How Do We Heal a Divided Nation? A Discussion with Author Anne C. Bailey

“We must start an education revolution.”

That was the parting message of renowned author Anne C. Bailey, the guest of honor at the 4th annual Black History Month, Women History Month virtual event organized by the University of San Diego and the San Diego Public Library.

Bailey is a professor of History at the State University of New York at Binghamton. She is also the director of the university’s Harriet Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity.  Her newest book, “The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History,” examines the 1859 auction at which over 400 men, women and children were sold by the Butler Plantation estates.

More than 300 guests attended the event titled: Reconciling 1619 and 1776 in American History: The Debate over the Soul of a Nation.  

During the discussion, Bailey read excerpts from her book and talked about the differing realities presented both in The New York Times’ 1619 project and former President Donald Trump’s 1776 commission.

According to Bailey, both offer alternative views of the birth of our nation.  The 1619 project examines the origins of slaves, looks at the consequences, and celebrates the contributions of Black Americans. The 1776 report focuses more on the Declaration of Independence and the right to freedom as the founding principles of this country, rather than the nation’s past, which she discussed as being deeply ingrained in racism and slavery.

Neither proposition is mutually exclusive, explained Bailey. Both are representative of the deeply divided nation we currently live in, and both can be true, although she said “not both are right”.  It all comes down to the lived experience, memories, education and information that is passed on from generation to generation.

Theresa Byrd, EdD, dean of the University Library, said, "Dr. Bailey introduced the audience to the notion of the democratization of memory, and I concur with her statement that today 'we must have multiple perspectives of the past. It's not 1619 or 1776 but it is both.'"

Memories were not only a constant theme throughout Bailey’s book, but also a major part of her research. Bailey conducted interviews with descendants of the Butler Plantation estates — but memories, she added, were also all Black people took with them as they were bought and sold time and time again throughout the 250 years they suffered under slavery.

How does a divided nation begin to heal? How do people come together even when they don’t agree with one another?  We do this, Bailey says, by our commitment to education and by sharing information. This is where universities and local libraries come into play.  As Bailey put it, “swing your doors open,” and commit to celebrating Black History Month and women’s contributions to history beyond the 4 weeks.  The more people know, the larger their perspective, the clearer the picture.  Listening to one another is not only a slogan but a way forward.  Learning to learn, Bailey said, is the only way out of a painful past that today is still very much present.

— Lissette Martinez


Lissette Martinez
(619) 260-4659