There were no reporters in the room. They were only allowed after the
luncheon was over and the doors were open.
There may be a recording of it somewhere. I have a lot of pictures but no
On Mon, Aug 1, 2022 at 4:37 PM Railton, Stephen F (sfr) <
[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Thanks very much, Susan. This happened in 2015, is that right? Does
> anyone on the forum know if they were any reports about the tray being
> dropped in the local media? Your account is clear and convincing and I'm
> very grateful you shared it with us, but I just wonder if the drama of the
> moment, or the feelings of the server, or any more reactions from the
> audience got reported.
> "Was it something I said"?!? In this context, that line sure resonates...
> Thanks again, Steve
> From: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Susan Bailey <
> [log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Monday, August 1, 2022 4:18 PM
> To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Re: BOOK REVIEW: _N: My Encounter with Racism_ by James Henry
> Steve Railton,
> The following is my take on that day. It may differ from what others
> remember but I was at the head table so had a bird’s eye view of a few
> The president of the University and the other dignitaries looked very
> uncomfortable but no one said anything. I believed Hal remarked from the
> podium, “Was it something I said?” Everyone laughed and he moved on with
> his speech, using the same word a few more times as I recall. But then
> anyone who knew Hal Holbrook knew he didn’t mince words, not even that one.
> He once told me that Twain had no other word to use in his time.
> After the luncheon was over he was surrounded by reporters but he told them
> he had to get to another appointment, pushed me off on them by telling them
> I could answer their questions (which I could not) and he left the
> building. He and Ryan did hold the car for me until I was able to extricate
> myself from them.
> On Mon, Aug 1, 2022 at 10:54 AM Railton, Stephen F (sfr) <
> [log in to unmask]> wrote:
> > Kevin, I appreciated the thoughtfulness of your review.
> > Susan, that was a very powerful story you shared, but I sure would like
> > know more about what happened. Especially: what happened next? was there
> > any discussion of the event?
> > There's no question of how difficult this subject is to talk about, but I
> > believe the more we talk about it, the further we can get. Thanks, Steve
> > Railton
> > ________________________________
> > From: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Susan Bailey <
> > [log in to unmask]>
> > Sent: Monday, August 1, 2022 9:06 AM
> > To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
> > Subject: Re: BOOK REVIEW: _N: My Encounter with Racism_ by James Henry
> > Harris
> > This review is very interesting to me and explains some things that I am
> > aware of but didn’t quite understand.
> > When Hal Holbrook received his honorary doctorate degree from the
> > University of Missouri, he used that word a few times at a luncheon
> > while quoting Twain. A Black server dropped her tray with all the food on
> > it. It was a dramatic moment!
> > I’m a token member of a private all Black group centered in Hannibal and
> > there are members that admire Twain for his writing and for what his
> > presence did for Hannibal; Others believe him to be a racist because of
> > liberal use of that word in his writings. I understand this better now.
> > Regards
> > Susan Madeline Bailey
> > On Mon, Aug 1, 2022 at 8:26 AM Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
> > wrote:
> > > BOOK REVIEW
> > >
> > > The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin
> > Mac
> > > Donnell.
> > > ~~~~~
> > >
> > > _N: My Encounter with Racism and the Forbidden Word in an American
> > > Classic_. By James Henry Harris. Fortress Press, 2021. Pp. 181.
> > Softcover.
> > > $18.99. ISBN 978-1-5064-7916-3. Ebook: 978-1-5064-7917-0.
> > >
> > > Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices
> > > the TwainWeb Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate
> > > that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <
> > http://www.twainweb.net
> > > >.
> > >
> > > Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by
> > > Kevin Mac Donnell.
> > >
> > >
> > > This volume is a revision of _The Forbidden Word_ (2012), Harris's
> > earlier
> > > book about Mark Twain's use of the word "nigger" in _Adventures of
> > > Huckleberry Finn_, with a new preface that takes into account the state
> > of
> > > race relations since the publication of that book. Harris describes his
> > > hard-scrabble childhood, growing up in a house with no indoor plumbing
> > and
> > > no electricity, and surrounded by "sex, lies, drinking, liquor, and
> > gossip"
> > > (67-68). There was no health care, and the only books in the house
> were a
> > > defective Bible and whatever textbooks he and his nine siblings brought
> > > home. These sparse details don't begin to convey the relentless
> > > poverty or the crushing weight of the confusions, injustices, losses,
> > > tragedies of his childhood years. As if this noxious brew needed
> > seasoning,
> > > a heavy dose of racism was stirred into this miserable mix.
> > >
> > > Harris survived, but not without scars. Now a Distinguished Professor
> > > Pastoral Theology & Homiletics at Virginia Union University, more than
> > > decade ago he decided to pursue a Master of Arts degree in English
> > > literature at the age of 53, and enrolled in a class on _Huckleberry
> > Finn_.
> > > He was the only black student in the class, in fact the only minority
> > > member of the class (xv), and immediately found that reading the word
> > > "nigger" on the printed page was one thing, but _hearing_ the word read
> > > aloud and bandied about on the lips of the white students and his white
> > > professor was something quite different, and not merely offensive or
> > > humiliating, but profoundly painful.
> > >
> > > Hearing the word triggered Harris's memories of being called a "nigger"
> > as
> > > a child, which felt "like the sharp jabs of a dagger" (25), which had
> > laid
> > > the foundation of his lifetime reaction to the word, knowing that "when
> > you
> > > hear whites use the word, you know in your spirit that it is intended
> > > harm" (151). Although Mark Twain is not calling Harris or any of his
> > > readers a "nigger," Harris's life-long conditioning explains what some
> > may
> > > consider his overreaction to hearing it spoken from the pages of
> > > novel. Writes Harris, " . . . nobody can tell me I am a _nigger_ . . .
> > > nobody has the right to do that, and Mark Twain is no exception"
> > > Harris even describes his violent physical reaction to hearing the word
> > > spoken by his fellow classmates (18). Harris also feels that when
> > > including "Black intellectuals," substitutes the phrase "N-word" for
> > > "nigger" that this is the equivalent of "nigger" and therefore equally
> > > disturbing (xiii-xiv).
> > >
> > > For Harris, Twain's satire often backfires; he writes that "satire
> > > too well for Black people. It reinforces the stereotype it was intended
> > to
> > > obviate" (156). But he also acknowledges his admiration of Twain's use
> > > satire and irony, especially in the portrayal of whites in the novel,
> > > praises Twain's "marvelous" use of words and phrases (147). Harris
> > > clear that "any author willing to send his dear protagonist Huck Finn
> > > the way to hell on behalf of one of my African American ancestors is
> > > certainly worthy of my acclamation" (47-48), but he still objects to
> > > Twain's use of the word "nigger" and describes his "dialectical
> > > relationship with the writer and the novel" as "Love and hate.
> > > and disgust" (150).
> > >
> > > At times he seems to confuse Twain's putting the word into the mouths
> > > his characters with Twain uttering the word himself, but either way it
> > > makes no difference to Harris (148-149). However, this distinction is
> > > small distinction, and is a valid explanation of Twain's utilization of
> > the
> > > word, but Harris explicitly rejects that argument (xv). To Harris,
> > is
> > > a racist because he uses the word "so flippantly. So cavalier-like. So
> > > wrenchingly and so unashamedly" (31) and that "there is a persistent
> > racial
> > > and cultural hierarchy that permeates the written and visual texts in
> > > _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_" and that "this does mean that Twain
> > was a
> > > racist, and he certainly took advantage of being white" (152). Harris
> > > either ignoring the satire or simply missing Twain's point; perhaps
> > > Even at key moments in the novel, Harris does not soften his objections
> > to
> > > the word, asserting that Aunt Sally's revealing expression of relief
> > > the steamboat explosion only killed a "nigger" was an example of
> > > and white supremacy" and not a moment of "literary genius" (155).
> > Likewise,
> > > although Harris accurately cites Pap Finn's racist rant about "niggers"
> > and
> > > the government as Twain's way of showing "the racism of the times" he
> > > nevertheless concludes that "it is symptomatic of the reality of white
> > > supremacy in both Pap, the character, Mark Twain, the writer, and Huck
> > the
> > > protagonist" (171).
> > >
> > > Harris refuses to distinguish the racism of Twain's characters from
> > > creator, and is consistently confrontational and defiant, or else a
> > > provocateur (130). At other times he is admittedly mischievous (136),
> > > admits that his imagination sometimes may be getting the better of him
> > > (132). He questions his own sensitivity to the word, and addresses the
> > very
> > > different attitude among younger blacks today, but defends his position
> > > (35, 165-166). In class he swallows his anger and instead contributes
> > > mostly "good trouble" to classroom discussions, sometimes getting
> > > jaw-dropping reactions from his fellow students, and sometimes their
> > > understanding.
> > >
> > > At the end of the "brutal and uncomfortable class" (177) which he also
> > > describes as a "slug-fest" that left him feeling "battered" (46-47),
> > > student was required to recite a one-hundred-word excerpt from the
> > in
> > > front of the class. Unable to bring himself to say the word "nigger" in
> > > front of a classroom of white students, Harris instead recites two
> > > ending with Langston Hughes's "Refugee in America'`:
> > >
> > > There are words like Freedom
> > > Sweet and wonderful to say.
> > > On my heart-strings freedom sings
> > > All day everyday.
> > >
> > > There are words like Liberty
> > > That almost make me cry.
> > > If you had known what I knew
> > > You would know why.
> > >
> > > The recitation brings him to tears and hushes his classmates into a
> > "gaping
> > > silence" (178).
> > >
> > > The arguments Harris makes have been raised before by black writers;
> > > Wallace's _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Adapted_ (1983), and Sharon
> > > Rush's _Huck Finn's "Hidden" Lesson: Teaching and Learning Across the
> > Color
> > > Line_ (2006) come to mind. Most Twainians familiar with _Huckleberry
> > Finn_
> > > will disagree with Harris's indictment of Twain as a racist, his
> > assessment
> > > of how the word "nigger" functions in the novel, and his conclusions
> > > "the ubiquitous use of _nigger_ by Twain is the basic reason why his
> > novel
> > > has attained the status of an American classic" (141) and that "Twain's
> > use
> > > of the word _nigger_ . . . is so much a part of his being white that he
> > > does not have to think twice about its use" (147).
> > >
> > > Readers might conclude that _Huckleberry Finn_ was poorly taught in
> > > Harris's class, or more likely, that Harris's visceral but
> > > response to hearing the word spoken in class clouded his perception of
> > > Twain's deliberate use of the word to signify the racism of the
> > characters
> > > in the novel. Some readers might also notice that while Twain puts the
> > word
> > > in the mouths of his characters more than 200 times in _Huckleberry
> > Finn_,
> > > Harris himself uses the word more than 175 times in his own book. But
> > > else could either man show his readers the evils of a systemic racism
> > that
> > > has continued to infect American culture from Twain's era to our own?
> > >
> > > Readers who find it difficult to understand why Harris (and others)
> > > this way to the word "nigger" in _Huckleberry Finn_ will find the
> > in
> > > the last two lines of Langston Hughes's poem. White readers may
> > > Harris's arguments, but not his black experiences. This white reviewer
> > > cannot imagine very many black students willing to express themselves
> > > front of other students--especially white students--as candidly and
> > > emotionally as Harris does in the pages of his memoir. For that reason
> > > alone, anyone, black or white, who teaches Twain in the classroom to
> > > students, black or white, will profit from reading Harris's account.
> > >
> > > T. S. Eliot, commenting on _Huckleberry Finn_ in his introduction to
> > > 1950 edition, said that "_Huckleberry Finn_, like other great works of
> > > imagination, can give to every reader whatever he is capable of taking
> > from
> > > it" (Eliot xiv). Black and white readers each bring different
> > > to the table, each capable of taking things from this novel that the
> > other
> > > will not, each necessarily viewing the book through black or
> > > spectacles. But none can be excluded from the table if a meaningful
> > > discussion is to take place.
> > >
> > --
> > Susan Bailey
> > Co author
> > The Twain Shall Meet
> > <
> > >
> > Twain Page <https://www.facebook.com/marktwainsgranddaughter>
> > www.marktwainonline.com<http://www.marktwainonline.com><
> > Greenville, SC
> Susan Bailey
> Co author
> The Twain Shall Meet
> Twain Page <https://www.facebook.com/marktwainsgranddaughter>
> Greenville, SC
The Twain Shall Meet
Twain Page <https://www.facebook.com/marktwainsgranddaughter>