RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: It would just be amazing to have some national leadership right now to organize, you know, a smart science-driven, integrated, all hands on deck national fight against this thing as it goes so bad so fast.
That would be -- that would be great. We don`t have that. We`ve got what we`ve got. And God forgive us for that. And God bless us through this. That is going to do it for us tonight. We`ll see you again on Monday. Now it is time for "The Last Word" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Good evening, Lawrence.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. The Roger Stone news was kind of coming all day. Although, in a sense, it`s been coming for a long time. I think we saw it coming for a while.
O`DONNELL: Howard Fineman tweeted something very important that has now been -- it`s in "The New York Times" reporting on this story tonight. And he tweeted this before the announcement came that the president was commuting Roger Stone`s sentence.
And Howard`s tweet says, "Just had long talk with Roger Stone. He says he doesn`t want a pardon, which implies guilt but a commutation and says he thinks Trump will give it to him." And then this part is in quotation marks from Roger Stone directly to Howard Fineman. "He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably, but I didn`t."
Now, the only way Roger Stone could have turned on Donald Trump and eased his situation considerably would be by giving prosecutors criminal information about Donald Trump. There is nothing else that that can be referring to.
And, so, there you have on the day that he gets this commutation from the president, Roger Stone saying to a reporter that he had -- in effect, saying to him that he had criminal information on Donald Trump and he refused to give it to prosecutors and therefore he deserves the commutation. This takes this case into a place where we have never been before.
MADDOW: No. And this is -- this is like the case study, like the third grade case study for like how public corruption works. Like, yes, in our republic, in our constitutional republic, the executive in our government has the ability to pardon people and that makes sense for some reasons.
But there is a risk of corruption just in case you could imagine. Like this is what you would imagine as the scenario where somebody says, as a crony of the president, I could have flipped on you, but I didn`t. You better pardon me as a reward and then the president does it.
I mean, this is as Barbara quite (ph) said earlier this hour when I was talking to her about it, this is the sort of thing that would make headlines in the United States when it happened in some banana republic abroad. The fact it is happening in our country is something that we have just never ever, ever confronted.
O`DONNELL: And the pardon story -- Donald Trump`s pardons on January 19th or the morning of January 20th, if Joe Biden was going to be inaugurated, I have no doubt Donald Trump is going to pardon himself. He is going to pardon Ivanka Trump. He is going to pardon Jared Kushner.
There is going to be a flurry of pardons coming out of there while William Barr might request and obtain a pardon based on his conduct so far in this thing. The Trump pardon story, Trump and the word pardon is going to be a headline in many more stories, I believe.
MADDOW: Yes. And the concept of what the presidential pardon power is for and how we ought to think about that in terms of constitutional inheritance will change forever because of the way that he`s treated it.
O`DONNELL: Yes, it will. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, Donald Trump`s problem tonight is can he win the presidency again by being more protective of Roger Stone than he is of the teachers and kids he wants to send back into our schools in the middle of a deadly pandemic?
And can he win the presidency of the United States by running a campaign that sounds like he`s running for the presidency of the Confederate states.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The killing of George Floyd triggered a reckoning on police reform, decades in the making.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m just tired of having to like fear the people that are supposed to protect me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I`m just tired of the injustice that we`ve been getting because of the color of my skin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The killing has also sparked a reckoning with centuries of history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a racist Confederate statue. It should be knocked down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is an overt effort here to erase all white history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A political debate that at times pits Americans against each other.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want to destroy America as we know it. They hate America.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are painful injuries in so many American citizens.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think those statues belong in museums. They don`t belong in public places.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight Trymaine Lee takes us on a powerful journey through the south. A trip to listen and learn as we struggle to come to terms with our past. Here now is a special presentation of "Stone Ghosts in the South: America`s Legacy of Heritage and Hate."
O`DONNELL: In the month after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, 30 Confederate monuments were taken down in this country. When tragedy strikes now, the monuments fall. That`s what happened in 2017 after Heather Heyer was murdered in Charlottesville, Virginia when she was protesting a white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville.
Thirty-six Confederate monuments came down that year. That`s the year Trymaine Lee began studying our stone ghosts and what they mean to the people who built them and what they mean to the people who have torn them down.
Joining us now is Trymaine Lee, MSNBC national correspondent. Trymaine, when did you get interested in, began focusing your reporting on the Confederate monuments and why?
TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it was long before we took this journey in 2018. I remember living in New Orleans and being in a Lee circle and seeing Robert E. Lee hovering above the city and black folks especially moving in the shadow of these monuments.
But then after the Charlottesville and we saw the violence and Heather Heyer`s death and we saw the images of the torch carrying individuals saying, you know, do not replace us and blood and soil and the violence that seemed so inherit, baked into the fabric of not just America, but this debate and those monuments.
And I said, you know, we have to go down and explore to get a better sense of what this connection really means to the people, not just to those who worship these, you know, the stone and the brass and the fabric, but those who are deeply, deeply disturbed by them.
O`DONNELL: Trymaine, what did it feel like for you as a black man in America to take yourself into this journey to study how these monuments got there and what they mean?
LEE: You know, I walk in the footsteps of black journalists like Ida B. Wells who when black folks were being lynched, went into the darkness and shown down a bright light.
So for me I felt mission driven but there were moments there we went deep into the south, deep into the rural communities and engaged with people who, you know, you go into their homes and see Confederate flags, you see things in black face.
They made offhanded jokes in my face. And so it was tough at times, but I tried to do my best to connect just to understand. And I think we did that. It was uncomfortable at times but certainly, you know, well worth the journey. I think we found some nuance in the wrinkles of humanity but also a better understanding of just how potent and poignant the hate and the legacy of that heritage truly is.
O`DONNELL: It was a journey that was well worth it as we`re about to see later in this hour. In our discussion we`ll be joined by Caroline Randall Williams. She wrote the stunning "New York Times" op-ed piece headlined, "You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument."
Her ancestors were slaves and slave owners. Before we get to that discussion, we begin with what Trymaine Lee found when he went looking for stone ghosts in the south.
LEE (voice-over): In 2017, hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia to defend a monument to Robert E. Lee. Their arrival marked the beginning of 24 hours of violent clashes with counter protesters. One person was killed. Others were beaten and bloodied.
LISA WOOLFOR, BLACK LIVES MATTER CHARLOTTESVILLE: After the unlawful assembly was declared, it was really very festive. It just felt like we won. That`s when we heard this loud bang. One car got pushed into the intersection. Another car got pushed in right behind it. It was just utter chaos.
LEE: It`s hard to imagine that such a big moment happened in this little space.
LEE: But that`s common in America, right?
WOOLFORK: It is. Absolutely.
LEE: These big moments happen in small spaces.
WOOLFORK: And this is what, you know, we learned that all of these small spaces can set the stage for huge explosions.
LEE (voice-over): The battle in Charlottesville seemed to be over a single statue. And it`s a battle that`s been repeated in cities across the country. But more than 1,500 monuments to the Confederacy remain, honoring those who fought and died to keep black Americans like my ancestors in bondage.
So I decided to travel the south to learn for myself just how deep the roots of this fight are buried. I went looking for understanding, for something that would make sense of this moment. Along the way I visited monuments, those that aren`t so easily removed, the artifacts, small enough for some to ignore.
The landmarks, too large to take down, and the legacy that resides in our memory and in our blood because the fight was always about more than just a statue.
A beautiful morning in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
I didn`t want to take this journey alone so I asked my friend, John Eligon, a reporter for "The New York Times," to join me to help me process what it all means.
JOHN ELIGON, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: What`s going on, man? How are you feeling? Good to see you. Finally made it.
LEE (voice-over): For years we have talked about race and history, how his people came to America by way of Trinidad and mine through the slave trade. It just seem natural for him to join me.
In 2017, the city council of Fredericksburg took up the question of whether to remove a slave auction block that stands on a corner in the middle of downtown.
LEE (on camera): We`re about to see an auction block where people were sold. It`s crazy. Look at the old, like, advertisements.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LEE: Seven strong Negros for sale. But the idea that we`re not just talking about just ƒ_" well, we consider this manual labor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LEE: We`re talking about artisan professionals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
LATEEFAH MUHAMMAD, RESIDENT: When my uncle was young, he took a picture on the slave block from a Caucasian who wanted him to take the picture and for him it was about getting the money because he paid him. And when my grandfather realized that he had stood on that block to have his picture taken, my grandfather whipped him and threw the money away.
And he told him what that block was and why he was never to go on that block again. That story has been with us since we were little children. This says not only did we not want you here, but we still don`t want you here.
LEE (voice-over): The lone black council man pushed for a vote to remove the block. The six white members said they voted to keep it in its place to educate future generations.
I have heard you say that Fredericksburg may be the most historic city in America.
KATHERINE GREENLAW, MAYOR OF FREDERICKSBURG: Indeed. Our history is our nation`s history. If I walk down the city hall, I walk by the home of Mary Washington. I walk by James Monroe`s law office. I walk by the home my mother was born in.
LEE: You also walk by an auction block, right?
GREENLAW: I do. I do.
LEE: What does that mean in terms of the history? At some point you arrive at a place where humans were bought and sold by the people of this community.
GREENLAW: That auction block is an artifact. The very fact that you can stand where somebody was treated as property and where families were separated is very moving. It is like what Germany did when they kept Dachau and Auschwitz and all. Its like don`t ever forget. You can`t ever forget how horrible that was.
LEE (voice-over): Councilman Chuck Frye proposed removing the block.
CHARLIE FRYE, COUNCILMAN, FREDERICKSBURG, VIRGINIA: The auction block had been on my mind for a long time since I was a kid. You know, I used to see people stood on it and I saw a marked auction. The folks at the marked auction, that rips your soul apart. My stance was always, okay, you know, I think it needs to go. It came down to a vote. (Inaudible) city council. It was 6-1 vote.
ELIGON: Do you believe that there is a way to do the block in a respectful way and keep it there?
FRYE: I can`t change my view. What we can do is tell a story that`s a more, full of in-depth story.
LEE: When you walk by that and you walk by with your children, and you walk by with your people, what is the message being sent?
FRYE: There is a possibility your great, great grandfather was sold here.
ELIGON: It seems like the fight over the auction block as you`ve mentioned, it`s what`s in our history books. What it represents has a rippling effect that exists in the very fabric of America.
FRYE: That`s America. That`s just America.
LEE (voice-over): The black barbershop has always been a place of community where wisdom is passed and stories are traded. Today is no different.
So what was it like growing up with that auction block right there on the corner.
FRYE: It was like an embarrassment. I don`t need to see that block to know what the past was. It made you mad because I could say that could be my great grandma and my great grandpa. You bring them in on a boat and then you sell them. How do you try to moralize something like that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is totally unfair and unreal that people can actually sit there and say that, oh, well, we`re just saving history. No. What you`re doing is you`re spitting in our faces. That`s what you`re doing.
LEE (voice-over): Just across the river from downtown is the Chatham Plantation where hundreds of slaves toiled for nearly a century.
Can you imagine the conversation that happened here? The idea that (inaudible) everything family, torture. But in the flipside is the feeling could be sold at that auction block, right.
ELIGON: Yes. I mean, can you imagine like from down there you look up here, you`re seeing this nice big brick house, but you`re not thinking that. You`re not thinking oh, I want to go up there. That`s the house of horrors. That`s like the haunted house.
LEE: But when you`re an enslaved person, the only thing on the horizon is servitude or death or to some run away.
When the Union Army arrived here, and for the white folks, it said (inaudible) mine and it was terror. But thousands of black folks fled across this river to join the Union Army. Could you imagine that moment?
In Fairview, Kentucky, the birthplace of Jefferson Davis, the state is wrestling with telling a fuller story around these memorials, including a larger than life monument dedicated to the only president of the Confederacy.
There it is. Look at that.
ELIGON: That`s a big house.
LEE: That is huge. That is huge.
When you think about the conversation and debate especially over the last year, what role do the monuments and artifacts that can`t be torn down as easily as a statue, how do they factor into this debate when you`re talking about an obelisk that`s 351 feet tall?
PATRICK LEWIS, KENTUCKY HISTORICAL SOCIETY: That`s where we`re really moving into. In the past few years is talking about the construction of Confederate memory in Kentucky rooted specifically in this site. Who are the groups who are raising money to create these monuments that (inaudible) landscape today?
Start to promote it, start to sell it back to not only the south but the entire nation and sort of retelling the history of the south and the civil war and recognizing that this memorial landscape that we encounter is not a product of the civil war and that its history comes much later. Its history is situated within the story of a Jim Crow south.
LEE (voice-over): During the early 20th Century, groups loyal to the Confederacy began promoting a revisionist spin on the civil war. The so- called lost cause was about more than memorializing death confederates. It was about pinning the north as an occupying force and the south as noble defenders of virtue, all while minimizing the role of slavery.
Their influence would fuel generations of southern segregationist and nostalgia for the old south. The United Daughters of the Confederacy were especially prolific. Starting in the 1890s, they put up at least 700 memorials to the Confederacy.
Symbols of the Confederacy aren`t all copper and stone. For decades, descendants of veterans have connected to the past through civil war re- enactments. Jeff Stokes has been reliving this history for 25 years. He counts dozens of Confederate soldiers in his family tree.
What are we looking at here, though? This is a beautiful shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not (inaudible). This is a six pounder model of 1841. My brother and I built this. We looked it over and he said, yes, I can make those. So that`s where it started, we thought, why not? That was a hot day.
LEE: When you are out there and you`re in your uniform and you see the flags, is there a connection to the past? Is that what hinges?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, there is a connection to the past. If you are interested in history, it is 10 times better than reading about it in any book. I guess it gives you a greater appreciation of your forbearers and the suffering they went through.
ELIGON: Does that appreciation dampen it all for you by the fact that they were fighting for the cause, for the states that were pro-slavery?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have got to get into the mind of the, like the 19th century mind or get into the 18th century mind. It`s really hard to do. You have to do a lot of reading.
LEE: A library is full of reading about why people decided that it was worth fighting and dying to own people and sell people --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And again, that`s one of the topics at the time.
ELIGON: That`s a big topic. That`s a big topic.
LEE: It`s pretty big. It`s pretty big.
ELIGON: That`s a big topic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if you didn`t own slaves, it`s not such a big topic.
ELIGON: Do you think, does that for you factor in at all how we should view these monuments in the present day given the fact that there is a large population of Americans who those monuments represent they`re sub-humanist, they`re not being human.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, do we squash it? Do we re-write history? If you don`t have some type of proof, being the generation from now you will have people arguing it, and it may just vanish.
LEE: But considering that for a great number of people in this country, those things represent deep trauma and great violence against people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But haven`t we gotten beyond that?
LEE: Have we?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many people living in America today were slaves? How many people live in America today owned slaves? It is roughly zero. So we should have gotten beyond that.
LEE: But we don`t have -- (inaudible), we don`t have our last names. We don`t have our religions. We don`t have this tongue that was speaking with it in English.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This language is not my native language either.
LEE: Right. But you have a great benefit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody in America has a benefit. It`s the greatest country in the world.
ELIGON: But not everyone has the benefit of slavery, correct?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody living in America today has a great benefit and a great opportunity.
ELIGON: The people of African descent in this country, people descendants of slaves, what benefit did they get fro slavery?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re here.
LEE: What`s amazing is you get such a sense of place, like this could be any town every town USA, but you`re kind of surrounded (inaudible) mementos from a past, right, including mementos and monuments to the Confederacy.
ELIGON: How do you grapple with that? How do you grapple the pretty and the nice with the ugly underbelly?
LEE: There as much division as ever in some way because history means different things to different people. There is a lack of consideration of how this might make us as Americans feel, black Americans feel. There seems to be this lock on the idea that we can`t do away with history. Not history.
O`CONNELL: When we come back after this break, Trymaine Lee`s conversation with a descendant of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. That is a surprising conversation. And after that, we will follow Trymaine Lee`s journey through the south.
We will then be joined by a southern woman, Caroline Randall Williams, who says her black southern ancestors include people who were slaves and her white southern ancestors include people who owned those slaves and raped those slaves.
In a "New York Times" essay, she wrote, "I defy any sentimental southerner to defend our ancestors to me. I am quite literally made of the reasons to strip them of their laurels." That`s coming up on our "Last Word" special, Stone Ghosts in the South continues right after this break.
LEE (voice-over): For many, heritage lives in the bloodline. We reached out to the great, great grandson of Jefferson Davis. He is trying to reclaim his family`s legacy from those who see Davis as a hero of white supremacy. The night before our meeting we slept in the (inaudible) home of Joseph Davis, Jefferson`s brother in (inaudible).
BERTRAM HAYES-DAVIS, GREAT, GREAT, GRANDSON OF JEFFERSON DAVIS: When you say you`re a Davis descendant in Mississippi, you better be ready. It brings responsibility. People are assuming you are going to be a Davis. Somebody asked me why I don`t dress up like him.
LEE (voice-over): Hayes-Davis still holds on to artifacts from his great, great grandfather, a book he signed, a letter he sent, a chair he sat in.
This has more resonance than something that you own than something in a public square somewhere.
HAYES-DAVIS: To me, yes, absolutely because it`s handed down. This chair has reverence to me. A Confederate monument or statue, when those folks put it up had reverence to them.
LEE: How do you balance or reconcile or wrestle with the dual narratives around Jeffrey Davis, one that we`ve all heard is the first and only president of the Confederacy. On the other hand, 52 years of his life before the civil war.
HAYES-DAVIS: I don`t know if I reconcile him as much as I try to bring him together to have a complete understanding. And when we put that four years of his life, which is 5 percent in total perspective, is it what it is we want to remember or do we want to have a complete understanding of the entire 81 years of his life?
LEE: But that four years, a pretty big four years, right?
HAYES-DAVIS: Pretty big four years because it was the most dramatic part of American history in a lot of respects. But he led that country in a position he was appointed to, not one that he wanted.
ELIGON: We`re dealing in the facts so we do know about Jefferson Davis, which is that he supported the expansion of slavery even before the civil war and before he became president of the Confederacy. He did believe that black people were inferior to white people. In your mind, does that tarnish his legacy at all?
HAYES-DAVIS: What bothers me the most is exactly what you just said, the statements he made in reference to the slaves were his own feeling about their status and I cannot say that I support that. But, again, it`s the lens of perspective of the time and the place that he lived in. It is not the most favorable aspect but it is part of his character we have to understand.
LEE: I have to wonder, are you welcomed in those groups that are so staunchly pro-Confederate that they don`t want to see anything happen to any statues? They don`t want anymore flags. Are you welcome in those spaces?
HAYES-DAVIS: In the pro-Confederate folks? I would say that I`m probably not.
LEE (voice-over): Before leaving town, we hear ally want to understand what keeps so many southern whites rooted to the Confederacy.
First, do you mind saying (inaudible) your first and last name for us.
GORDON COTTON, RESIDENT: My first name Gordon. My last name Cotton, just like you pick.
LEE: There we go. So all this fuss over the Confederate statues and the flag and slavery, is it time for us to move forward?
HAYES-DAVIS: No. If we go move forward on this, we`re going to leave everything else out of our history. Are we going to be selective in what we`re going to keep and what we`re going to forget?
LEE: What about this idea though that these men were fighting to maintain that system of slavery?
COTTON: That wasn`t all they were fighting for. They were fighting because our homes were invaded. The whole thing was based on money. Most things are.
LEE: Going back to what happened in Charlottesville, someone was killed. Someone was shot at. Someone else is beaten up. Does it surprise you when you see that people are that virulent about their support and defense of Robert E. Lee and the rest?
COTTON: Well, they`re not the ones who started it. Defending it, yes, I can understand it. But they`re not the ones that started it. Had the people not wanted to tear down a beautiful monument, it wouldn`t have happened.
LEE: Perhaps they should be moved to somewhere where they can be respected, not in a place of -- in a public display where it`s doing nothing but sending us some kind of message.
COTTON: I totally disagree with you. It happened right here. We commemorate it here.
ELIGON: What do you think of Jefferson Davis?
COTTON: He is my personal hero. I think he`s one of the great men in American history.
ELIGON: What about he was obviously as someone who supported the expansion of slavery, should that diminish or tarnish his legacy at all?
COTTON: No, because he wasn`t the only one. I think growing up in this community seven miles from Briarfield, going to a school named Jefferson Davis can destroy what they can, but they will never destroy the legend of the man.
LEE: How much craze do you give to the idea of these men of their time? You know, what does that mean?
COTTON: Certainly, they were men of their time but does that mean - exactly what I said, do we forgive them?
LEE: Having these conversations is weird with some people who are able somehow to separate you know, advocating slavery and you know, the (inaudible) of black label and then say but they were great guys who had a lot of accomplishments.
JOHN ELIGON, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes.
LEE: That`s hard to square. Imagine this filled with people and tear gas, police on horseback, batons, some of them even beaten bloody but this is - it`s from our history. Alabama has played such a crucial role of some of the most infamous periods of violence, right? But also of civil rights and progress.
And so this place here plays like a dual role. It`s significant on one side of history because of Edmund Pettus who was famed as you know, confederate soldier and leader and branch (inaudible) but also we associate the bridge with the fight for black civil rights.
ELIGON: Throughout this whole trip we`ve heard people talking about history, can`t lose history. This is one of those exceptional cases where I think if someone says that, it makes sense to me, I don`t know.
LEE: It might make sense.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In this old section of the cemetery many notable citizens of (inaudible) were laid to rest such as General William Hardy, Senator Edmund Winston Pettus and Congressman Benjamin Sterling Turner.
LEE: Here`s our guy again, Jefferson Davis. That`s going to be Nathan Bedford Forrest right here, grandmaster of the Klan. This monument was erected and dedicated October 7, 2000. This is the way it described this man. This monument stands as a testament of our perpetual devotion and respect. One of the South`s finest heroes.
ELIGON: When you look here like they were judged by their - you had their skill, their price, their complexion
LEE: The United Daughters of the confederacy. They were a very active group. The night - look at this - the knightliest of the knightly race who sing of the day of old, not African, I`m assuming a deathless song of southern chivalry. This is a story about Southern chivalry, standing up for their way of life and their people, their home, their farms, their children, generations to come.
So there`s no tearing this thing down. This will loom here. This isn`t some little town square, this is the Statehouse of Alabama. This is the Capitol.
Some memorials are easier to find than others. 20 miles from the Capitol, a plaque stands on the side of the highway. It marks the spot where Elmore Bolling was lynched and his body left in a ditch, just 100 yards from where his 5-year old daughter Josephine waited for him to come home.
When you`re black in Alabama, you can`t help but walk in the shadows of these huge confederate monuments but do you see the connection between the message being sent about white supremacy and what happened to your father?
JOSEPHINE BOLLING MCCALL, ELMORE BOLLING`S DAUGHTER: Oh, very much so. One of the articles that describe my father`s death says, enraged whites jealous about the success of a black man. If you acquire more than they think you should, they got to put you back in your place.
LEE: Josephine told us she paid for her father`s marker herself after the state refused to allow her to place it on public land. What do you think about what you missed in life in not having him?
MCCALL: My mom went from prosperity to poverty almost overnight. Sometimes I wondered what my life could have been had he lived. What my life could have been. Bones name was included among the thousands of lynching victims at the national memorial for peace and justice.
LEE: Elmore Bolling`s name was included among the thousands of lynching victims at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The memorial`s director Bryan Stevenson hopes the collected names will help change the narrative of a country still grappling with how to tell its own story.
BRYAN STEVENSON, DIR, EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: When I moved to Montgomery, this was a city that had 59 markers and monuments to the confederacy and you couldn`t find the words slave or slavery anywhere.
LEE: How is that even possible?
STEVENSON: It`s because people have been very intentional about denying that part of our history so this memorial, this site is intended to be a very intentional response to our silence.
LEE: We talked to folks around the country about what the confederacy stood for and their monuments. They say black people owned slaves too. There were white slaves
STEVENSON: There are many reasons beyond slavery. These are all things that are designed to deracialize what happened. And they are aberrations and we`ve allowed that to happen because we were fighting these other struggles, right? And so this site is designed to help people understand that you can`t ignore this any longer.
So you see one county with one name and then one county with two names and then you see a county like this with over a dozen names.
LEE: Do you have any Dodge county in Georgia?
STEVENSON: Yes. We do.
LEE: My great grandfather, they were tenant farmers in Dodge County, Georgia.
LEE: And apparently with some issue with some white man.
LEE: They owed him money around the end of the year, right? Selling up.
LEE: Sends his son Cornelius in the town.
LEE: They shot him, put him on horse, sent him back.
LEE: And we have the death certificate. It`s says age 12. Cause of death, gunshot wounds.
STEVENSON: Yes. People who engaged in these terror lynchings could have buried the bodies in the ground, could have tried to hide this violence which is what you would imagine people would do. They did the opposite. They were actually proud to engage in this kind of racial terror.
That`s why hanging was so common. The whole idea was to taunt and to terrorize into torment African-Americans. That`s why you have to think about this as terrorism. There are thousands who get killed but there are millions who victimize. You know seven black people lynched in Screamer, Alabama in 1888 for drinking from a white man`s well.
Dozens in Louisiana because they were protesting their low wages.
ELIGON: Am I crazy for when I read these things, I`m scared because sometimes I feel like this, it could have been last week.
STEVENSON: Oh, it could have been. One, two, three, four , five, six, seven, eight, nine. It just weighs on.
LEE: And this idea there are so many more because I know from my family story.
LEE: What happened.
STEVENSON: Of course.
LEE: And he`s not here.
STEVENSON: Yes, of course, there`s so much more.
LEE: Some say these monuments are about heritage and heroes but if anything, they`re also reminders of America`s unsettled war with itself. I started this journey looking for light and understanding, to examine what these monuments mean to those who honored them.
But it was never really about the monuments. The large looming stone facades with the grotesque stumbling blocks or what lives inside the men whose grip on history has been shared by the myths they hold as truth. If anything, it was about a reckoning in a time of Americans here.
I`m not sure where we go from here but the road to history is long and winding with markers along the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Trymaine Lee will be back with us after this break and we`ll be joined in conversation by Caroline Randall Williams wrote in a powerful New York Times piece, "The black people I come from were owned and raped by the white people I come from. Who dares to tell me to celebrate them?" Caroline Randall Williams and Trymaine Lee will discuss the Stone Ghosts in the South, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: When you`re out there and you`re in your uniforms and you see the flags, is there a connection to the past that would - hinges you to this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes there is a connection to the past. Uh huh. If you`re interested in history, it`s ten times better than reading about it in a book. So you`re - I guess it gives you greater appreciation of your forebearers and the suffering they went through.
LEE: Do you see a connection between the message being sent about white supremacy and what happened to your father?
MCCALL: Oh, very much so. One of the articles that describe my father`s death says, enraged whites jealous about the success of a black man. If you acquire more than they think you should, they got to put you back in your place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: You`ve been watching Trymaine Lee`s riveting documentary produced with NBC news features Stone Ghosts in the South. America`s legacy of heritage and hate. Trymaine lee is back with us and joining our discussion now is Caroline Randall Williams, writer in residence at Vanderbilt University.
She wrote the highly acclaimed opinion piece for The New York Times entitled, `You want a Confederate monument? My body is a Confederate monument.` So Trymaine, let me start with you. What was the most painful thing you saw in your journey of the - through these monuments?
LEE: Lawrence, there were a number. Certainly in Montgomery, you know being at that memorial for those would have been lynched. About 4000 people lynched and to see the names of people who came from the county where my great grandparents lived and where my great uncle was killed but certainly, walking on a plantation grounds, they`re so genteel and so beautiful but that belies the grave violence, right?
These are hallowed grounds, forced some labor camps really, to talk to men who you know who believe and love the mythology of what we say America was and what they say the confederacy was but it was violence and pillage and raping and to look me in my eyes and with an air of something anti-real, speak of the past in such glorious ways, knowing that my people struggled to survive, were brutally murdered and worked to build what America is today.
I think that was the most painful. This charade, this veil, the lives that these men tell themselves and pass on to their children, not just in the huge obelisk but in the re-enactment, in the passing down of that legacy, it was - it was really tough but I think you know, every step along the way, there were moments of great pain.
O`DONNELL: Caroline, what were you thinking and feeling as you were watching Trymaine`s journey tonight?
CAROLINE RANDALL WILLIAMS, AUTHOR, LUCY NEGRO, REDUX: I was thinking about that line the guy said where he said that you have to get into nineteenth century mind, into an eighteenth century mind and what was implicit in what he said was a white nineteenth century mind, a white eighteenth century mine because if he had been able to get into a black American nineteenth century mind, he would not be able to engage in that exercise and look a black man in his house and his face and try to justify the re-enactments that he`s undertaken. That`s what I was thinking.
O`DONNELL: But that point Caroline, there were white 19th century minds who were completely opposed to slavery including relatives of Robert E. Lee himself, living in the South who were opposed to slavery and were opposed to the war that he was fighting.
WILLIAMS: Well right, so it`s actually again, this implicit fetishization of a slaveholding, slavery-celebrating mentality and I`m also thinking about the guy Mr. Cotton like the sock, you don`t have to say like you pick anyway. I was thinking about what he said - I was thinking about what he said and I was thinking you know he said it`s about money but then he stops there.
He doesn`t say well, what was the primary source of southern American money, right? He doesn`t examine it to it to its root to acknowledge that what he is celebrating when he celebrates the cause, what he is arguing when he argues that it was economic, he`s still arguing on behalf of slavery.
O`DONNELL: Trymaine, speaking to Jefferson Davis` great, great grandson; was that a surprising conversation for you?
LEE: It was pretty surprising because you have to imagine how revered Jefferson Davis still is in those spaces. You think about guys like Mr. Cotton and our re-enactor. They revere this man. He`s a hero and so that the descendant of Jefferson Davis wants to separate himself in some way from that legacy was very interesting.
But he wasn`t a full throated you know dismissal of everything he believed in. This is a softer, gentler kind of embrace of his relative and his ancestor so he still - he still loves and honors this man. He had more nuance than some of the others but he wasn`t necessarily distancing himself because he fills - his whole thing was, there was all this time before.
He was a great man who had a short period that did a bad thing as opposed to an entire life building up to this moment where he boldly proclaimed himself the President of this nation that had the right by all means necessary to own people, to sell people, to do what they will.
Then I think we what Caroline said earlier and as you mentioned Lawrence, this idea of men of their times, there were men of their times who also were fighting this as abolitionists and so the contradictions but also the mis-telling, misremembering, miseducation of history, the mythology surrounding this.
And go back to Mr. Cotton like you pick. He`s a pillar in the community. We went to three or four different places. They said oh, you got to talk to Mr. Cotton. You got to find Mr. Cotton so we go deep in the woods where our cell phones don`t work and we pulled up on this guy`s front porch unannounced. Let`s us in.
We have the minstrel bunch of CD`s of people in black face. You have the Confederate flag. You have that picking any and he kind of laughed and showed it to me and kind of chuckled. This is a pillar in this community and so we`re wrestling with the idea of these monuments but what lives inside these men that they pass on is almost as troubling.
O`DONNELL: Caroline, you grew up in the South, you live in the South now. What is it that most people miss, when they - when they look at this? I`m sure as someone who is - who is a southerner yourself, especially people like me from the north as we look at these things, is there - is there kind of a constant reframing you want to do for us.
WILLIAMS: Of course, there is Lawrence. When I think about you Mr. Cotton and when I think about the other gentleman who`s doing this re-enacting, I think that what we have to remember is that these men have preserved this ideology so successfully because they turn our idea of they`re saying, you`re going to erase our history and what they`re saying actually is you`re trying to revise edit and fact check a history that we already approved and that our ancestors wrote.
And they`re not actually allowing for the proper editorial process of how something successful gets written to be undertaken. They want to have us accept their narrative wholesale and it`s been accepted wholesale up to this point and I think that it`s now time for us all to be responsible documentarians of the actual bones of their narrative.
O`DONNELL: Caroline, one of the comments I was struck by early in Trymaine`s documentary was the woman who compared the way the South treats this history to the way Germany treats their Nazi history. That`s the point you made on this show in your first appearance.
WILLIAMS: Yes, that line struck me dumb, the first time I watched this documentary because that auction block is just sitting without any context in the middle of a cheerful square. Last I checked, Auschwitz, (inaudible), the camps that have become museums to honor the people who were murdered there.
The genocide that was undertaken there to demand reproach for the soldiers who committed those atrocities, those places have been put into context. They are solemn and they are rigorous in discussing the horrors. That`s just a little cheerful block in the middle of a little cheerful southern quaint street.
And she just says, wasn`t that lovely that you can touch history, you can see where somebody might have been sold but there`s no demanding of context and there`s no demanding of context because she knows and we all know that it was left there to intimidate, to shame, to hero, right? It`s not the same at all.
O`DONNELL: Trymaine, what did it feel like to be there, looking up at that auction block and then of course knowing that maybe something was going to happen, that community was moving toward maybe something happening with that and it finally did.
LEE: You know you see that block sitting there and as Caroline mentioned, it`s in a kind of a busy district where people were literally hanging out, drinking wine, eating food, like there wasn`t an auction block where bodies were not only sold but bodies broken and families torn apart and then also but there had been some progress made.
And I believe that block, it will be removed now. There are some more recent developments but the idea that it was still split along racial lines that even the white folks own accounts, who would say that their allies and they`re trying to preserve history, it`s still broke along racial lines with the lone black city councilman forcefully pleading with people to understand what that meant to this community and talking to folks who said you know black people who grew up in this community, who said you know we won`t even go down that block.
It was so disturbing. You heard the one woman say that her uncle was you know was whipped for getting on that block, saying you don`t - don`t you dare sit on that block and while we were even there, people were taking pictures around it.
Teenagers playing hopscotch around it, it was so disturbing but it speaks to just how baked into the fabric of America and who we are literally baked into the ground and in our minds, in our mythology and all the lure, how baked in this racism and these notions of white supremacy are that we would have an auction block in the middle of a commercial district where people were sold and treated as if it was nothing, not a fence around it, not a plaque, just the block.
O`DONNELL: Caroline, it seems that the nostalgia campaign which has been waged for decades upon decades upon decades to turn history into nostalgia is what was necessary in order to have an auction block left out there as you say without any context whatsoever?
WILLIAMS: Yes, I think this question of how southern nostalgia functions is one of the things that troubles me the most and that I am so eager to you know, really re-examine and push into a new - into a new frame of understanding in the future and I really was struck by the descendant of Jefferson Davis in that regard.
Because you know, he sort of tries to put into context, say it`s only four years of his life but you know, I know people, there are people who have lived beautiful lives and then get drunk one night and kill a family in a car crash and then they have to pay for that sin. They have to go to jail. They have to answer the family of the people they killed.
And I think that this idea of forgiveness, that`s between you and the Lord as we say in this house, or as church-going folks that forgiveness is between you and God. In the United States of America, when you commit grave crimes against humanity, regardless of what you did the rest of your life, we have to discuss how you pay for that.
O`DONNELL: Trymaine, did you sense any changing of minds during your conversations?
LEE: Sometimes I felt like again, I tried to walk in, super understanding. I wanted you know folks to put their guard down which they did. Again, we didn`t plan any of those interviews. They were like out in the woods with our re-enactor or Mr. Cotton. We just kind of showed up.
We went around town, talking to folks and after a week I was trying to work in a little bit, I got a sense that there was sometimes some understanding but it was so hardwired, what their beliefs were so hardwired ,there wasn`t much for them to budge, even with the niceties of the South.
Even with allowing us to come on and smile with us and have a conversation, there wasn`t much budging.
O`DONNELL: Caroline Randall Williams, thank you very much for joining our discussion tonight. Trymaine Lee, thank you for sharing our discussion and bringing your documentary to us tonight. We really appreciate this hour. It`s been very important for us. Thank you Trymaine. That is tonight`s special addition of the Last Word. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams will be with us after this break.