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“Trayvon Martin Was Ours”–Author Alice Walker on How Killing is Symptom of Unaddressed Racism

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author, poet and activist Alice Walker joins us talk about the death of Trayvon Martin. “It’s a symptom of our illness,” Walker says. “We are a very sick country. And our racism is a manifestation of our illness and the ways that we don’t delve into our own wrecks. … As a country, we are a wreck. And part of it is that we have never looked to see where we went off the trail. … [Trayvon Martin] was ours. And I don’t mean just ours, black people, but all of ours. I mean, these children, they are our future, and they have to be protected.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to bring into this conversation the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, poet, activist, Alice Walker. In a moment, we’re going to be talking about the death of Adrienne Rich and her significance. But first, Alice, thank you so much for joining us at this early hour in Berkeley, California. And I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on the death of Trayvon Martin.

ALICE WALKER: A great deal of sadness, of course, and also a real deepening and ever-flowing love for my people, because we’ve suffered so much from just this kind of news about our children, about our families, about our fathers and our mothers. So I send out to all of us a very big, warm, love—loving hug, because we need it. We have been abused for such a long time here in this very misguided civilization. I think, too, that what moved me was that he’s from Sanford, and this is a part of Zora Neale Hurston’s home territory, so it feels very special to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Zora Neale Hurston, a woman who you have made an alliance with after her death. Her grave, you restored. Zora Neale Hurston, the great author, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

ALICE WALKER: Well, Zora was from that part of the world, and she was from it before it became such a nightmare. She lived in the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida, which is 10 miles from Sanford. And in fact, in her books, people are always going to Sanford or coming from Sanford. So she made a special effort to understand them and to preserve for us some of the ways of these people, and they were really wonderful people. You know, they had not been so tortured, because they did not have white authority always on their necks. And this is one of the reasons we love her. We love her because she’s one of the few African Americans who grew up in a situation where she could fully be herself. And so herself was this quite vibrant, wonderful person.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s remarkable to remember these women on this last days of Women’s History Month, but Mamie Till, Zora Neale Hurston. Zora Neale Hurston studied with Margaret Mead and Franz Boas anthropology at Columbia. She was a famous writer, but went home to Eatonville—her mother, we believe, is buried right in Sanford, actually—but died a pauper, which is how you got involved, Alice.

ALICE WALKER: Well, I did, because I loved her book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, so much, and also I used some of her work in one of my early short stories. I couldn’t believe that she had died penniless and had been buried in a place that no one knew where it was, so I decided that, as her spiritual descendant, it was my responsibility to go and find her grave and to put a marker there, which I did. And I’m very happy to have done it. I think she was so free that maybe she wouldn’t have cared, but I think, for all of us, when people give us so much, the least we can do is to offer some form of remembrance and appreciation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Alice, having traveled through that area decades after she lived there, does it surprise you, this latest incident that’s happened in Sanford?

ALICE WALKER: Well, I think it’s happening a lot in places other than Sanford also, and I think it’s a symptom of our illness. We are very—we are a very sick country. And our racism is a manifestation of our illness and the ways that we don’t delve into our own wrecks. You know, I mean, we—as a country, we are a wreck. And part of it is that we have never looked to see where it was we went off the trail, you know. So, as shocking, as painful—I could barely look at what had happened for several days. And now I am looking at it, and I just—you know, I feel so much for this young man, because he was beautiful, and he was ours. And I don’t mean just, you know, ours, black people, but all of ours. I mean, these children, they are our future, and they have to be protected.

And I also feel that what is happening, people seem so mystified about why Zimmerman has not been arrested. But if he’s arrested, the police department is in big trouble. So, he knows so much about that police department. And I would think, too, that he should be under some kind of guard now. And if I were his family, that is what I would be concentrating on, if they care about him, keeping him alive, so that whatever happens, he will be able to speak.

AMY GOODMAN: Alice Walker, we’re going to ask you to stay with us. And Cynthia Dagnal-Myron, we want to thank you for being with us, former reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, Arizona Daily Star_, spent 20 years as a teacher and administrator. Her own fifth-grade teacher, Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of the infamously murdered Emmett Till. Her recent stories”>piece appears on Open Salon, part of, “For Trayvon and Emmett: My 'Walking While Black' Stories.” Thanks so much for being with us. When we come back, we continue with Alice Walker on the life of Adrienne Rich. Stay with us.

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Next story from this daily show

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012): Alice Walker & Frances Goldin on the Life of the Legendary Poet & Activist

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