How the Word Is Passed

by Clint Smith

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How does Smith reveal New York City’s connections with the transatlantic slave trade in How the Word Is Passed?

Clint Smith reveals New York City’s connections with the transatlantic slave trade through Damaras Obi, plaques, and his own research.

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In How the World Is Passed, the chapter on New York City begins with Clint Smith riding the subway to Manhattan’s National Museum of the American Indian. From here, Smith joins a walking tour about slavery in New York City. The tour guide is Damaras Obi. In the chapter, Smith extensively quotes Obi. It’s as if he uses her as a way to reveal the link between slavery and New York. “This is the second-largest slave market in the United States of America,” Obi says, referring to New York City. She then tells how Fernando Wood, the city’s mayor during the Civil War, advocated leaving the Union so as not to upset its profitable relationship with the Southern states.

On the tour, Obi takes her group to specific locations in the city. Obi directs the group toward a small plaque that tells how slave auctions occurred on Wall Street. Smith quotes the plaque’s text in full. In a sense, Smith lets the plaque express the relationship between Wall Street and slavery. After the plaque, Smith takes hold of the narrative and details how leading bankers, like JP Morgan, were “deeply entwined in the slave trade.” During these parts, Smith reveals the connections through his own voice and research. Later on, Obi advises Smith to visit Central Park, which, as she says, was built on top of a settlement for free Black people.

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