... and I am now beyond speechless ...
Maybe now I'll muster enough courage to read the book, too, which is something I've not yet done -- at least not more than in fits and starts -- since none of it is new to me, and boredom sets in after a few paragraphs.
Sign my name to freedom is the combined words of many hours of oral history done years ago by the University of California's Bancroft Library, those interviews added to with selected short essays taken from this blog by Editor Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor. The oral histories were conducted over many hours at differing times, about 12 hours in all.
Were I to attempt to try to pull a book out of those combined writings, I'm not certain that the book would be quite this one, but, since these posts have been accumulating since the year 2003, it's quite possible that there are several books embedded among them. This, then, is one such. But for me it would be like trying to turn long-cooled ashes into live embers again, and the aliveness in the words died long ago for me, and trying to re-read for corrections and edits wasn't as easily done as might be expected. The temptation to just scrap the whole thing and start over would be almost irresistible. This is probably why my songs were never published nor released for public scrutiny. I was always into the next "Now!", and living into the next round of changes. Problem is that were I to write from the same subject base today, it might be quite different since I've lived more of life now, and arrived at a different place in some instances ... . Crazy!
Does the book freeze me into a particular point in Time? I truly don't know the answer to that, but Tavis Smiley's Foreword written after reviewing the book appears to skirt that possibility. Even if one accepts the fact that what he captured in that 2-segment video interview is in any way what I most consistently am ... I'll take it, thank you, even if only as aspirational:
I had heard all about Betty Reid Soskin before we actually met on the set of my television show.And, yet, all that I had read and heard about her prior to, still did not adequately prepare me for the conversation I was about to have with this phenomenal woman.
It’s rare that I sit for a conversation I find so enchanting that we end up taping two shows instead of one. But it didn’t take long into night one to realize that I would need a second night to have any chance at doing justice to the remarkable life this woman has lived.
I love talking to guests who are chronologically gifted, shall we say, because they have the best stories, courtesy of lives well-lived. I could talk to Carl Reiner, Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, Norman Lear, Sidney Poitier, and Dick Van Dyke, night in and night out.
Betty Soskin reminds me of another Betty ... Betty White, who's also been alive well into her 90s. With this group, it's not just their groundbreaking past, but indeed their dynamic present that I find so arresting. I'm intrigued by the ways in which they have gone about leading lives of meaning and purpose even at an advanced age.
In particular, Betty’s life and legacy astounds me, given where she started. I don’t want to get ahead of the story you’re about to read, but there’s something about people who turn little into much that resonates with me. Especially folk of Betty’s generation. It says something about their constitution even when the Constitution counted them out, didn’t consider their humanity, hopes, and dreams.
After two nights of talking to Betty on national television, I set out to learn more about her. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. The more I discovered, the more questions I had. I even traveled to Northern California to sit and listen to the standing-room-only lecture Betty gives as a park ranger about her story of growing up in America.
As I listened to her powerful presentation, it occurred to me that, in a very real way, folk like Betty have learned to love America in spite of, not because of. Especially when you consider what they did to her father. (But I won’t get ahead of the story . . . ) Staring at her, I wondered, given the way America maltreated and maligned generations of black fellow citizens, how it is that people like Betty could live lives of such dedicated service to an, at times, ungrateful nation?
After her talk that day, I went to lunch with her and peppered her with more questions. And, again, the more she shared, the more curious I became. I eventually said to her, “Betty, you have to write a book.”
Well, after much coaxing, she took my suggestion seriously, and here I am writing the foreword for Sign My Name to Freedom. Go figure.
I couldn’t be more honored, but the real gift is yours, for on the pages that follow, you are going to read the arresting story of why and how Betty came to sign her name to freedom.
Freedom, by any other definition, is truth. One isn’t truly free if one cannot speak the truth and stand on it. Betty’s life has been, and remains, a search for truth.
Truth is in rare supply these days, and when the truth gets scarce, our freedoms and civil liberties are in jeopardy.
Tavis SmileyFreedom ain’t free, it has a cost. A high cost. Betty has paid her toll, and she’s lived long enough to tell the story.
We would do well to listen, and heed her wise counsel. In so doing, we might one day achieve an America that is as good as its promise.