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tv   Interview with Luther Campbell  CSPAN  January 18, 2016 3:45pm-4:01pm EST

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man about town. he is the first black millionaire and has been acknowledge to be a millionaire in a black newspaper in 1851 or 52. one of my favorite images of hamilton is for a couple of years in the late 1840s he has got problems living-- she's a master of the universe in his day job, but when he works-- walks on the street he is not even a second class citizen and violence is out to a rapt, so a couple of times when he is buying poughkeepsie real estate he is thinking about shifting to poughkeepsie. earlier than that he is there columbia university outside of the city, but in the late 1840s he buys an estate in new jersey, which is 30 miles from manhattan. the image of a black man on a
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270-acre estate with a house, with 10 bedrooms and a ballroom on the terraces looking out down the hill to where he has two trout streams, a fish farm and quail and-- quail hunting does not accord with the usual way african americans are seen in the antebellum north and it is a image i sort of treasure. it's in this time as well that he buys his share in new york society library. again, in the book i look at the book-- the next 20 years he borrowed over 250 bucks from the new york society library. this must be the first expensive reading list of an african-american ever, basically in this country. i also have got-- when he went
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bankrupt there was inventory of his own library, so the book i have got several pages actually looking at the sort of stuff he was borrowing from this place. in 1863, perhaps new york's worst ever week in its existence, i suppose, he's living on east 29th street and a mob comes into the street, on irish mob chanting 68, 68, 68, which was the number of his house and they come to his house, kicked the basement door in an race at the stairs confronted by his wife. he married a white woman. often, you think a black men in white woman you think of it
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being a transit relationship of some sort. they were married 40 years and had 10 children. in 1837, when he was 30, he met her and she was 14 and she was pregnant when she was 14. anyway, in 1863 she stands at the top of the stairs and says what do you want, what can i do for you and they said we want your husband. we are going to hang him from the lamp post in front of the house, but he's not an idiot and hopped over the back fence and disappeared while she was left holding the fort. he died in 1875. he also travels. he probably went to san francisco. he travels to paris and he's in paris, a couple of days before
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the siege starts when the prussian army is coming down in 1870. he is one of those people who turns up in all manner of interesting places, so with the new york newspaper, one of the most famous newspapers, the founder of the new york sun was his best friend and he publishes articles in the new york sun-- jeremiah hamilton does. with his importance? why should anyone care? the interesting thing about this guy is i hope i can-- have conveyed that he is a prominent individual of sorts, deserving of some sort of recognition, but he has been absolutely, totally and utterly erased from american history. mentioned the prince for time since 1900 and three of those four times are wrong, one of them a historian that thought he was white and went to the west
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indies and got a suntan and fooled neighbors into thinking he was black, so this-- so, he has been totally erased. and-- [inaudible] >> yet nothing whatsoever to do with the other african-americans in new york city. he disdained them in they disdained him and will never be remembered as part of the african-american strive in new york city, so he sort of falls between the cracks and gets totally ignored. as well as what i'm interested in is what he tells us about african-americans and actually in new york city in the 19th century. that's really a large part of what the book is about. trying to look at race relations
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and new. by looking at this person who was associated with the whites, but was not white. and was being treated like a black man, but had nothing whatsoever to do with the black man, so in 1830s and 1840s, new york city is inventing segregation. so, what was it like for this black man to walk the streets of new york and that is the sort of question i strive to get out in the book. all right, i'm actually going to read and inflict my prose upon you for a couple of paragraphs. i try to make that very same point. jeremiah hamilton's unique position in new york, present any writer with an opportunity for coming to a new understanding of the way the 19th century city work. he offers a way to reconsider subjects that are seen without too much sort as being
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quintessentially white. totally segregated from african-american past. this is the case with wall street, the stock exchange in the great fire, but is also true of that penny press, revolution of 1830s. far too often historian street african-americans if segregation succeeded. as if blacks lived in their own separate world physically and culturally removed from everyone else. in effect, african-americans become segregated for a second time in the telling of their history, easily marginalized, relegated to the footnotes. hamilton traveled all over such black-and-white distinctions and anyone telling his story today must be similarly disdainful of racial shibboleths. in the end, it is hamilton who stands alone in the limelight. his was that dramatic life, cinematic in its vividness and
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included incidents of derring-do, a trial that was the talk of the town, and more than that occasional angry confrontation. in all of this, hamilton never took one backwards step. he was not up to giving. if you crossed him, he returned the favor and always added a few% for interests. it was one thing for cornelius vanderbilt or any other white man to be this aggressive. for the so-called prince of darkness to behave in such a fashion. he often rubbed people the wrong way. he never seem to care too much. hamilton did-- hamilton could also be charming as smooth as any other hustler. a wise person did not trust him far doll. he had learned that the score should be balanced, accounts for the most part settled and treated as simply something to be taken advantage of. this african-american was at
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home in courtrooms or the waterfront. new york society-- society library or monica's. he can tell you which stocks to buy, converse about the history of tom jones, stitch up a deer-- often article for the new york sun and arrange a scuttle in over in short shipped. most remarkable of all, he was a black man who became rich while living out the american nightmare of race. that prince of darkness was an extraordinary figure and i have lived with him now, for two years. while telling of the untold story of jeremiah g. hamilton wall street's first black millionaire begins in 1828, the year in which he first got under the skin of a new york businessman. so, i find him absolute fascinating character and you will be surprised to know that i
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like most historians i think someone should make a film about jeremiah g. hamilton. a couple of months ago there was an article in the new yorker about chris rock and towards the end of it it said that he had been trying to make a film about not turner. as any of you who know the history of nat turner and what has happened to nat turner, that film will never be made. there is too much baggage in the 10 writers responding to it. but, i think chris rock, other people should think about making a film about someone like jeremiah g. hamilton. films about african-americans tend to be about the same, martin luther king-- [inaudible] >> he is someone who is a sinner, but no more than vanderbilt. he bent the law and was just as ruthless as they were.
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unlike ted turner is not a knife or an ax that he uses. is actually legal documents and reading the fine print. it enables this person to get ahead, so in a way he is a new type of sinner. so, i hope that someday someone makes a film of him just so that jeremiah g. hamilton can actually have the moment in time that i think he deserves. and give very much. [applause]. >> does anyone have any questions? [inaudible] >> where did he come from? i mean, this is obviously a free
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black men coming to-- well, new york was a copperhead city's close relations with the south. where does he get his education? why did he come there? >> there are two stories about four he comes from and in the book i balance both of them. one is he comes from the caribbean. his death certificate said his father and mother came from port-au-prince, so haiti, cuba, the two become pretty much intermixed because of the haitian revolution and the migrants concurrence of the time. the other story says he comes from richmond, virginia. as i was writing the book depending on what part i was researching or writing i would bounce back and forth between the two. in the end, i think probably he came from the caribbean, but i think he may have stopped in
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richmond, on the way. that's having your cake and eating it. did you ask about his education as well? according to one of his obituaries, he had a very good education, a school education where he came from. that particular obituary that he came from rico. so, he had a solid school education and i think it was, the sort of education that must be moderately inspiring because he reads throughout his life. in the early 1840s when he goes bankrupt, he has 22 volumes in his library, inventoried among the bankrupt stuff.
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the couple of volumes, encyclopedia teva thing and then when he is a member here he also is reading hobbs, and he does read a few know if as well, so from 1856, on yard-- onward he actually physically read the books he borrowed from here, but you tend to think if someone borrows 250 books, is probably reading them and is not for show on the coffee table type of thing. ..
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