tv Democracy Now PBS March 11, 2015 12:00pm-1:01pm PDT
03/11/15 03/11/15 [captioning made possible by democracy now!] amy: from pacifica, this is democracy now! >> nobody could believe the venezuela is a threat against the united states of america. nobody can believe it because it is false. it is a lie. venezuela is not and will never be a threat, not to the united states nor any country of the world. we are a peaceful people. amy: as president obama declares venezuela to be a threat to the national security, venezuela accuses plotting another coup as it helped to do in 2002. we will look at the growing crisis. >> these accusations like
previous such accusations come are ludicrous. as a matter of long-standing policy, the united states does not support political transitions by nonconstitutional means. amy: "gateway to freedom: the hidden history of the underground railroad." we will speak with the pulitzer prize-winning author and historian eric foner. all that and more, coming up. welcome to democracy now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman. the iraqi military and iranian-backed shiite militias have seized large parts of tikrit as part of their offensive to retake the city from the self-proclaimed islamic state. the operation marks iraq's largest military attempt to roll back the gains made by isis last june. iranian advisers and iranian-backed shiite fighters are playing a key role while the u.s. has been sidelined. colombia is halting air attacks on farc rebels for one month as peace talks between the two
sides advance. colombian president juan manuel santos said the pause reflects the rebels' adherence to a unilateral ceasefire declared in december, and could be extended if the ceasefire continues to hold. >> to boost the de-escalation of the conflict, i have decided to order the ministry of defense and commanders of the armed forces to stop bombings over farc camps for a month. after that time, we will review the implantation of the unilateral cease-fire. and according to the results, we will decide whether to continue. amy: cuban-brokered negotiations in havana have made progress on several key issues, including land reform, political integration of ex-rebels, the drug trade, and clearing landmines from rural areas. the city manager of ferguson missouri has resigned in the continued fallout from a federal probe into systemic racial bias. in its report last week, the
justice department blamed john shaw for overseeing a municipal system that targets african-americans for arrest and then profits off of their fines. >> the city and john came to a mutual decision that we want to be up to move forward with the committee. -- community. amy: as city manager, he was the most powerful local official in ferguson. his departure comes one day after the local municipal court judge was also forced to resign his post. a court park and two police supervisors were forced out last week for sending racist e-mails. former secretary of state and presumed democratic presidential candidate hillary clinton has spoken out for the first time on the controversy surrounding her personal email account. clinton used a private account rather than a government one during her state department tenure, and her aides failed to preserve her emails on government servers in a possible violation of federal
law. on monday, clinton said using a personal account was a matter of convenience, and that staffers have handed over her government-related emails for public use. >> when i got to work as secretary of state, i opted for convenience to use my personal e-mail account, which was allowed by the state department because i thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal e-mails instead of two. looking back, it would have been better if i had simply used a second e-mail account and carried a second phone. but at the time, this didn't seem like an issue. the server will remain private and i think the state department will be able over time to release all of the records that were provided. amy: in fact, a few weeks ago at a business women summit, hillary clinton said she does use two
phones, a blackberry and an iphone. the law changed in 2009 around using government e-mail. colin powell didn't use it. hillary clinton didn't, though her term went beyond 2009. the first person to use the state department government e-mail as secretary of state was john kerry. during her remarks, clinton also weighed in on the controversy surrounding republican letter to iran aimed at undermining the undergoing nuclear talks. an open letter from 47 republican senators warned the iranian government the deal could be next by republican congress or future republican president. >> the recent letter from republican senators was out of step with the best traditions of american leadership. and one has to ask, what was the purpose of this letter? there appear to be two logical answers. either the senators were trying to be hopeful to the iranians,
or harmful to the commander-in-chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy. either answer does discredit to the letter's signatories. amy: according to website, the senator who spearheaded the letter, freshman arkansas tom cotton received nearly one lane dollars in donations to his election campaign efforts last year from the emergency committee for israel run by neoconservative pundit bill kristol. to intercept reports cotton was to appear at secretive meeting of weapons contractors one day after sending the letter on monday. the obama administration is pulled a measure to limit ammunition and assault rifles and handguns under pressure from the gun lobby. the bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives had called for banning the green tip ammunition in ar-15's because it could be used to pierce through
police body armor. but the proposal was withdrawn after campaign by the national rifle association and several republican members of congress. a bipartisan group of senators has introduced what is being described as the first comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in the nation's history. the act from rand paul and cory booker and christian gillibrand will end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and let states set their own rules. poker angela brent helped unveil the measure. >> today we join together to say enough is enough. our federal government has long overstepped the boundaries of common sense, fiscal prudence, and compassion with its marijuana laws. these laws must change. >> this new back -- this new act would recognize marijuana has accepted medical uses and would recognize the 23 states that have decided to nine families
access is wrong. the bipartisan bill would finally allow patients to access medical care without fear prosecution. amy: a coalition of online medical -- media, has filed suit over the u.s. government's mass surveillance. organizations including wikipedia and human rights watch are challenging the nsa's upstream program, which taps into the fiber-optic cables moving internet traffic around the world. attorney patrick toomey of the american civil liberties union said the spying violates constitutional protections. >> the nsa's indiscriminate copying and searching through americans international can medications imposes a chilling effect on basic freedoms -- freedom of speech, freedom of expression, the freedom of inquiry and also innovation of americans right to privacy in those communications. we have long operated in this
country on a basic rule that the government does not search your home coming your papers, and today, your e-mails when you have done nothing wrong. the flip side of that role is the government must go to a court to invite -- to individualized suspicion when once access. amy: the supreme court previously rejected an aclu challenge to warrantless spying on the grounds the plaintiffs could not prove they were targeted. north carolina has fined the utility giant duke energy $25.1 million, the largest environmental fine in state history. the penalty concerns groundwater contamination from a coal ash plant near wilmington. it is separate from a pending fine at the federal level for duke's spill of over 35 million gallons of coal ash into the dan river one year ago, one of the worst such spills in u.s. history. lawmakers in utah have approved a measure that would reintroduce the firing squad if lethal injections are unavailable for state executions. utah governor gary herbert says
he has not yet decided on whether he will sign the bill into law. the ceremony was held in tokyo tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the u.s. bombing of the city. the so-called operation meetinghouse air raid of march 1945 is known as the deadliest in history, killing over 100,000 people and leaving much of tokyo in flames. today, japan is marking the fourth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that killed over 18,000 people and set off a nuclear meltdown at the fukushima plant. and those are some of the headlines, this is democracy now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman with juan gonzalez. juan: welcome to all our listeners and viewers from around the country and around the world. amy: before we move on you have a very interesting piece in "the new york daily news." juan: i wrote about an interesting symposium held at
the harvard cup -- club yesterday. an all-day symposium titled "bombs and blackboards: investing in turkey schools." it was in thea a meeting sponsored by the gates foundation and the walton foundation -- amy: of walmart. juan: basically, enticing more investors to begin to see how they can make money off of charter schools. an all-day symposium, a small protest of parents were outside. but it really has marked the enormous change that has occurred in new york politics and i think around the country as a new report showed hedge fund executives over the last decade have poured nearly $40 million into political contributions just in new york state, the prime beneficiary over the last two years has been governor cuomo who has received almost $5 million. we're talking about carl icahn,
the famous corporate raider them a talking about paul singer the vulture hedge fund i, julian robertson of tiger management. some of the richest people in new york city. most of them also are major backers of charter schools. amy: how do they make money from charter schools? juan: i think a lot of it will be coming in with the facilities financing that will occur. governor cuomo progressed the legislature, in new york state, to revision -- to begin providing the equivalent of $2600 per child to build new facilities for charter schools forcing mayor to blasio of new york city to share some of the cost. will be a new revenue stream in addition to direct funding from the state for per-pupil education, the ruby charter facilities fund that has been set up. the governor wants to live the cap on charter schools to amount allow
many more charter schools to be started in new york. the amount of money is not just in direct contributions, but also many being given to new groups, the dark money we saw after the citizens united case where folks like robertson and and low contributed as much as -- dan loeb contribute it as much as one lane dollars apiece to a new group of funding ads promoting republicans for senate seats in new york state, which would assure support for charter schools. it is in enormous amount of money to import into -- being poured into these political campaigns, specifically, by hedge fund folks who are very close to charter schools. in fact, one charter network alone, the success academy which i reported on repeatedly, 19 members of the board of directors or their family members gave $600,000 to
governor cuomo's campaign in the last -- for his last two election campaigns. amy: we will continue to cover this issue. we just did an interview with chuy garcia, the contender -- mayoral contender against rahm emanuel, the mayor of chicago and charter schools are a key issue there as well. juan: absolutely. tension between the united states and venezuela is increasing after the obama administration declared venezuela to be an extraordinary threat to national security and slapped sanctions on seven top officials for alleged human rights relations and corruption. on tuesday, venezuelan president nicolas maduro asked the national assembly for increased power to protect the country's integrity and sovereignty from what he described as "imperialist aggression." >> president obama has decided
to put himself into a box with no way out, a box of failure. he has decided he wants to be remembered in the future like richard nixon and george w. bush. president obama will be remembered in the future his decision today and the aggression against the venezuelan people, the noble people will stop because the people of venezuela are a peaceful people. president obama, you don't have a right to attack us. nor to declare an as well as a threat to the people of the united states. you are a threat to the people of the united states. he who decide to invade, kill, finance terrorism in the world. amy: at the state department spokesperson jen psaki defended the new sanctions against venezuela. >> there are specific reasons why each of those individuals and as the executive order were sanction -- under the executive order were sanction. the united states remains an important trading partner and despite the stamens to the contrary from venezuelan officials, we're not promoting instability in venezuela.
rather, we believe respect for democratic norms is test. hence our executive order. so allegations that these actions are in attempt to undermine the venezuelan government are false. the goal of the sanctions is to persuade the government of venezuela to change their behavior. juan: tension between the united states and venezuela has been escalating for the past few months. in december, president obama signed legislation to impose sanctions on venezuelan government officials accused of violating protesters' rights during demonstrations last year when 43 people died, including demonstrators, government supporters and security , officials. on february 19, the mayor of caracas, antonio ledezma was arrested after being accused of being involved in a u.s.-backed coup plot. days later, venezuela announced it had arrested an unspecified number of americans for engaging in espionage and recruitment activities. venezuela also announced a series of measures including visa requirements for u.s. citizens and restrictions and
the downsizing of the u.s. embassy in caracas. this all comes as venezuela is facing an economic crisis in part because the price of oil has plummeted in recent months. amy: well, for more, we go now to claremont, california, where we're joined by miguel tinker salas. he is a professor at pomona college, in claremont, california. tinker salas is the author of , "the enduring legacy: oil, culture and society in venezuela" and the forthcoming "venezuela: what everyone needs to know." miguel tinker salas, welcome to democracy now! if you could start off by talking about the significance of president obama declaring venezuela to be an extraordinary threat to the national security of the united states. >> i think it is a dramatic escalation and largely in unnecessary escalation of existing tensions between both countries. what is the objective? is it to appease the right in the u.s. -- amy: it looks like the video has
frozen. let us go -- professor, go right ahead. >> i think it is an unnecessary dramatic escalation of tensions between both countries. it comes on the heels of the fact obama in december of 2014 issued the sanctions. but those sanctions come after the house approved sanctions against venezuela. it is been an increase in tension beginning since the time obama announced he would begin the normalized relations with cuba. on the one hand, we have an effort to radically to normalize relations with cuba, while we maintain an embargo. and on the other hand, create the image of venezuela as the new cuba, said new country to be sanctioned. in many ways, it is counterproductive. on the one hand, we are to believe our response to the interest of the u.s. them a particularly in terms of obama addressing the right and u.s., but the reality is, how it is
read in latin america is once again the u.s. and big state diplomacy's -- red in terms of -- it is ludicrous on its face. we're the 2009 coup in honduras which you extensively cover that was clearly u.s. was involved for the same thing with paraguay a few years later. obviously, the u.s. seeks to increase venezuela's isolation or dramatically increase venezuela's isolation of trying to knock you late latin america from venezuela leading to essentially its own destabilization. juan: professor, you made the comparison or the contrast between u.s. government reaction to alleged human rights violations in venezuela versus what is happening in mexico. could you talk about that? >> the u.s. policy falls apart when we talk about the precise example. in the case of venezuela, the issue was made. again, condemnable act, the
death of 43 people in venezuela in march, in february of last year during protests. all sides condemn the violence. that in that case people died on both sides of the political spectrum. military officers and police were targeted by right-wing protesters. those actions are condemnable. they should be prosecuted. the reality is in mexico, 43 students disappeared in guerrero and hardly a peak from the u.s.. it took weeks for the state department to actually respond. we have a duplicitous policy on the one hand highlighting human rights issues in venezuela while on the other side, turning up line died to what is really a humanitarian crisis in mexico with over 80,000 dead, 40 thousand disappeared and 50 million people being expelled from their own countries. in that sense, when latin america looks at u.s. policy, it seems rather duplicitous and in fact, it doesn't hold up and
increases the u.s. isolation in the region, particularly if we are considering in april, we're going to have the summit of the americas and animal. amy: white house spokesman josh earnest said they're steering it in a different direction. >> the venezuelan government should stop china blame the u.s. and other members of the international community for events inside venezuela. the venezuelan government needs to deal with the brave situation it faces. the u.s. is not promoting unrest in venezuela nor are we attempting to undermine venezuela's economy or its government. i contained the treasury department and the state department are closely monitoring the situation and are considering tools that may be available that could better steer the venezuelan government in the direction they believe they should be headed. amy: i want to play recent exchange between reporter with
the associated press and jen psaki. >> president maduro said they arrested multiple people who were allegedly behind a coup that was back by the united states. what is your response? >> the latest accusations, like previous such accusations, are ludicrous. as a matter of long-standing policy, the u.s. does not support political transition by nonconstitutional means political transitions must be democratic, constitutional peaceful, and legal. we've seen many times the venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the united states or other members of the international committee for events inside venezuela. these efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the venezuelan government to deal with the great situations it faces. >> whoa, the u.s. has a long-standing practice of not promoting -- what did you say? how long-standing is that? i would be -- in particular,
inside latin america, that is not a long-standing practice. >> well, my point, matt, without getting into history, is that we do not support -- we have no involvement with and these are ludicrous accusations. >> but if you go back, not that long ago during your lifetime -- >> not 21 years? >> well done. touché. does long-standing mean 10 years in this case? >> my intention was to speak to the specific report. >> but you said it is a long-standing u.s. practice. it depends on what your decision -- definition of long-standing is. >> ok. >> whatever we say about ukraine, the change of government in the beginning of last year, was unconstitutional. the u.s. supported it. >> that is also ludicrous.
>> that was the state department spokesperson being questioned by reporters. professor miguel tinker salas if you could respond to that and also josh earnest, the white house spokesman? >> i would have loved to have had that exchange been brought to the u.s., but it hasn't. we continued to have the believe the u.s. is not involved in unconstitutional change in latin america. as a historian, the record speaks to the opposite from 53 and guatemala to the chileans in 1973 and through the support of the argentine military dictatorships in brazil and if we want to go even closer, 2002 in venezuela when the u.s. actually did support a coup against the democratically elected hugo chavez. the shortest coup in the world and the coup that brought chavez back to power. and 2009, shortly after in paraguay with lugo, were they said it was a democratic transition when it was an unconstitutional shift in power. the notion the u.s. does not
support both military coups directly or through what they call soft power, is ludicrous. we should turn the question around. if they want to support democracy, i think the best thing the u.s. can do in the case of venezuela and other countries is to pull back and let things develop on their own. i think of a strong opposition in venezuela. they can speak for itself. you have a government force and other social forces organized in those countries. i think the best case in mexico and venezuela is for the u.s. to stop intervening and allow these countries to resolve their own -- amy: we're talking to professor miguel tinker salas. having a little trouble with the video. keep on going with our connection to him over at pomona college in claremont. you are back, professor. >> thank you very much. i think fundamentally there are fundamental economic issues in venezuela which the government has to address. but the reality is, why the u.s. intervening in this way -- let's
be clear. the effort to sanction individuals is an intervention in venezuela and will not be reticent lead the sanctions against seven individuals, but the sanction against venezuela and the government of venezuela and the country of venezuela and that is unfortunate. it attracts attention from the real economic issues. the government is responsible for those issues and is slow to act. in many ways, this will provide a context for what will happen at the summit of americas, where the u.s. had expected it was going to arrive and be celebrated for having opened up relations with cuba. now even cuba is criticizing u.s. and saying they will not be a part of any effort on the part of the u.s. to isolate venezuela. and that seems to have been the strategy. open up with cuba, while at the same time isolating venezuela and making venezuela appear as the bad boy of the left in latin america. i think that policy failed under bush and has failed under obama as well. juan: professor, what about all of the reports we are seeing in
the united states about the increasing crisis in venezuela? what is your assessment of how president maduro has functioned since he succeeded -- seceded to the presidency after the death of president chavez and about the increasing economic spiraling inflation and economic problems in the country? >> no doubt, thing president maduro has been slow in responding to the crisis. i think the effort to retain an unworkable exchange rate -- three different exchange rates was untenable. i think they took way too long to respond to that process. i think that may have exacerbated the crisis. there been steps taken recently to let dust to normalize the process. they should be able to provide greater and greater access to dollars. venezuela imports most of what
it consumes. that is been the sad reality since 1935 when venezuela begin the world's second-largest exporter of oil in the world's first largest exporter of oil. that happen with part of the culture and society of venezuela. many venezuelans have been raised with the notion they are privileged country, therefore, entitled to a set of benefits from the cheapest gasoline in the world to subsidize food prices. this government has been slow to respond to that. with and -- with the drop of the price of oil, that model became largely untenable. the government has not taken sufficient steps. it has acknowledged corruption and bottlenecks in the distribution and inefficiency, but it has to address those issues. venezuelan state to hold them accountable to those issues. that is why many ways, the was issue becomes a distraction because as the was intervened in this context, it becomes a side issue others what is largely an economic and internal issue. amy: marking the second anniversary of the death of hugo
chavez. president of the sinai communal council. >> i feel the same pain i felt two years ago, talking about chavez is like talking about the loss of a father and we truly feel like this because today, we have a working president revolutionary, socialist and many of us have made the error of saying maduro was not chavez. however, it is totally the opposite because everyone says we are chavez. amy: an opposition member also's spoke on the death of hugo chavez. >> we're repeating what we sewn during the mandate of chavez. the institutions and independence, including the confrontation a polarization of society estate policy. amy: professor, if you could respond? and also, comment on whether the u.s. would be taking this track if it did not have oil?
>> i think fundamentally venezuela has the world's largest reserves on oil will stop i think oil -- i've always said, follow the oil and he will be able to understand what is happening in venezuela. what is happening between venezuela and the u.s., between venezuela and the rest of the world. i think the figure of hugo chavez is still the most political -- powerful political figure. he represents a watershed in venezuelan history. nonetheless, i think are some truth to the fact that what venezuela aces today is some of the excesses that occurred during the chavez period. and some of the issues that were not fully resolved, the dependence on oil nonfunctioning exchange rate and that is the dramatic growth without at the same time a parallel growth and protective capacity within the country. -- productive capacity within the country. it highlights the dependence of many third world countries have on export products particularly
one as strategic as oil. juan: since the death of chavez, what about the impact on all of the regional alliances that chavez sought to create, not only low-cost oil to other countries in latin america, but new economic unions with the south in terms of promoting economic integration? what is happening there? >> were talking about the caribbean nations, south american nations talking about the bolivian alliance for the americas -- i think those are now institutionalized to many levels. but the impact, the absence of chavez, has been felled. there's a vacuum of leadership in the region, one that is yet to be filled directly. maybe we shouldn't expected to be filled in much the same way. increasingly, we have a collective leadership, the voices of dilma rousseff amber zale and the voices of evo morales and bolivia, and multiple voices that are
evident. it is also clear they have been under attack. the u.s. resolution on sanctions in venezuela i think six to promote fissures within those alliances. we're seeing biden traveling to the caribbean and to central america, trying to find fissures in the other institutions. i think they have been under difficult conditions. i think they have been tested. i think the u.s. is looking for fissures within those alliances are promoting the pacific alliance of nations that have bilateral trade relations with the u.s., and by promoting the transpacific partnership. so i think that looms large now in the context of the drop in oil prices in the drop of other export products. so the u.s. is clearly strategically testing that relationship, and we're going to see how that carries out in the summative americas in april a panel mall. amy:'s or any relationship between u.s. approach and what is happening in the venezuela
area and the negotiations with iran right now? >> i don't see a direct link, but i see continuation and how these relationships have been linked. the u.s. is increasingly, the obama administration is taking a more right time, particularly as it negotiates with iran toward venezuela and the same way as a negotiate with cuba takes more of a right track in dealing with venezuela. while it tries to cover its rights link in the u.s. and negotiate with cuba and negotiates with iran. amy: miguel tinker salas, thank you for being with us professor , at pomona college, in claremont, california. author of, "the enduring legacy: oil, culture and society in venezuela" and the forthcoming "venezuela: what everyone needs to know." when we come back, the pulitzer prize-winning author and historian eric foner joins us to talk about the underground railroad. stay with us. ♪ [music break]
amy: "te doy una cancion" -- "i'll give you a song," performed by silvio rodriguez and luis eduardo aute. juan: over the weekend, tens of thousands gathered in selma, alabama, to mark the 50th anniversary of bloody sunday when police attacked a group of voting rights activists as they attempted to march to montgomery. well, today, we go back 150 years to look at another chapter of the freedom struggle of african-americans. between 1830 and 1860, more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reached freedom, thanks to networks of
antislavery resistance -- commonly known as the underground railroad. the pulitzer prizer winning historian eric foner is out with a new book, "gateway to freedom: the hidden history of the underground railroad." the book uses newly discovered detailed records of slave escapes secretly kept by a leading abolitionist. amy: in his "record of fugitives," sydney howard gay, the editor of the american anti-slavery society's newspaper, chronicled more than 200 escapes, some of whose stories foner tells in this sweeping account, listing the identities of escaped slaves where they came from, who their owners were, how they escaped, and who helped them on their way to the north. well, for more, we are joined by eric foner, professor at columbia university. he is the author of numerous books on american history, most notably the award-winning work "reconstruction: america's unfinished revolution, 1863-1877" and "the fiery trial: abraham lincoln and american slavery." welcome to democracy now!
it is great to have you with us. what was the gateway to freedom? >> that is sort of a term i used for new york city because these networks particularly on the eastern corridor of local groups assisting fugitive slaves, new york city was a key point there because once slaves reached new york city, they are quickly sent up to new england or to upstate new york or canada so, really, this was the point from which it would be very close to freedom. i also use that title in a slightly ironic sense because that is how we think of new york , as a new yorker, we think ourselves -- the statue of liberty is over here -- as a place people come seeking liberty, seeking better opportunities that have somewhere else. in fact, you have the opposite. yet people having to flee new york, flee the united states in order to achieve freedom. in a way, it is a different kind of gateway and we normally think about. you have to leave to get
freedom, not enter the united states. juan: this record of fugitives that sydney howard gay compiled, tell us the story. >> you know, this was pointed out to me by an undergraduate student of years ago. i give her credit. she was doing a senior the system about the journalistic career gay. of she said, you know, the gay papers are up in the library, 80 boxes. she set a block 72, there's this document about fugitive slaves. it is not relevant to me, but you might find interesting. i went up there one day. it is really just two notebooks. it is not that impressive looking. when i started looking through them, as you mentioned, they have detailed accounts about fugitive slavesg. ay is a journalist. he interviews them. you get the stories of these people in their own words, which is unusual. most of what we know is from reminiscence, long after the event. sometimes members can play a
trick. these are anonymous people. most disappear from the historical record once they leave new york or get up to syracuse and canada. i never seen a document like this before. i sort of started working outwards from it to try to track down who they were, who their owners were, who helped them. eventually, this book came out of that. amy: you tell the story of a black euro. >> i had never heard of lewis napoleon until i saw his name in the record of fugitives, which pops up all over the place in that document. gay's newspaper office was also an outpost of the underground railroad. napoleon was a free black and who worked as a kind of janitor a reporter in that building. his real job was scouring the docs and streets and railroad terminals looking for fugitive slaves. he was the guy on the streets in the mid-1850's who would look for fugitives and bring them to
gay's office. he was illiterate, but he was able to go to court and get writs of habeas corpus. he tried to get them into court if they were seized so maybe a judge could help them out. he is remarkable guy. it is through this document, you get a bit of a sense of his activities. gay and napoleon illustrated in important thing about the underground railroad. it was an interracial movement. like and why people working together in a common cause which now 150 years later, is kind of inspiring still. juan: you also devote a lot of time to another activist and journalist of that era, david ruggles. you talk about his key role in terms of the underground railroad. >> he is a generation earlier. he almost say he is the founder of the underground railroad. in 1835, he founded what was called the new york vigilance committee.
fugitive slaves have escaped ever since their slavery, but this was the first organized effort to help them. previously individuals -- there's no organization. the vigilance committee lasted all the way up to the civil war in new york city, sort of the second outpost. there is gay and his group and then -- ruggles left in 1841 but he was key in getting this process going. by the way, his house is still standing, one of the few -- mostly, we tear things down in new york. ruggles house is still there. amy: it is an independent coffee shop in downtown manhattan. >> yes. frederick douglas came to ruggles'house. ruggles played an important role in getting this process going. amy: frederick douglas got married there. >> one of the thing interested in the gay thing, he gave the
name and in the new name imprinted seas to avoid capture, they changed our names. ruggles told douglas, you have to change your name to avoid capture. he did it twice. first he was frederick bailey, then frederick johnson. when he got to new bedford massachusetts, he said, every other black family here is named johnson, so i better find another name. he decided to call himself frederick douglass. juan: ruggles would confront slave captures who are trying to grab people off the streets? >> he is a very militant guy. he went into a house in brooklyn -- there were many slaveowners who came up to new york city with their slaves. new york had very close economic ties to the south. the cotton trade, all that. even after slavery is abolished in new york state, there are still slaves on the streets. ruggles goes into someone's
house and says, the slaves are free and you don't have a right to bring them into new york anymore. there's an altercation. he gets one out to become free. he challenges ship captains. he is a very militant guy. amy: tells about richard riker in the kidnapping club. >> those who saw the movie "12 years a slave" a couple of years ago, that is about a free black and who was kidnapped really from upstate new york. there was a lot of kidnapping a free blacks in new york city and in philadelphia, mostly children. there were these gangs would grab someone off the street, take them to a boat, and ship them to the south or they would take them to richard riker. he was a judicial officer called the recorder. they would kidnap someone and say, he is a fugitive slave. they would bring them to riker and he would issue an order, yeah, he is a fugitive slave back to the south. even though the guy was born free. this is why the vigilance committee was founded in the first place, to combat
kidnapping. it turned and quickly to helping fugitive slaves. new york was a dangerous place for fugitive slaves. amy: i want to turn to the feature film that won best picture at this year's oscars "12 years a slave" directed by steve mcqueen. this was the first time the top honor has gone to a film by a black director. the film tells the story of a free black man in new york who is kidnapped and sent south, where he remains a slave for 12 years. this is a clip from the film's trailer. >> i was born a free man. i lived with my family in new york. until the day i was deceived. kidnapped, sold into slavery. >> well, boy, how you feel now? >> my name is solomon north and i'm a free man. >> you are no free man.
you're nothing but a georgia runaway. >> ♪ went down to the river jordan ♪ >> a servant that don't obey his lord shall be beaten with many straps. that scripture. >> my property. >> you say that with pride. >> i say it as fact. >> come here! >> by family and the home, now you tell me that is lost. >> if you want to survive, do and say as little as possible. >> i want to live. >> the astounding story of solomon northrup in "12 years a slave." eric foner, new york state, you focus on new york city, he was kidnapped in new york state. >> as i said, this was not in common particularly in the 1820's and 1830's.
a little later because of the vigilance committee, because of the free black community, became more and more no realized against kidnapping -- mobilized against kidnapping. this was certainly an order -- known process to black people in new york. amy: i want you to read from "gateway to freedom" but first we're going to take a break. our guest is eric foner, renowned, prize-winning u.s. historian. stay with us. ♪ [music break]
>> this is democracy now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. i'm amy goodman and juan gonzalez. our guest is eric foner, author of "gateway to freedom: the hidden history of the underground railroad." he is a dewitt clinton professor of history at columbia university. his book "the fiery trial" won
the pulitzer prize. can you tell us or read a section from your book? >> this is about henry brown, as you'll see in a minute, becomes known as henry box brown. equally dramatic was the tale of henry box brown, a skilled tobacco processor in richmond whose wife and children, the property of a different owner was suddenly sold to a methodist minister in north carolina. with this family gone, brown devised a plan to have him shipped -- have himself shipped north in a crate, sort of like ups or whatever it was back then. in march 1849, samuel smith of massachusetts born white shoemaker packed around into a rectangular box, even too small for a coffin. it measured only three feet long , and dispatched him by rail and steamboat to philadelphia. upon brown's arrival after a trip of more than 250 miles that took nearly 24 hours, miller
mckim, and abolitionist tapped on the crate asking, all right? all right, sir, can the reply. how step around. with a phase radiant with joy. good morning, tillman! and then brown is quickly sent to new york and then to massachusetts. you could not be safe in the north, even after he escaped because their slave captures around. around eventually goes to england where he spends the 1850's and becomes a sort of anti-slavery lecturer. his exploit maxima very celebrated figure. juan: you argue in your book the underground railroad was not merely humanitarian enterprise but it really was a key spark for what later became the civil war. >> the number of fugitives -- there were 4 million slaves in 1860. even though maybe 1000 the year escaped from the whole south con
talking about, and the -- in the 30 years, that is not destroying the system of slavery. but the issue of fugitive slaves became a major catalyst of the sectional conflict. remember, it is in the constitution at seven or's have a right to get their fugitive slaves back. in 1850, the federal government passes a very severe law where federal troops, federal marshals, federal judges are invoked in order to get fugitive slaves back from the north. but this just leads to resistance in the north. in the 1850's, the south is more and more alarmed about the growing number of fugitives and the growing efforts in the north, really -- this is a good example of civil disobedience. there's a long tradition of that in american history. what do do when confronted with an unjust law? more and more people in the north are willing to violate the law to assist fugitive slaves on a humanitarian basis, but that
becomes a major political issue between north and south. amy: we were just in selma for the 50th anniversary of bloody sunday. the next morning, we went over to the first white house of the confederacy, were jefferson davis lived. in selma upwards of 70,000 people marched over the edmund pettus bridge, named for a confederate general. >> a klansman. . amy: and u.s. senator. a man dressed as a confederate soldier and jefferson davis's house, who is taking people around, i asked about the issue of slavery. he said, slavery was on its way out. it was all about states rights. >> the problem is, if you look at the fugitive slave law, that was probably the most extreme example of federal -- of the federal government intervening in the states. an overriding state laws, local laws, local procedures. it invalidated all sorts of laws in the north, let's say, trying
to give a jury trial to escaped slave. no, the south did not believe in states rights. he believed in slavery. states rights was a major defense of slavery because as a way preventing northern interference. it when it came to using the federal government to protect and defend slavery, they were perfectly happy to do that. slavery was not dying out. it was definitely not dying out. slavery was growing. it was expanding. it was wealthy. there was no peaceful scenario at hand in 1860, 1861 for the abolition of slavery. juan: and the enormous dependence of a lot of the industry and commerce of the north on slavery. >> new york city was a perfect example. it was like a microcosm of the national conflict. you had this underground railroad a militant free black community, yet you also had merchants, bankers, insurance companies, shipbuilders -- all of whose economic livelihood was tied into the south.
new york -- they had the underground railroad and also a group of merchants, the union safety committee which was devoted to capturing and sending back fugitive slaves -- both operating at the same time. this national division. amy: explain why was called the underground railroad. >> nobody knows exactly where the term originated, i guess underground suggest secret or private or something like that. nobody knows where that term came from. by the 1840's, it was a very widespread use just for people who are helping fugitive slaves. we should not think of it literally like a railroad. sometimes people think there were these set rows and fixed stations. it wasn't like that. it was much more haphazard and ad hoc. there were local groups in different places that communicated with each other but it was in a highly organized system. amy: would you describe it as cells? >> you might. they went out of existence at
times. some people think it was like a real railroad. it was a lot more disorganized than that. what is amazing, it did help many fugitive slaves get to freedom in the north and canada. juan: did you find much difference in terms of strategies and tactics among the organizers or the people involved? >> the abolitionist movement proportionally like other radical movements, was always fighting among it selves. in 1840, is split into two wings. the garrison wing and the louis happen wing. that is why you had two outpost of the underground railroad in new york city. either way, they were around the corner from each other. they were kind of rivals but also cooperated sometimes. there were differences intact. even the people deeply involved in the underground railroad for also overground at the same time. they were publishing newspapers, holding conventions, you know,
sending petitions around. the people operated both legally and you might say sub rosa at the same time. amy: and this idea, any reference did earlier, the underground railroad was whites helping blacks. >> you get that in a lot of early literature. particularly after the civil war. you get this picture of courageous white people -- which is true, they were courageous, sort of assisting helpless black people. that is really not right. first of all, to escape from slavery was courageous. it was very difficult to do the record of fugitives is full of the stories of people's ingenuity and encourage and good luck it took to get out. amy: and it wasn't just running through the forest. >> by the 1850's, they are on trains, boats, carriages, using whatever method they can to get out. most of the people helping in
the north or free black people. the free blacks in new york city in philadelphia, if you're escaping the south, you're most likely helped by other slaves or free blacks like in maryland where the required a few of them. there were plenty of white people, too. it was interracial but it wasn't just white topping blacks. it was much more complicated. amy: and the role of canada? >> if you got to canada, you are free. in canada, to their credit refused to indict the fugitive slaves. the canadian said, look, there is no more slavery the british empire so running away from slavery is not a crime on our books. if you are a murderer and you run a way to canada, they will extradite you to the u.s. because murder is a crime in canada. they absolutely refused to send fugitive slaves back. also in canada, blacks could vote, serve on juries, had better economic opportunities than they did even in the
northern united states. canada offered more to many black people than they could find in the u.s. juan: you mentioned the involvement of free blacks in the movement, but there was also a small but vibrant black press at the time. samuel cornish -- >> new york at the first black newspaper in the country. unfortunately, for historians like me, they went out of existence as of 1841 and then you have about 15 year period in new york with no black president it comes back later in the 1850's. so the information begins to become harder to come by in the mid-1840's and 1850's. it is like a little detective story. you have to pick up pieces from all over the place. the information is there if you look hard enough. amy: and the 150th anniversary of the end of the civil war is coming up. >> in april, right. the meal 150th anniversary begins of reconstruction.
i wrote a very long book on reconstruction and i do believe we need to think about it. the issues of reconstruction, citizenship, a voting rights, of terrorism like the klan are still facing our country today. amy: we will continue with part 2 of our conversation and posted on the posted online at democracynow.org. our guest has been eric foner renowned, prize-winning u.s. historian. he is dewitt clinton professor of history at columbia university. he won the pulitzer for "the fiery trial." he also wrote "reconstruction." that does it for our show. ." democracy now!democracy now! is looking for feedback from people who appreciate the closed captioning. e-mail your comments to email@example.com or mail them to democracy now!