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Chico State

Deep Look into America’s Relationship with Slavery Named Book in Common for 2023-24

A book, titled "How the Word is Passed," sits on a ledge
Jason Halley / University Photographer

The shared Book in Common has a history of publications that explore timely and contentious topics. Next year’s selection, Clint Smith’s “How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America,” tackles perhaps the most audacious topic our country has ever experienced.

Confronting the legacy of slavery, “How the Word is Passed” provided readers with the background and vocabulary necessary to better understand and eliminate racial injustice on our campus and community by engaging with a truthful remembering of the past.

“Our campus, as well as our community and country, continues to experience Anti-Black racism, and a yearlong engagement with Smith’s book complements other urgent antiracist initiatives at Chico State,” said Book in Common Committee Chair Laura Nice.

Beginning in his own hometown of New Orleans, Smith guides the reader through an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks—those that are honest about the past and those that are not—which offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history.

The book explores the Monticello Plantation in Virginia, the estate where Thomas Jefferson wrote letters espousing the urgent need for liberty, while enslaving over 400 people on the premises. Readers get a view of the Whitney Plantation, one of the only former plantations devoted to preserving the experience of the enslaved people whose lives and work sustained it.

We visit Angola, a former plantation-turned maximum-security prison in Louisiana that is filled with Black men who work across the 18,000-acre land for virtually no pay. And readers walk the grounds of Blandford Cemetery, the final resting place of tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers.

“This powerful work of nonfiction takes readers to several key places where humans were enslaved, creating space for readers to confront the legacy of slavery in contemporary America, and by confronting the violent truth of our history, to move us to take action to prevent contemporary anti-Black violence,” said Chico State President Gayle Hutchinson.

The Book in Common is a shared community read designed to promote discussion and understanding of important issues. It is chosen each year by a group of Chico State and Butte College faculty and staff, as well as members of the local community. As in past years, Butte College, Chico State, the City of Chico and Butte County will sponsor panel discussions, lectures and other public events to celebrate and promote the Book in Common.

For more information and details on events as they are scheduled, visit