Cheryl Wills on Her Family’s Path from Slavery to Freedom & Legacy of Chinua Achebe on African Americans
In our extended discussion with Cheryl Wills, NY1 anchor and author of "Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale," she discusses the legacy of slavery, and the impact of Nigerian literary icon Chinua Achebe on African Americans’ pride in their history. We also play an excerpt of Morgan Freeman reading the words of Frederick Douglass that inspired the title of Wills’ book. [includes rush transcript]
In our extended discussion with Cheryl Wills, NY1 anchor and author of Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale, she discusses the legacy of slavery and the impact of Nigerian literary icon Chinua Achebe on African Americans’ pride in their history. We also play an excerpt of Morgan Freeman reading the words of Frederick Douglass that inspired the title of Wills’ book. Click here to watch Part 1 of this interview with Cheryl Wills.
AMY GOODMAN: This is_Democracy Now!_, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, honored that my guest today is Cheryl Wills. Cheryl Wills is the author of Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale, and you may recognize that name because, yes, she’s the longtime anchor here in New York of NY1, started as a staff member, as a writer, made her way up to anchor, and now she is a very familiar face. You’d think she has access to all information, but Cheryl Wills describes in this book how it wasn’t until only recently that she started to find out not just about this city, where she lives and grew up, but about her own family, the most intimate story.
Cheryl Wills, it’s great to have you with us.
CHERYL WILLS: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, discovering this, talk about the personal journey you took, when you go to ancestry.com and you put in your father’s name.
CHERYL WILLS: Sure. And you don’t know what you’re going to find, but you almost always find something. And I find what I call just a life-changing name, which was Sandy Wills, that of my great-great-great-grandfather. And I had no idea that he existed. This was a story that was lost to my family for more than a century, which is remarkable. With all the gossip that’s always handed down through family stories, you don’t get the real story, which is what I would have preferred to hear. And I learned that he was purchased on a slave auction block by Edmund Wills when he was 10 years old. That was the first amazing discovery, because you have millions of African Americans with Irish last names, all kinds of last names. They have no idea where these names come from. They certainly do not come from Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know where your great-great-great-grandfather Sandy actually came from in Africa?
CHERYL WILLS: Unfortunately no, but I did do a DNA test, and they determined that I was a descendant of the Bamileke people of Cameroon, and that was very gratifying to know. But it’s just a sliver, because Africans from all along the West Coast, of course, all mixed and mingled, so I have a little Cameroon in me, I’m sure I have a little Nigeria in me, a little, you know, Liberia in me. Who knows? So, I do know Cameroon Bamileke people, for sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Cheryl, I want to play a comment the Nigerian literary icon Chinua Achebe—
CHERYL WILLS: Right, he just passed, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —who just died at the age of 82, recently said. His novels, including the highly celebrated Things Fall Apart, offered a counterpoint to the colonial depiction of Africa and helped give voice to a continent. In 2008, he spoke about how the image of Africa as colonized hides the fact that its kingdoms were once as spectacular as anything in Europe. In this comment, he gives the example of the kingdom of Benin in Nigeria.
CHINUA ACHEBE: The kingdom of Benin in Nigeria, when it was visited in the 16th century by Dutch travelers and traders, we have the words they wrote at the time. They compared Benin, the city of Benin, very favorably with Amsterdam. At that point, there was no question about the European being the boss in Africa. But when you moved into the 19th century, the situation is changed. That Benin that was described in very favorable terms in the 16th century was now called the "City of Blood" in the 19th century by the British, just before they overran it. And what happened to Africa was simply the devastation of the slave trade. That was what caused the weakening, the devastation of Africa, so that by the end of the 19th century, when Europe decided to take Africa over, it was easy. The consequences of the colonization of Africa go on to this day. The colonization itself was made possible by the devastation of the slave trade which had happened before it.
AMY GOODMAN: Nigerian literary icon Chinua Achebe won the Man Booker Prize in 2007, wrote, among many books, the highly celebrated Things Fall Apart. Cheryl Wills, as you listen to Chinua Achebe, your thoughts? You have traveled through Africa. You’ve spoken about your own journey.
CHERYL WILLS: Right, in Senegal, West Africa. He was a very important voice. I was so heartbroken when I heard that he passed. But thank God for what he contributed, because the mainstream media, for years—the reason why you have people who are still calling us names on Twitter, like city workers, is because our image as Africans has been decimated. We have been reduced to savages who were lucky to be rescued from Africa and humanized and made normal. And this depiction of us has been pervasive throughout the entire world. And this is why there’s so much dysfunction even today in the African-American community. My grandmother, you know, grew up—who looks—was a shade darker than me, would resent if you called her African. Can you imagine? But she didn’t know better. She was raised during the Jim Crow era. And so, one of the great joys of my life was educating my grandmother with the story of my great-great-great-grandparents and saying, "Grandma, you don’t understand how you’ve been brainwashed to think that you came from savages. We were not savages in Africa. We’re not savages now."
AMY GOODMAN: And what was her response?
CHERYL WILLS: She is gratified. And now she puts her hands on her hips and says, "You know I’m from Africa." And people are like, "Yeah, you know, I look at you. We didn’t think you were European." Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did this mean for your brothers and sisters?
CHERYL WILLS: Ah, that’s a great question, Amy. You know, it meant the world to us, because it linked our beloved father, who died at the age of 38, a father we hardly knew, it linked him with greatness. It linked him with someone that he would have been so proud of. And this is what I do all over the world. I encourage people, now that we have these records digitized, thanks to the National Archives, everyone should go online and find these heroic stories. The majority of black men who were enslaved and of age during the Civil War, the majority of them enlisted to fight, the majority. Unfortunately, some of them fought for the Confederacy against their will. They didn’t know. Their masters forced them to fight against their own interests, unfortunately. But for the United States Colored Troops, you probably have a relative. If your family has been in this country for 150 years, whether you know it or not, you probably have a relative, like I did, that stood up and fought in that war.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. What did that mean for women?
CHERYL WILLS: I love that question, because, yes, when Abraham Lincoln signed that order on January 1st, 1863, it freed the slaves, technically. However, for women, we had a long way to go. We were still the property of our husbands, even when we became free, along with white women, who were equally oppressed. We could not argue for our children after a divorce; those children were the property of the men. So, African women, African-American women, after they became citizens after the passage of the amendments, 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, they still found that they were oppressed by their country, by their husbands, by society, so the Emancipation Proclamation was not very real for them. They still had to assert their right to be respected.
AMY GOODMAN: It was January 1st, 1863, the middle of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It read, in part, quote, "I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves ... are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons. ... And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service." So said President Abraham Lincoln, this year, 150 years ago.
CHERYL WILLS: Yeah, and you know how proud I am to know that my grandfather took up arms on behalf of his own family, of his own unborn seed, to say, "I’m going to risk my life." What’s interesting, Amy, just the act of going to fight put them on a death march. The Confederates were under strict orders: If you see one going to enlist, you are authorized to kill them, without consequence, without any problem. Just kill them. And as we know from the Battle of Fort Pillow, when these African men were enlisted and uniformed, they savagely killed them when they broke into the fort in Tennessee and did horrible things, against the conduct of war, and even killed the women who were stationed at the camp providing food and clothing and other chores.
AMY GOODMAN: And those that killed them were?
CHERYL WILLS: Confederate soldiers, against the articles of war. And they killed them savagely. They were supposed to take them as prisoners of war, right? But they killed them. They took off their heads. They killed the women who fled to the river for sanctuary. They ran after them and killed them. So, there was a great disdain for these black men who put on the Union soldier’s uniform. And still they fought. Still—my grandfather was honorably discharged, so that means that even when he heard about the Battle of Fort Pillow—and he was in that area; he wasn’t in that battle particularly—but he did not go AWOL. He stood the test, and he risked his life, because he knew it was a worthy cause.
AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, when he was discharged, he went back to the place he was enslaved.
CHERYL WILLS: As he did, and so did all of the men who became like brothers to him. It was six of them that escaped together.
AMY GOODMAN: All the Wills.
CHERYL WILLS: All the Wills boys on the Edmund Wills plantation. And when they were honorably discharged, only one of them died—Richard. They returned to what they knew. They were no longer slaves now; they were sharecroppers, which means, of course—it’s another form of slavery, in a sense. For every dollar you make, you owe $1.50. They couldn’t count. They couldn’t read or write. So now the people who once owned them were engaged in all kinds of deceptive practices. They would, you know, now be paid allegedly for their services, but now you have deductions. "We have to deduct for your housing. We have to deduct for this, for that. You’re using my tools and so forth." And they would rob them of what they so rightly earned. But still, they were free men and able to leave when they wanted to. But my grandfather never left Haywood County, and a hundred years later my father was born there. And like I said, the story was lost, but thanks to digital records, I found it. And my family is now empowered by it. And all families can be empowered by these stories.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Cheryl Wills, who is an anchor and reporter for NY1. You might certainly recognize her voice, her face. And she is a woman who has been on a long journey, but not all of her life—though maybe all of her life—not knowing what she has found today. Talk about where you were when you got the first records of your great-great-great-grandmother Emma testifying about why she should get soldier benefits, widow’s benefits of a soldier who had fought in the Civil War.
CHERYL WILLS: I was sitting at my home computer. I knew immediately, when I found out Sandy was my great-great-great-grandfather, I said, "This is a book I have to write," because I have to educate the children, because they’re not being taught the Civil War in its proper context. And this is evident from polls that show 42 percent of Americans sympathize with the Confederates. Really? Well, then that means you don’t understand what slavery really was. You certainly—if you knew how horrific slavery was, you would not sympathize with women, mothers, being sold away from their children and being tortured for a lifetime, for generations, and eating spoiled food and living beneath what God meant them to be, you wouldn’t support that. But that just shows you the education system has failed in some way, because people are saying "Right on" to the Confederates with a Confederate flag. Well, they were fighting to maintain human trafficking in the United States. That doesn’t create a warm, soft spot for me in my heart, because my family was victims of that.
So, to answer your question directly, when I discovered these papers, the National Archives sent them to me, I was stunned, Amy. I couldn’t believe that this woman, who had been raised a slave and sold twice in her life, first to the West family as an infant, then—
AMY GOODMAN: And where were they?
CHERYL WILLS: All in Tennessee—then to the Moore family, where she grew up a slave girl owned by them, doing whatever they said do.
AMY GOODMAN: Did her name change when she—
CHERYL WILLS: Absolutely. She was Emma West as a little girl; when she was sold to the Moore family, she became Emma West Moore. When she married my grandfather, she became Emma West Moore Wills, because Sandy was fairly—
AMY GOODMAN: And Wills was a slave name.
CHERYL WILLS: They were all slave names. It was all evident that she had never owned herself. So, when I saw these documents, and I saw her tenacity and her dignity and her bravery and refusing to be ignored—imagine from where she sat.
AMY GOODMAN: She is turned down, time and again.
CHERYL WILLS: Time and again.
AMY GOODMAN: She applies for a widow’s benefits.
CHERYL WILLS: Right, after Sandy dies, she has nine little children in a one-room shack.
AMY GOODMAN: And he was a veteran.
CHERYL WILLS: He was a veteran, and she provided proof of such through his discharge certificate. And she gives it to the federal government. They deny her, because they see her as a second-, third-class citizen. "Why should we give it to you?" They really meant it for the white widows. She hired a lawyer. She hired a lawyer. A former slave girl hired a lawyer and demanded to be heard and respected as a wife and a mother in these United States. That blew my mind. I’ve seen people give up for much less. She couldn’t even sign her name on the bottom of those depositions. She signed it with an "X." She didn’t even know what the deposition said. And you’re looking at one of them right now. She couldn’t read a word of it. But she had the presence of mind—you know, I tell audiences, Amy, that illiteracy does not mean you are stupid. There’s a big difference between being illiterate and being ignorant. She was illiterate, yes, but she was brilliant. And she demanded that the federal government, a great, big institution that she, in body, could not dare take on, but in spirit, she challenged them and said, "You will respect my husband’s legacy."
AMY GOODMAN: And when they challenge whether these nine children were theirs, saying, "Well, how do we know when they were born?"
CHERYL WILLS: "How do we know?" Right. She pulled out the Bible that someone had given her. And when she was about 17 years old—because we never know her true age, because she didn’t know her birthday—but when she was about 17 years old and started having children with her husband, she had the people who once owned her write in her family Bible the name and birth date of every child, beginning with William Wills, who was born February 3rd, 1870. Now, one might say, "What a sophisticated thing for her to do, considering she didn’t know her own birthday, her husband didn’t know his birthday, her mother didn’t know her birthday, and all the way back." But she knew that she stood at a very historic apex in history. She knew that she had crossed this transition where she is now the first mother in her family to have children and be able to keep them. This is why I don’t understand how people sympathize with people who wanted to maintain slavery. This woman is special, because she could have a child and keep it for the rest of her life. This is a God-given right.
AMY GOODMAN: Cheryl Wills, have you ever seen this Bible?
CHERYL WILLS: This will be my next book, when I find this Bible. I even write in my book, I believe this Bible, this precious document, will be directed to me someday. You don’t throw out Bibles. You don’t throw out holy books, no matter what—a Torah, a Qur’an, a Bible. You do not throw them out for the trash. You put it away in an attic, no matter how old it is. This Bible is somewhere. And I will find it. I believe Emma will somehow get it to me, because she knows how precious it is to me, how it changed her granddaughter in the 21st century, how it touched me and how I’m using her story to touch people. I tell this story everywhere.
And I tell people, most importantly, Amy, remember your grandparents. They lived in a society—whether it’s your grandmother, your great-grandfather or whatever—they lived in a society that said, "You don’t matter." Now, their children cannot echo that sentiment. Their children have to say, "The world may say you’re a footnote in history, but we, your children, say you mattered. You matter. Your name should be repeated." And it’s up to us now, with the click of a mouse, to go online. It’s available in the census. Africans were counted in the U.S. Census starting in 1870, because, prior to that, they were not counted because they were property. It would be "male, black," and the approximate age. But 1870, we start to see their names. We start to see where they live. And I encourage people, go find that name and speak that name and find that story and be inspired by it, and teach your children, so we will stop seeing children walk around with their pants hanging down literally showing their behinds to the world—literally showing their behinds to the world, because they do not know their legacy. If they knew their legacy, they would pick their—pull their pants up and hold their heads high and know they came from honorable people who did great things in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Cheryl Wills, NY1 anchor. You’ve maybe, if you’re a viewer of NY1, heard her tell many stories, but perhaps not her own—and not only her own, but everyone’s story, for those who are enslaved and those who weren’t, if one person is oppressed, we are all oppressed. Cheryl Wills is author of a new book called Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale. It’s her family’s story. Cheryl, your great-great-great-grandfather Sandy Wills—Wills, his slave name, the slaveowner who bought Sandy when he was 10—Sandy then goes off to fight in the Civil War for the freedom of slaves.
CHERYL WILLS: Right, starting in 1863, for his own freedom, as well. For his own freedom and for his unborn seed. You know, it was a very generous act, you know, because he was a dead man when he enlisted. He knew how vicious the Confederates were, how—and he was in Tennessee, Columbus area, you know? Columbus, Kentucky, area. So he knew: At any point, I can be killed. So it was a very humble act, saying, you know, I’m already a dead man, so I’m going to just do the honorable thing here.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you go back to Tennessee?
CHERYL WILLS: I have not been there yet. Can you imagine? I had so much documentation that I never had a chance to physically go there. And I found out that there’s all kinds of stores. And, you know, so I felt, if I go back, there’s no need to go. But I wanted to go back and find his grave. And—
AMY GOODMAN: You meant stores that everything has—of course, isn’t there that was.
CHERYL WILLS: Everything’s gone. Everything’s gone. Every—
AMY GOODMAN: You may find that Bible there.
CHERYL WILLS: Yeah, maybe, maybe. The family has all left. Everyone—during Jim Crow, people hightailed it out of there. It became so violent and vicious. And the terrorism that was waged on blacks then, they all left, including my grandfather. He picked up his son, who was my father, and said, "We’re out of here, before they kill us." And the Klan was born in Tennessee, by the way. So, I have not been to Tennessee, because I got so much documentation. But I was prepared to go if I could locate his grave. Nowhere to be found. He was not buried in a military cemetery.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the trajectory of veterans, particularly black veterans, from, well, after the Civil War to today.
CHERYL WILLS: You know, it’s very interesting, Amy. Blacks have fought in every country, every war this country has seen, starting from the Revolutionary War. Crispus Attucks was the first one to be killed in the Revolutionary War, the first black person. And during the Civil War and War of 1812, we have been present in every battle. And what’s interesting is that somehow blacks are still viewed as unpatriotic. I’ve never understood that, ever. We have been the most patriotic, if you ask me. When you have slaves, who are not even citizens, even though they’re parents had been here for hundreds of years, and they put their hand up and salute the flag and fight honorably, I think that’s the height of patriotism, when the country still sees them technically as three-fifths of a human being. But they believed in America more than America believed in them.
So, when you bring it forward to soldiers today—and I do a lot of talks with soldiers’ groups—it’s astonishing to find that some soldiers are not given adequate medical care. It’s astonishing to find that they have to fight for their benefits and wrangle with a bureaucratic system that sometimes rejects them, like my grandmother was rejected when she had to fight for her pension. And they’re going through all of this and dealing with all of these diseases and in substandard medical facilities. This is very unfortunate. And this is something I’m always proud to report on and expose, because the soldiers feel, "How could you disrespect me after my sacrifice? How could you disrespect me like this and reduce me to having to fill out all of these forms? And you’re rejecting me for treatments when I sustained these injuries serving my nation honorably." So this is a story that the media should keep close watch on, because we need to honor our soldiers.
AMY GOODMAN: That issue of healthcare and veterans.
CHERYL WILLS: Oh, my goodness, yes. We need to honor our soldiers, and we should not put them through the ringer when they are trying to get help for their injuries, especially injuries sustained during war.
AMY GOODMAN: As you talk about family moving from the South to the North, I think about Isabel Wilkerson and her remarkable book—
CHERYL WILLS: The Warmth of Other Suns, yes. It’s outstanding.
AMY GOODMAN: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
CHERYL WILLS: Yeah, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —how many African Americans moved from the South to the North, including, of course, Michelle Obama, who has this history, her own grandfathers coming from the Carolinas, and a slave history—maybe not say "slave," a history of her own family members being enslaved.
CHERYL WILLS: Sure. And, you know, a New York Times did her genealogical research, found her enslaved family, and she didn’t even know, herself. She didn’t know. The New York Times found it and told her. And she said, "Wow! How do you like that?" So that’s just an example of how we don’t know our own legacies. We don’t know the names of our ancestors, who suffered through slavery for hundreds of years in this country, and how enriching it is and how blessed we are when we find their names and tell their stories and bring it back to life. It empowers the generations. I speak at a lot of schools, Amy. It’s the most important thing I do, speaking to students. And I teach them about how honorable they were. And I’m astonished that they know nothing. How are you sitting in class eight months out of the year, and you don’t know what I’m telling you? How does that happen? You don’t understand how slavery destroyed families and how wonderful it was when they made the transition and reunited families and rebuilt communities, and even they turned around from slavery and were stuck by—with Jim Crow, but they fought through all of that. And students are not being taught this in the proper context.
AMY GOODMAN: A lot of people might be going to their computers as they are listening to you or watching you right now. But how do they do it? They say, "OK, where do I start? I know my mother’s name. I know my father’s name, or what I think are their names.
CHERYL WILLS: Right, right, right.
AMY GOODMAN: "How do I go back from there?"
CHERYL WILLS: You know what I tell people, I tell them, number one, find a—go to the side of the family, your mother or father, that’s been the most stable. See, my father’s family was stable, because when Sandy returned to Haywood County, Tennessee, all of his descendants stayed in Haywood County, married in Haywood County.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you know that?
CHERYL WILLS: I didn’t know that until I did the research. But I knew that my father was born in Haywood County, and he was the last to leave. So—
AMY GOODMAN: That’s a remarkable connection. His name is Wills—
CHERYL WILLS: Unbroken for—
AMY GOODMAN: —and his great-great-great-grandfather is named Wills, and he was from Haywood County.
CHERYL WILLS: The genealogist that I consulted with said my story was the proverbial needle in the haystack, because it was very rare for people to stay in the same area for such a long time and for a name to be unbroken for that—for more than a century. You know, every son gets married, and the name is Wills, right down to my dad. And my dad married my mom, and she’s Ruth Wills. So, for a name to be unbroken like that, and especially in the transient nature of African Americans during Jim Crow, when there was so much movement, it is remarkable and rare.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you try to trace your mother’s family, Ruth?
CHERYL WILLS: And I ran into a brick wall almost immediately. And that’s the case with most African Americans. They run into a brick wall. So my mother’s side moved more, and there was more—you know, people were getting up and—
AMY GOODMAN: And her maiden name was?
CHERYL WILLS: My mom’s maiden name was Ford. And he was very transient, his side of the family. And then her mother’s side in South Carolina was Arnold, and they were—they moved a lot, and names changed a lot. So I went nowhere with them. But, you know, South Carolina is such a rich, historic state, I just know that if I could trace, I would probably find relatives who fought in the Revolutionary War. But it’s—so far, I haven’t had any luck. I won’t give up.
AMY GOODMAN: Cheryl Wills, your book begins with a quote of Frederick Douglass 150 years ago, in 1863. "Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. Better even die free—than to live slaves."
CHERYL WILLS: And that’s why I called the book Die Free, because Frederick Douglass. He is my hero, even though he’s been gone from us for a very long time. I don’t think we’ve had a greater leader, to be honest with you—to have a child who escaped slavery several times, only to be returned again and again, and then, finally, successfully, leave slavery, escape, and then head north. He had someone teach him to read and write while he was still a slave, and he literally liberated himself once he was educated. And he just didn’t give up. And then he became the greatest abolitionist, I think, ever. When you look at transcripts of his speeches, I believe he must have been a better speaker than Martin Luther King. Everyone points to King. I have much respect for King, but King had the benefit of having television cameras pointed in his face. Frederick Douglass did not. But I think if we had had television cameras and microphones during Frederick Douglass’s era, we would have heard a remarkable man, a remarkable voice, because when we look at the transcripts of his speeches and various newspapers’ accounts, we see that there’s always pause for wild applause, you know? So—
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go right now to the words of Frederick Douglass, introduced by Howard Zinn.
HOWARD ZINN: Frederick Douglass, a former slave, taught himself to read and write, and he became a leader of the anti-slavery movement. Asked to address the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on the occasion of the 4th of July, Douglass said the following.
MORGAN FREEMAN: [reading Frederick Douglass] "What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.
"Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without rival."
AMY GOODMAN: The words of Frederick Douglass, animated by, read by Morgan Freeman. I have so often heard this done by Danny Glover, but we chose the section from People’s History of the United States, put together by the late, great historian Howard Zinn. Morgan Freeman reading the words of Frederick Douglass. Those words appear in the beginning of Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale. Your hero, Cheryl Wills, Frederick Douglass, interestingly, when he came north, he took refuge in a printing press building here in New York that’s now a little independent coffee shop and has a gold plaque. It says, "Frederick Douglass took refuge here in the printing press of David Ruggles, born a free black man in Connecticut." So you have Ruggles with a printing press. You have Frederick Douglass founding The North Star newspaper. These men saw media as their form of liberation, because information is power.
CHERYL WILLS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And now, as we wrap up, Cheryl Wills, you continue the tradition as a news anchor and reporter here in New York, the tradition of Frederick Douglass.
CHERYL WILLS: That’s a great honor. And, you know, all of the abolitionists—William Lloyd Garrison with The Liberator and Frederick Douglass, what he wrote, My Bondage and My Freedom, one of my favorite books—we have to continue that tradition and tell our own stories.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. You have to hightail it out of here to go to NY1 to be an anchor on the show today, so thanks so much. It was a great privilege to be with you.
CHERYL WILLS: Amy, thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Her book is Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale.
Recent Shows More
By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan
Marshall “Eddie” Conway walked free from prison this week, just one month shy of 44 years behind bars. He was convicted of the April 1970 killing of a Baltimore police officer. Conway has always maintained his innocence.