Today, Jeremi talks with Professor Richard Reddick about the lasting legacy of the Civil War, diving into the implications of Confederate statues and monuments that are being torn down around the country today.
Zachary sets the scene with his poem, “Today the Pedestals are Empty.”
Professor Richard J. Reddick is the inaugural associate dean for equity, community engagement, and outreach for the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin. He is also a professor in the Program in Higher Education Leadership in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy (ELP) at The University of Texas at Austin, where he has served as a faculty member since 2007. Additionally, Dr. Reddick serves as the Assistant Director of the Plan II Honors Program in the College of Liberal Arts. Dr. Reddick is a faculty member by courtesy in the Department for African and African Diaspora Studies, the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, and a fellow at the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis. Dr. Reddick co-chairs the Council for Racial and Ethnic Equity and Diversity (CREED), serves on the Signature Course Advisory Committee (SCAC), and was named to the inaugural cohort of the Provost’s Distinguished Service Academy.
- Richard ReddickAssociate Dean and Professor in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin
- Jeremi SuriProfessor of History at the University of Texas at Austin
Announcers: This is Democracy. A podcast that explores the interracial, intergenerational, and intersectional unheard voices living in the world’s most influential democracy.
Jeremi Suri: Welcome to our new episode of “This is Democracy.” Today, we’re going to discuss the ways in which the history of racism in our democracy, and particularly, the history of the confederacy and the lost cause, which is very much in the news today, how that history deeply affects issues of diversity and leadership in our institutions. We’re going to look at how this set of historical debates has meaning, not just as history, but in the contemporary ways in which we build our institutions and we define leadership in our society, and particularly the barriers to diversity and leadership that so many of us recognize our democracy needs.
We’re going to talk to a good friend, prior guest on our podcast, and really, I think, one of the most exciting and interesting people writing, talking, and teaching and leading himself on these issues. My colleague, Professor Richard Reddick. As I hope everyone already knows, Rich is the Inaugural Associate Dean for Equity, Community Engagement and Outreach for the College of Education here at UT. He’s a distinguished associate professor in the program in Higher Education Leadership and the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. Actually, Richard, you’re a full professor now, right? Is that correct?
Professor Richard Reddick: We’re looking at the clock and I think as of September, barring any unforeseen calamities, that will be the case.
Jeremi Suri: Well, I should then say, he is soon to be, as he should have been a long time ago, full professor. Yeah, bring all those issues. As if that’s not enough, as if all these things I’ve already mentioned are not enough, he’s also the Assistant Director of the Plan II Honors Program and a faculty member in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies and various other parts of campus. Rich has written numerous studies articles and recently published three that I want to draw people’s attention to. One in “Fortune,” one in “CNN,” and one that was just published in “Nature,” actually an article where he was interviewed, where he’s talked about these very issues about the challenges of diversity and leadership and issues of cultural taxation. The ways in which our past history creates barriers to diversity leadership. So, I hope this conversation will send many people to go read more of Rich’s work. Thank you for joining us today, Rich.
Professor Richard Reddick: Jeremi, I just need you to do my walk-up talk every time I do a lecture or something. I just feel so empowered and wonderful after hearing that introduction. Thank you so much. It’s going to be with Zach as well. This is always fun to hang out with you guys and have a conversation.
Jeremi Suri: Well, you’re always so supportive of what we do as well. So it’s fun to work with you, Rich. We’re going to turn to Zachary’s, scene setting poem here. Zachary, what is the title of your poem?
Zachary Suri: “Today, the Pedestals are Empty.”
Jeremi Suri: Let’s hear it.
Zachary Suri: Today, the statues float in rivers, and finally, the citadels of false reverence are beginning to fall. What does it say about us that we are obsessed with protecting the statues of the long dead? That we refuse to forget the false righteousness of lost violence. The so-called honor in dying for evil. That we are obsessed with forgetting the blood that came sweating from the whip and spilled from the hanging corpses of martyrs, and the blood that dried in Tennessee grass from dead immigrant soldiers. What does it say about us that our nation’s capital is surrounded by roads named after traitors? Named after traitors to American morality who sold flesh as if it were currency and lives as if they were commodities. Named after feudalists who claimed false moral supremacy and enslavement. Who wrote hateful diatribes to the supremacy of the white man as slaves built the White House from solid white marble. What does it say about us, America, that there are still schools named after enslavers, still schools named after killers, still plinths that memorialize the dead dynasties of glorified brutality. That there are still plantation graveyards and prison labor camps that we turn into antebellum yurts of civilization in our distorted histories. That there are flags that still wave the old symbols of hatred in breezes 150 years new. Today, the pedestals are empty, and finally, the plaques have been rewritten in paint.
Jeremi Suri: Zachary, what is this beautiful elegiac poem about?
Zachary Suri: Well, this poem is really about the Lost Cause of the Confederacy and how it has infected the memorials, the statues, and the institutions of our society, and how today we are finally beginning to see them brooded out of our institutions and our memorials.
Jeremi Suri: That’s great. I love the historical element of that and also the hopeful contemporary element. Rich as someone who spend so much time thinking about these issues, why do these Confederate statues matters? Some people will say, Well, they’ve been there for so long, what’s the problem? Why do they matter?
Professor Richard Reddick: Well, first of all, I don’t know you can hear my fingers snaps as Zachary is reading the poem, but that’s pretty a powerful stuff. Thank you so much for that, Zachary. It’s funny you say so long because in fact they haven’t been there so long in most cases. So, a few years ago, as you know, the normalization of the Confederacy and the Lost Cause is just something that as somebody who grew up in Texas, you just come up with it. As I always tell people, I went to Albert Sidney Johnston High School, I was an associate editor of the confederate yearbook, and this was just normal and is a school populated almost entirely by black and brown kids. Nobody ever challenged or thought about any way until you get a little bit older and you start, in fact, I’ll point to my history professor George Wright and reading, handling the peculiar institution and those books I’m like, wait a minute, I was misinformed or there were some things that were not brought to light in my school experience.
So, part of it is just the legacy of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. This auxiliary who very efficiently work to make sure the Lost Cause was enshrined in textbooks and in our statuary. So what’s really fascinating, and this is something that blew my mind, I did some work on this a little while ago, there was a company called, I think The Bridgeport Monument Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, who started making these statues. If you look at these statues like Silent Sam, and those like that, they’re not of a particular person. They are not of Lee, they are not of Stonewall Jackson, they are of just a generic confederate soldier. They were mass produced at this place. In fact, the first couple of years they did this, the statues were exactly the same. They had a Confederate and Union soldier, exactly the same, different belt buckles. As time went on, they refined it and they gave him the rebel cap and so on and so forth.
They’re actually made out of this really cheap alloy. So, when you see Silent Sam topple, seriously, when you look at this things of Silent Sam toppling, he crumbles like a tin can because it’s out of very cheap alloy, and the Bridgeport Management Company would send out an installer to your location for a certain price and put it up. That’s why we had something like 4,000 Confederate monuments across this country. Not just the Confederacy, but also, in places like Massachusetts and Arizona. So, it’s the propagandizing of the Confederacy as some Lost Cause and linking it to this idea of noble aspirations. What in fact Zachary’s words about rebellion and traitorism is exactly what it was. So I think there are people who might listen to us and say, “Those are unethic words, how can you say those things?” But it’s the truth, and we just don’t get exposed to the truth, and we had the fortune you and I, and Jeremy and Zachary soon in the future to go to college and meet with historians and learn this deeply, and then just have the sense that, why we’re so ill-informed, or why are these things omitted? Or why do we gravitate towards a description of the Confederacy and of slavery and of that antebellum time that is wholly, wholly false.
Yeah, and I think we’re all in this post-traumatic stress experience of realizing that we were misinformed and we weren’t told the entire story, and how do you reconcile the very normalization of this because it’s in our streets, it’s in our schools, it’s in almost everything we think of. Yeah, it’s a moment of reckoning and Zachary poem really speaks of that. Yeah, it’s such a great piece and I think it needs to be written frame somewhere because I think that’s what we’re talking about.
Zachary Suri: What makes the Lost Cause so potent? It’s hard to find another historical cause in another country that is still so relevant today.
Professor Richard Reddick: We’re getting into your dad’s area, but I think part of it is just the incomplete reconstruction, right? I think I talked about this before. My favorite bands of all time is R.E.M. The third album is called “Fables of the Reconstruction.” Reconstruction is a fable. We had that period of time after the war during Grant’s Administration where you actually saw the potential and the possibility. We all were there when our good friend, Peniel Joseph brought Skip Gates here and talked about his work on Reconstruction. This glorious 10-year window where things were moving in that direction, and of course, it was shut off. Ever since then, we’ve never really had that complete experience of coming to terms and reconciling what happened. I had the benefit of being on a panel years ago with some scholars who were actually artists, sculptors talking about memorials, and they were talking about it from a global perspective.
What happened post-World War II in Germany? What happened at the fall of the Berlin Wall in the Eastern Bloc? Other countries have had these moments of really contemplation and reflection on what happened. We just normalized it. The fact that the people who fought the the Confederacy were never tried for treason and never had that reckoning that happened, in fact, live on as alt heroes, is deeply problematic. There’s something to be said about the fact that most Americans have such an incomplete understanding of what truly happened. So you have to commend things like the Grant mini series that came out a little while ago, and of course Skip’s work that we saw on PBS about reconstruction. It’s maddening because we might know so much about some other parts of our history, but really so little about this. The fact that many of us came up with this understanding or this lie that the Confederacy was about states rights, and you’ve got documentation from the Vice President of the Confederacy saying, “This is about slavery.”
So, those pieces are omitted, and it’s not omitted by accident. We’re here at the University of Texas in George Littlefield and our good friend Leonard Moore is the George Littlefield chair. George Littlefield’s whole mission was to preserve the lost cause. Let’s make sure that it’s always regarded that these were noble people. I want to make it very clear that you can always have regard for individuals or family members who took up arms because their family was part of this. But in its aggregate, it was a war and it was a mission grounded in white supremacy and the subjugation of black people and native people. That’s what it was. There’s no way of getting around that. That is part of our birth record in the United States, and it’s time we became resilient enough to actually confront that and deal with that.
Jeremi Suri: How rich has this mythical and distorted history that you’ve just recounted so well, how has it been a barrier to diversity, particularly in leadership positions across our society? Political leadership positions, athletic, university, business. You’ve been writing and thinking about this a lot. What’s the connection between the history and the lack of diversity in our leadership?
Professor Richard Reddick: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point because people will become ahistorical, and then they’re like, “Why does history matter? Just leave them alone. They’re not bothering anybody.” But as we mentioned earlier, the statuary and the memorials for the Confederacy had two peaks. One was around 1890 to about 1910 or so, and that’s the time when most of the soldiers of the Confederacy were beginning to die. So there’s this interest in seeing them memorialized in that way. The next period of time when it starts to ramping up is about 1950. And 1950, of course, is the birth of the Civil Rights Movement in this country. These statuary and these symbols are not necessarily meant to only commemorate, they’re also there to intimidate. They’re there to remind people of their place in society. So, certainly when you walk into a — Years ago I had a talk at University of North Carolina Asheville, and I met with a couple of black colleagues there and they said, “We should go downtown and get lunch and hang out.” We did. We go downtown, and, my God, the downtown Asheville’s commemoration of the Confederacy is something to behold.
Jeremi Suri: Zachary is just reminding me we were in Asheville a few years ago, and we had just that same reaction, just even as tourists walking through there.
Professor Richard Reddick: Yeah, exactly. When you look there, you see these spires, and these statues, and you see, “Look, this regiment came through here.” When you put yourself in that situation, especially myself as a black person, I’m like, “Okay, these people clearly did not have my best interests in mind,” and you are embracing that idea. You’re not simply saying like, for instance, “I’ll give a shout out to our colleagues over at the Briscoe Center for American History at UT,” contextualizing what this meant. There’s a fantastic display they have there of some of the statuary, in fact, the Jeff Davis statue in the museum there and it’s contextualized. It explains why did Littlefield want the statute present. What was the controversy? It was controversial from the first time it got through the 1920s until it was taken down in 2015.
That’s how we think about these things. Certainly, the position that it doesn’t bother me or it’s honorary is something that people who hold privilege or don’t hold the identities of the group subjugated will often feel. There’s a discomfort I have anytime I go into a place, even the Capital, where I see these statues looming over. It says something about the values of an institution, and that’s codified in the normalization, like you said, of white supremacy. It’s not a long line between statuary imagery, to attitudes, to values, to what you feel is acceptable, who you can envision in leadership, and who you can’t. Every person who is not part of the dominant cultural identity that’s seen in business or in academia, has dealt with this. If you’re a queer person, if you’re a woman, if you are of any identity, person of color, you’ve been told and confronted at some point in time, I am clearly in the minority in this space, and people are either telling me overtly or covertly that, “What an exception you are,” or, “Do you really belong here?”
It’s funny because people often think that doesn’t happen, it does. People will say things like, “Well, you went to what institution? Oh wow. When were you there? How is it possible you had that experience? You don’t belong there.” These micro-invalidations, and sometimes they’re macro-invalidations, occur constantly. This is really something that is enduring and the statuary is a very clear launching point for it. Statuaries, budgets, positionality, all express institutional values, and when you look at those things, you know clearly where an institution stands and that’s why I’m so glad that we made the decision in 2015 to take down the confederate statues on this campus because it conveys something about the values of your institution.
Zachary Suri: How do we begin to rewrite this narrative of the Lost Cause within our institutions, and how do we use that to promote diversity?
Professor Richard Reddick: That’s a good question. Well, our good friends who are historians are really at the vanguard of that work. Of course, as an educator and somebody who works in the School of Education, I think it’s critically important that we start this process early. You shouldn’t have to have the benefit of having George Wright as your professor to undo and unpack what you learned or didn’t learn. My colleagues like Angela Valenzuela, Anthony Brown, Daina Berry, who doing this great work to catapult ethnic studies at the same time also integrating the critical perspectives that are needed to talk about this American manifest destiny story that is disnified. Basically, it’s great and we won and it’s been fantastic. The thing is it’s a more honest conversation. By no means am I saying the British have this down, but when I was in the UK last year with my students and I took a group of 17 students and my family to Cambridge for a month, and my student group was half students of color, we sat in a session, British history from 1066-2019.
Jeremi Suri: Wow.
Professor Richard Reddick: Exactly. But a country that’s that old, I think, has a way of reconciling and discussing it’s past that we haven’t gotten to. I think there is a fragility about how we view ourselves as a nation and we can’t say, our involvement in colonial expansion was a terrible thing. It was terrible for the Filipinos, it was terrible for the Cubans, it was terrible for the Panamanians. We can’t have that conversation and reconcile the fact that people we hold up who were parts of those things are indeed flawed people. They could have accomplished amazing things, but also have very, very troubled pasts. A great example of that is probably Thomas Jefferson. We all grew up respecting Thomas Jefferson and his genius, but we didn’t know he was a rapist and we didn’t know that he had a family that was biracial that he never really acknowledged. He grappled with his own life. That’s the discussion we have to have and it’s instructive to us, I think in the present day about what our legacy will be.
If we’re not confronting the own inconsistencies and problematic issues in our own lives, we’re subject to the same things. So I think it’s very much part of this nation’s development, we really have to grapple with what that looks like and it’s not going to be comfortable, and it’s going to be painful because oftentimes the people we’re talking about, you can find their descendants walking around today. Kudos to, for instance, Robert E. Lee’s family who have come out publicly and said, “We don’t need to see the statues of our ancestor. That’s not necessary.” It’s really refreshing that people have personified what it means to be honest and reflect on what sins we’ve committed as a nation. Also that gives us opportunities to think about imagining a contemporary and a future that is inclusive, that does acknowledge the things that people can in fact have accomplished amazing things in their lives, but also be deeply problematic. They’re not dichotomous experiences.
That’s really the story of humanity. I think from the major to the minor, we’ve all done things that are commendable. We’ve all done things that were not happy about, but the way to resolve that is not by saying everything’s great, fingers in the ears. It’s not the way to do it. The way to do it is say, this is a complex person with accomplishments that are noteworthy and should be acknowledged, but also the reality is this person also was a part of a system that perpetuated the subjugation of peoples and that needs to be embraced. Like I said, it’s not comfortable. Every single time when I think about my my step-up books, my little series of books I had as a kid, meet Robert E. Lee. Very cool guy. Actually, let’s talk about that in a more complex manner. You can still walk away and say, “These people did commendable and amazing things, but I’m going to weigh that with the other things they did.” That might actually had me thinking, this person is not worthy as a historical contributor, but not worthy in a sense to have statuary, or memorials, and so on, and so forth.
Jeremi Suri: It’s such a good point and it really reflects how the scholarship has advanced in the last 10- 20 years. I mean, you have scholars like Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf who have elucidated just what you talked about with Thomas Jefferson, his mistreatment and his raping activities and things of that sort, but at the same time, they have also argued that there’s some of Jefferson we need to keep that doesn’t diminish. In fact, it gives us a fuller sense of his struggles with freedom and power, and liberty, and slavery. It doesn’t mean we apologize, but it doesn’t mean we throw him out either, it makes him actually a more interesting and important figure for our struggles today. That fuller portrait, I think can be so much more helpful for us. How do we create those fuller portraits that are more inclusive for our students and for people in the workforce today who are serious about bringing diversity? I think there’s enormous goodwill and an enormous desire among so many people to do this. How can we do this? What should the new statuary look like, Rich?
Professor Richard Reddick: Well, as you were speaking, I’m looking at the Hemmings of Monticello on my shelf here. So yes. That Gordon Reed’s work and others. So I think it is embracing, first of all, the fact that generations of scholars, they tend to be women of color, have really interrogated these histories in a way that we haven’t seen before from the geographies to these more complex stories of people who struggled with things they knew were inadequate in their own selves. Frankly, I think this issue of statuary and I’ve set off into people, maybe we need to move away from that memorialization. Maybe the prestige of the Romans and the Greeks, maybe it’s time to move past that imagery and move on to more naturalistic ways of memorializing.
I’ve had conversations with our good friend Ted Gordon and other folks about how do we remember and honor the contributions of people every single day? University of Texas, of course, I think every day about the African-American students that came to campus, undergraduates in 1954. Of course, our graduate students who came in 1950, many of whom are still around. That is my motivation and their contributions. There’s no statues of them. Frankly, a lot of them would say, we don’t really think we need statutes. We want to be remembered, but remembered in a way that we are living history and the things you do on a daily basis that you’re able to access are things that our experiences contribute to it in some way.
For me, I think it is really about re-imagining our memory. Instead of the default being a statue, maybe the default is multimedia presentations about who people are, what people did, and being attentive to not just leaders in causes, but people who worked every day. I had this wonderful experience of having a lot of friends from the group that is part of the rag radio, which are a group of former students there at UT and they came here in the 60s. They worked on civil rights issues and anti-war issues. It really is a story of everyday ordinary people, students who came to University of Texas or came to Austin and got involved and got deeply attached. So I thought about [inaudible 00:27:08] and Alice Embry and my good friend Hortencia Palomares. I get to hear those stories. They talked to my students about what they did 50 years ago. He said the much more humanizing portrait of their experiences and I always gravitate to those stories. It’s much more interesting to hear somebody say, “I had no idea what the course was, but when I got here, I saw these things happening and I picked up a picket side or I got involved in a political movement and one day I was in charge or one day, we had battles about the intersectionality of our movements. Should we talk about anti-war and racism as well.” All those things became part of the discussion.
So those re-imagining I think are important that we don’t just simply fall into a tired way of remembering our history and saying, “It’s going to be a statue of this person, we’re going to name a high-school after this person.” Instead of saying, “Let’s really think about ways to express their contributions and also be attentive to the fact that a lot of times historical memory is in the eyes and images of the powerful, the people who led the movement and not realizing that most movements, if not all movements, included people, women, folks of color, folks of disability, folks from all identity groups that are often thought about. Part of it’s stat is just understanding that our desire to simplify and place historical impact in one being is usually not the right way to do it.
Jeremi Suri: I love that description, Rich. What it seems to me you’re saying is we have to move away from what is a tokenism.
Professor Richard Reddick: Yeah.
Jeremi Suri: An obsession with a personality, or a name, or a statue, and actually go into the narrative space, which is really where democracy occurs, where we’re having conversations and we’re bringing out the multiple points of view and multiple experiences that in the end, make our institutions the exciting places they are.
Professor Richard Reddick: Yes, absolutely. I think that is exactly what it is. We don’t have to simply gravitate and be part of a very troped way of memorializing the past. It’s time to think about what that looks like, what that means. I’m so thankful I was taught by Julie Reuben, my professor at Harvard. When I was a graduate student, I worked with her. Julie’s work on, anti-war in the 60s’ was so instructive because it didn’t just gravitate around big name people. There were a lot of people involved in this conversation. That’s what history actually is. One of the challenges I’m sure you have as a history professor is people thinking it’s all dead white guys. Because at one in time, that’s what we were moralized. It’s not about these lives. Of course, my experience as a scholar who studies inequity, I’m fascinated by the primary source documents of people in my community who I know who were at school board meetings, who were doing other types of things that need to be regarded. So yes, I absolutely think that we need to start acknowledging. First of all, not just saying that this is only a historical project, it’s also a project that involves educators, sociologists, anthropologists, public health people. It’s truly interdisciplinary work to bring our work into this space and memorialize and remember and also connect to the present. Like it’s not simply an issue about what’s happening or what happened 10 years ago. There are tendrils and connections to what’s happening today. That’s the most fascinating thing about this work. I always tell my students my history of higher education class, everything we’re talking about has a connection to something that you deal with right now.
Jeremi Suri: Rich, I think that’s really such a crucial point, and this is where as you know we always like to close. How do we go from here to understand and to do this in our lives today? What are some of the ways in which those who don’t have the privilege of being educators and writing books, but have to work through these institutions on a day-to-day basis, how can they take this perspective and bring it to their institutions? It seems to me that’s what you’re writing about when you’re talking about how we have to open our institutions for more diversity. How do we do that? How do we bring these stories in?
Professor Richard Reddick: Yeah. That’s the struggle, that’s the beautiful struggle we’re all involved in. I think it’s a matter of localizing the issue, so context matters. In all the pieces I’ve written there’s a historical context I have to talk about, we’re not talking about a problem in the abstract, we’re talking about a problem that has its roots in social norms and political norms that is a reflection of what happened in this organizational space. So that’s the first thing, we can’t be detached from that historical aspect of it. The other thing of course is that we have to have courage, leaders have to have courage to really look for those issues and not say, “Well, I guess, we weren’t involved in that, so phew.”.
No, let’s really look and examine; where are the places in our organizational history where we could have done better that we’ve learned later on that were problematic? Come on those first. I’ll never forget when Ruth Simmons was president at Brown and she said Brown had ties to the slave trade and this was the 90s, people were like, “What are you talking about?” Of course anything that was part of the American economy and universities are part of that, were deeply involved in the slave trade. So of course then you have the excellent work of Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony and the Ivy, and so it’s examination of higher education’s complicit behavior especially the institutions that we always talk about. In general, we love the fact that we’re 400-300 years old, which also means we are also greatly involved in the chart of slavery. Even when we are not, of course our good friend Ted Gorman’s point, we could be neo-confederate institutions like the University of Texas, built after and established after the war but very much embedded in a context of the confederacy. So it’s courage, it’s courage to confront that, it’s courage to have conversations about what that means. What does it mean to live in the space like that? I think sometimes people assume, “Well, a statue’s there, a portrait’s there, it doesn’t mean anything.” But when you think about the all encompassing aspects of it, it’s overwhelming, and you can understand why people don’t feel they can reach their full potential because of that. Also, like I said earlier, let’s not act as if statuary and portraits and building names don’t actually influence how we think about the current context and the people who occupy those spaces.
Jeremi Suri: Yeah.
Professor Richard Reddick: That’s a huge part of what we’re confronting. So I’d say it’s courage, it’s also what you and I do, it’s being engaged in public scholarship. The books are great, the articles are great, but are we doing things in spaces that people can pick up on their paper and say, “Okay, that’s new, I didn’t know that.” Because I’m sure you get the same thing, people often say to me, “Rich, I read your piece. I didn’t know this, and I’ve got problems with you.” But usually if they start with that, I’m somewhere in the universe of, “Cool”, because that is my goal. I want to make sure that the things that I had the privilege of understanding and reading and studying, that it goes to a broader audience and as a public university, that’s part of our job.
Jeremi Suri: Absolutely.
Professor Richard Reddick: We don’t have the luxury of publishing high-impact press books and have them on shelves in libraries, we need to talk to people in our community and make sure that we’re having a dialogue quite frankly, it’s not just a one-way thing. I often would go to spaces and present some ideas and they’re like, “Well, did you know about this had happened here?” I’m like, “No, please let me know and educate me.”
Jeremi Suri: Right.
Professor Richard Reddick: I see us as being perpetually in this generation of knowledge and learning space and it’s a humble space to be in too, which I always appreciate. I couldn’t do this if it was just about getting praise and saying great things. It’s like, “No, I learn a lot too.”
Jeremi Suri: You model so well in the substance of what you say and how you say it Rich, that this is all a dialogue, that it’s not about staking a position.
Professor Richard Reddick: Yes.
Jeremi Suri: It’s about actually trying to understand and building that dialogue, which is what then opens space for more voices, and gives people access who haven’t traditionally had access, which in turn makes our institutions better. Zachary, does this discussion from, Rich, does this give you more courage? Because it seems at the root of what Rich is talking about is a willingness to open conversations that people sometimes don’t want to talk about, they don’t want to open these conversations for all kinds of reasons. Do you think that other young people are taking from this moment today more courage, and how?
Zachary Suri: I think this is a very powerful moment. I think really the longest lasting impact that this moment will have is that young people, people I’ve known for a very long time, who were never really willing to talk about these issues are finally opening their eyes to it and willing to have these discussions. We’re finally beginning to see that history isn’t just the mixture of great people who were either heroes or villains. We’re finally trying to see history as a narrative of both good and bad, that’s very complex, that still influences us today.
Jeremi Suri: Well, that’s the most optimistic thing I think one could say. If we open our eyes and start to have these conversations, they create opportunities that haven’t existed for so long. Rich, thank you for your inspiring words, for your deep analysis, and for modeling the narrative and open discussion that we need so much in our society today. It’s really a pleasure to be your friend and colleague, and I treasure working with you and talking with you on our podcast in particular.
Professor Richard Reddick: Well, likewise Jeremy. You and Zachary make a great team and I’m always inspired about the importance of connecting what we’re talking about to what Zachary is experiencing. I have to always remind people that the generative part of what we do is not just getting backslaps from our peers, but just the idea that there’s a young person that’s like, “Okay. Well, now, you’re exemplifying for me what I could do,” or “You said something I really don’t like and I want to say something to respond to you, and I’m going to read some books and write some stuff to get that going.” So this is all part of a dialogue that I’m really proud to be part of, and I’m proud to be part of your cabal. John Lewis calls it good trouble.
Jeremi Suri: Good trouble. Sorry. Go ahead, Rich.
Professor Richard Reddick: No. I just think that this is such a vital thing. I’m always telling people to check out the podcast because I do think you’re reaching folks who were probably not likely to pick up various themes, volume from Dr. Suri, which you should. But in lieu of that as I’m driving to the supermarket, I listen to this podcast and maybe pick up on a couple of things and learn that that’s a challenge or just get me open to other things. A lot of time I’m just like, “I’m just setting you in motion to something and you’re setting me in motion to look at something.” That’s all we ask for as scholars.
Jeremi Suri: That’s right. I think the engine of scholarship like the engine of democracy, and you model this so well, Rich, is getting new generations to think about things. Generational change is actually what brings social and political change and that’s what we’re seeding. You do that better than anyone else, Rich. Zachary, thank you for your poem, of course, thank you for your insight.
Professor Richard Reddick: Yes.
Jeremi Suri: Thank you to all of our listeners. Thank you for joining us for this episode of This is Democracy.
Announcer 1: This podcast is produced by the Liberal Arts Development Studio and the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.
Announcer 2: The music in this episode was written and recorded by Harrison Lemke, and you can find his music at harrisonlemke.com.
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