About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow"

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
May 28, 2019 

Good evening, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us for today’s program, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through Facebook or YouTube.

Before we get started, I’d like tell you about two other programs coming up next month in this theater.

On Tuesday, June 4, at noon, Kaitlin Sidorsky, author of All Roads Lead to Power: The Appointed and Elected Paths to Public Office for U.S. Women, will examine how many more women are appointed, rather than elected, to political office.

And on Thursday, June 6, at 7 p.m., we have a special film for the 75th anniversary of D-day. The True Glory is the epic filmed record of the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy and the Allied push across Europe. We will screen a digitally restored version of the 1945 film created by our Motion Picture Preservation Lab. Former Senator, Secretary of Defense and Vietnam Veteran Chuck Hagel will deliver opening remarks.

Check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Visit its website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about the Foundation and join online.

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In Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., reexamines the decades following the Civil War—a time of tremendous change in America. A review in The Economist calls the book “an important addition to America’s evolving view of its own history,” and the New York Times reviewer, Nell Irvin Painter, calls it “an essential history for our times.”

Records in the National Archives document these years at the personal level. In the records of hospitals, schools, and banks for freedmen during the first years of emancipation, you’ll find names and details that help piece together the stories of people adjusting to a new life. Newly enfranchised African Americans’ participation in government is documented in the credentials of those elected to Congress and who served in the diplomatic corps.

Yet the records also show us the adversities African Americans faced as their rights and opportunities were curtailed. We see these in court decisions—from district courts to the Supreme Court—and in petitions and letters to the government about voting restrictions, discrimination in education and housing, and the violence they encountered when they dared to protest these inequities.

These records and billions more are open to public research, and we invite all interested researchers to explore our nation’s history.

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Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. An Emmy Award–winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, Professor Gates has authored or co-authored 24 books and created 20 documentary films. The four-hour Reconstruction: America After the Civil War premiered on PBS in April, and Finding Your Roots, his groundbreaking genealogy television series, is now in its fifth season on PBS.

The recipient of 55 honorary degrees and numerous prizes, Professor Gates was a member of the first class awarded “genius grants” by the MacArthur Foundation in 1981, and in 1998, he became the first African American scholar to be awarded the National Humanities Medal.

And I had the pleasure of working with Skip when I was at the New York Public Library and he was on the Board of Trustees.  

A’Lelia Bundles was a network television news executive and producer for 30 years at NBC News and then at ABC News, where she was Washington, DC, deputy bureau chief. She currently is a Columbia University trustee and on the advisory boards of the March on Washington Film Festival and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. As president of the Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives, she shares the history of her famous ancestors through speeches, publications, documents, photographs and several public initiatives. A’Lelia served for six years as chair of the National Archives Foundation board of directors. Thank you, A’Lelia, for your service, dedication, and continued enthusiasm on behalf of the National Archives.

And now, as an introduction to the story told in Stony the Road, we have a short video about Professor Gates’s PBS series Reconstruction: America After the Civil War.