they had in the last election where we didn't triumph.

But they've seen Democrats, and I should say, I'm a Democrat, it's not like I can hide that. They saw that it mattered in other states, and votes do matter. For the longest time everybody said voting doesn't matter, but we know now that it does. I think it's going to be hard to put that genie back in the bottle. I think that there's a shot that there might be changes.

Cooper: Thank you. I'm excited. Let's wait and see. I only have time for one last question, but if you wouldn't mind, I think this is an apropos because, Brandeis we are a higher education institution and we are right now making Juneteenth this honored, commemorated day. What should institutions be doing to be truly accountable to the spirit of Juneteenth? What's the difference between a performative, just a mere performance and a real lived change and accountability?

Gordon-Reed: Well, do the things that many universities are trying to do. Increase diversity of the faculty, the curriculum, and engaging students in these questions, these kinds of events, providing opportunity for people to talk about these issues. It's not until you leave school that you realize all the things that are available to people [LAUGHTER] in a university setting. I just think fostering conversations among people and open conversations and conversations where people can feel free to say what they really feel and even if it's unpopular. Because I think that that's a first step towards understanding among people. I think all of the values, the liberal (small L) values of education, a liberal arts education, should be brought to bear here. That involves conversation, opportunities for classes, for people to discuss these questions, and speakers and fora like this.

Cooper: Thank you so much for that. I'm going to turn my microphone over to President Liebowitz and thank you just so sincerely for the conversation.

Gordon-Reed: Okay. Thank you so much. I had a good time.

Cooper: Yeah [LAUGHTER] me too.

Liebowitz: Thank you. I just want to add my thanks first to Professor Cooper for moderating this and really in carrying out this conversation that was enlightening, I think memoir, the personal history that Professor Gordon-Reed provided for us to understand the larger context of Juneteenth was really valuable and something that we would not have gotten.

We all look forward to reading the book "On Juneteenth". Of course, as you said to pursuing all things that we can on campus to not make this performative, but rather real change on our university campus at Brandeis and elsewhere.

Thanks so much, I highly recommend this book. It's terrific, and once again, thank you all for joining us in celebrating Juneteenth. Thank you.

Gordon-Reed: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Cooper: Thank you.