DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, in today for Terry Gross. Next week marks the second anniversary of the death of George Floyd, who was said to have told a friend when he was a teenager that one day he wanted to touch the world. Sadly, it was not his life but his murder by police officer Derek Chauvin that touched off a wave of massive protests for racial justice and sparked an ongoing national conversation about race in America. While much is known about George Floyd’s death, our guests, Washington Post reporters Robert Samuels and Tolu Olorunnipa, believe we can learn a lot by looking at his life. Their new book examines Floyd’s 46 years on Earth in detail, drawing on hundreds of interviews and a trove of public and private records, including diary entries, rap lyrics, poems, medical records, historical documents, cellphone videos, social media postings, arrest reports, court documents, job applications, text messages, love letters and more. The book is a portrait of a Black man raised in poverty who, the authors argue, found his opportunities and aspirations limited at every turn by the legacy of slavery and ongoing institutional racism.
Robert Samuels is a national enterprise reporter for The Post. Tolu Olorunnipa is a political enterprise and investigations reporter at The Post and also an on-air contributor to CNN. Their new book is “His Name Is George Floyd.”
Well, Robert Samuels, Tolu Olorunnipa, welcome to FRESH AIR. George Floyd is a name everyone knows. And, of course, it was his tragic murder, not his life, that touched off this movement that had such enormous reach and impact. Why did you want to tell the story of his life in such detail?
ROBERT SAMUELS: Well, we wanted readers to understand that the battle for George Floyd to breathe in America started long before he ever even encountered Derek Chauvin. So what we did was we talked to everyone we could possibly talk to – from his siblings to some of his teachers, as early as second grade, to his coaches, his lovers, his best friends – to get a sense of not just who George Floyd was, but all of the systems that he interacted with and how the legacy of institutional racism shaped his life and, in a lot of cases, hindered that ambition. We believed that if we did that, not only could we tell the story about who George Floyd is, but we’d also get a sense of who we are as a society. And we can begin to explore the questions about what race and racism can not just do to a person, but to all of those folks who are moved and had questions about George Floyd …….