Toni Morrison on the founding of America, 1978

With voting day upon us, we’re besieged with campaign ads and news reports about the future of our local and national governments. With all this focus on the immediate future, it behooves us to also think about the past, about the path that led America to this point and the lessons that we can learn from our past mistakes.

Few can teach us more than Toni Morrison about this country’s psyche and about its unspoken traumas that resonate across generations. In 1978, Morrison sat down with directors Julie Gustafson and John Reilly for a wide-ranging interview. She speaks with bracing, at times shocking, eloquence and insight about family, about gender, about motherhood, about race, reflecting on the trajectories of her country and her community.

We can think of no more appropriate viewing for this week than Morrison’s reflections on the origins of America, and how those origins have shaped the current state of things.

In our founding, we were a country, she says, “for the outlaws, and the outcasts, and the failed. That’s who it was for. That’s who came…. It was the black sheep, so to speak… All the characteristics that would contribute to an outlaw or an outcast are the characteristics that this country was built on. Not the staid, the civil, the depressed, the non-acquisitive [characteristics] of an ancient old family in Europe but just the opposite: the restless one, the one who wanted to get rich quick, the one who couldn’t make it in a stable, old, ancient society.”

As always, you can watch the full interview at Media Burn. This tape was digitized and cataloged as part of a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.



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