How the Word Is Passed By Clint Smith– A Detailed Look at the Institution of Slavery in the United States

Smith’s chronicle connects past and present in a refreshing way unlike your typical American history class.

How the Word Is Passed By Clint Smith– A Detailed Look at the Institution of Slavery in the United States

By: Carlin Lacques

It is a very widely held belief that the American school system is severely lacking in its education on the enslavement of Africans. Whether you are entrenched in that educational system now or left it years ago, this book is the perfect reeducation for those who may feel misled by one history teacher too many.

The book follows a unique structure in which Clint Smith travels to various locations significant to the American institution of slavery and tells its history, and his conversations with the people relevant to the maintenance of these locations. 

The structure allows the reader to visualize and gain a fuller understanding of how countless people and places were both implicitly and explicitly supporting the beginnings and maintenance of American slavery. 

Not only is Smith’s writing educational in nature, but carries eloquent prose and descriptions of his personal emotions and experiences at these places, along with vivid imagery of the locations, painting an evocative picture in one’s own head. 

This level of description both helps one’s personal connection with the story, and allows for admiration of Smith’s writing abilities and overall a more enticing experience when reading such a grim subject.

Smith displays great care in his selection of locations described in his book, a solid combination of the most well known slave holding locations, like Monticello, and places which many Americans may not know where involved in carrying out enslavement, like New York City.

The most riveting part of the book which had me turning the pages with vigor was the epilogue.

If you are to read this book with any end goal in mind and with the intent to pay attention to any certain chapter, it is the epilogue. 

Throughout his writing, Smith emphasizes the need for personal accounts and stories in the retelling of history, particularly histories regarding such severe oppression that slavery does.

The epilogue fulfills this requirement for Smith’s story, as he interviews his own grandparents, born a decade apart, very shortly after the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Smith’s grandparents tell raw, lived stories which pull together all the aspects and implications of slavery already discussed throughout the book, and ties them up for the reader, allowing you to truly see how the institution of slavery held impact far beyond its most basic crimes. 

While this book may seem intimidatingly large for the average non-history buff, or for someone who hasn’t picked up a book in some time, How the Word Is Passed breaks down a central part of American history in such a way to ensure anyone can read and garner a greater understanding of our country’s past. For this, I grant it five stars.

I could not think of a better first book of 2022, and I encourage anyone looking to expand their awareness of history to select How the Word Is Passed as their first choice into a hopefully greater journey of reeducation on slavery and American history from the perspective of the oppressed.