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September 4, 2020

Trail of Tears

For the holiday weekend, a roadtrip through history. In this moment when Americans are tearing down monuments and rethinking how to address the shameful parts of America’s past, we return to a story from the early days of our radio show that took that on, in a vivid and complicated way. Sarah Vowell and her twin sister Amy headed out on the road to retrace the Trail of Tears – the route their Cherokee ancestors took when expelled from their own land – and reflected on the question, what are we supposed to do with the mix of good and bad that is this country?

This is an updated version of an episode from 1998.

Prologue

Host Ira Glass talks to a direct descendent of Thomas Jefferson, , about treating Monticello as his personal playground and about whether monuments to Jefferson should come down. (5 minutes)

Lucian Truscott, IV is a columnist for Salon

Act One

Sarah Vowell and her twin sister, Amy, retrace the Trail of Tears. They visit the town in Georgia that was the capital of the Cherokee Nation before the Cherokee were expelled. They enjoy a tourist trap hotel in Chattanooga. They go to Ross's Landing, the embarkment point for the water route of the Trail of Tears. (27 minutes)

Act Two

Sarah Vowell's story continues. She and Amy visit the home of President Andrew Jackson, the villain in the Trail of Tears drama. They drive west to Cherokee graves in Kentucky and a commemorative marker that's been placed, oddly, at an Arkansas high school. They head into Oklahoma, where the Cherokee settled and where they were born. Sarah talks with her oldest living relative about the Trail. And she and Amy end their trip at the place where they first heard about the Trail of Tears: an amphitheater where every summer, they saw a dramatic two hour recreation of the Trail. (23 minutes)

Song:

“Tears of Rage” by The Band