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The Soul of America: History’s Lessons in Hope
October 25, 2020 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm EDT$25
Once, as Ronald Reagan famously said, America was seen as a shining city on a hill, a beacon of opportunity that inspired its own citizenry and served as a model for democracy that illuminated the world.
Now that once preeminent standing is under siege, mired in an unprecedented confluence of multiple crises that are ravaging the nation and threatening the very notion of American exceptionalism.
A deadly pandemic that once again is spiraling out of control, the worst recession since the Great Depression and an inflection point in the tortured struggle for racial equality are hammering America’s spirit and pride in its own resilience.
The miasma, as oppressive as rancid smoke enveloping an election considered the most consequential in memory, is exacerbated by the simmering toxicity of living in a nation already riven by the most polarized political divide in modern history, a chasm devoid of a single elected leader who can lift Americans out of their malaise.
Stepping into the maelstrom is Jon Meacham, who has never run for office but who nonetheless has become one of the country’s most inspirational figures. Often called “the conscience of America,” he encourages us to summon our own ‘better angels’ and, through his surpassing knowledge of history, offers reassurance that America has weathered such storms before and once again can prevail over its current travails.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and historian who has penned presidential biographies with heroic perspectives of leaders on both side of the political abyss, Meacham will be the sole guest for an October 25, eponymously entitled event “The Soul of America,” the finale of the eighth season of “Conversations on the Green.”
Meacham’s latest work, “His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope,” is an intimate portrait of the late civil rights icon and links his life to the painful quest for justice in America from the 1950s to the present. Drawing on decades of wide-ranging interviews with the late congressman, Meacham recounts how this son of an Alabama tenant farmer and great-grandson of a slave was inspired by his teachers, Reverend James Lawson and Martin Luther King, Jr., to put his life on the line in the service of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
In foreshadowing the current tumult in the long struggle for racial equality, Meacham also was the editor for Voices in Our Blood: America’s Best on the Civil Rights Movement that was released in 2001. Spanning the period from 1941 to 1998, the book includes writings of noted civil-rights leaders, novelists, and journalists, like James Baldwin, William Faulkner, David Halberstam and John Lewis.
Meacham, the author of 14 books, has explored America’s leaders in such works as Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power as well as his biography of Andrew Jackson, “American Lion,”, which won the 2009 Pulitzer for Biography or Autobiography. Noted for his research and for combining anecdotal information with current historical interpretations, the Bush family chose him to be the official biographer of the late President George H.W. Bush. The ensuring book, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush”, was published in 2015 and Meacham gave eulogies for both President Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, when they died in 2018.
But the current climate of partisan fury portending a pivotal election is best presaged in his book, “The Soul of America,” a hopeful portrayal of the country’s gestalt in which he shows how the “better angels of our nature” have repeatedly won the day. He brings to life the crises of American history with surprising portraits of Lincoln and other presidents – including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson – and illuminates the courage of such influential citizen activists as Martin Luther King, Jr., early suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch. He writes about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the Lost Cause; the backlash against immigrants in the First World War and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; the fight for women’s rights; the demagoguery of Huey Long and Father Coughlin and the isolationist work of America First in the years before World War II; the anti-Communist witch-hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson’s crusade against Jim Crow. He shows how each of these dramatic hours in our national life have been shaped by the contest to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear—a struggle that continues even now.
“The good news is that we have come through such darkness before” Meacham concludes, as, time and again, Lincoln’s better angels have found a way to prevail.
Moderated by former NBC correspondent and national talk show host Jane Whitney, this interactive hour-long conversation, which begins at 3 p.m. on October 25, will be live streamed, allowing anyone with an internet-connected device to participate and ask questions.
Tickets to the virtual event, can be booked at www.conversationsonthegreen.com. All proceeds benefit the American Nurses Foundation Coronavirus Response Fund, New Milford Hospital, Greenwoods Counselling & Referrals, and the Susan B Anthony Project.