Ken Burns: U.S. needs ‘less pluribus; more unum’

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, left, interviews historian Ken Burns.

Historian Ken Burns was in Knoxville recently, appearing on behalf of the East Tennessee Historical Society and Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law. The $300 per seat dinner at the downtown Hilton featuring Gov. Bill Haslam interviewing Burns was a sellout, as was Burns’ much less expensive ($55 per ticket) appearance at the Tennessee Theatre.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and his father, James A. Haslam, II.

Burns is widely known for his series of PBS documentaries including The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009), Prohibition (2011), The Roosevelts (2014) and The Vietnam War  (2017).

His next PBS series, he said, will be about country music and will highlight the famous Bristol Sessions where country music often is said to have been born. “Country music is about three-quarters of the truth,” he said. “It is about direct human experience. It’s a real complicated human subject. It’s often the expression of people who feel they have been looked down on — or flown over.”

Burns predicted his country music project, due out in 2019, “will be as emotionally powerful as the Vietnam series, but without the cynicism.”

Following the country music project will come a look at Ernest Hemingway, due in 2020.

Here are a few other interesting things Burns said during his visit:

  • The Roosevelts “were three deeply flawed, deeply damaged human beings.” He said Teddy and Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy’s niece, were manic. “Teddy outran his demons,” Burns said. “FDR couldn’t outrun his demons.”
  • “There’s nothing new under the sun. We study war because it brings out the worst of human beings. But it also shows the best of human beings.”
  • Abraham Lincoln is his hero. “Lincoln said human beings are the last best chance for Earth.”
  • “History is a rising road,” he declared. But in today’s America, “we need less pluribus and more unum.”

Historian Ken Burns, center, strikes a pose with Natalie and Jim Haslam during dinner at the Hilton.

Ken Burns, left, poses with Tami and Tim Purcell.

John J. Duncan III and his mother, Lynn Duncan, greet Ken Burns. (Photo by Alan Carmichael.)

Knox County Commissioner Evelyn Gill and her husband, Michael.

Pete DeBusk, left, with new University of Tennessee Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer.

Dean and Natalie Rice.

From left, Sam and Ann Furrow with Bill and Elisabeth Rukeyser.

From left, Susan Brown and Chelly and Kevin Clayton.

Gary Wade, center, with Barbara and Bill Arant, left, and Martha and Matthew McClellan. Wade is dean and vice president of the LMU’s Duncan School of Law.

Sherri Lee, left, with Kenneth and Jane Creed.

Kay Clayton, left, with Vicky Fulmer.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero chats with Gov. Haslam.

From left, Joan Cronan, Jeannie Dulaney and Jerome Melson.

Mary Pom Claiborne and John Bradley.

Sharon and Joe Pryse.

Samantha Edwards and Alan Carmichael.

Three generations: From left, Sarah Stowers, Rachel Stowers Kinney and Liz Stowers.

Melissa Van Kirk, left, and Susan Arp.

Natalie Haslam and Jim Hart.

Anna and Frank Gray.

Pete DeBusk, left, and David Hunt.

Gov. Haslam with Georgiana Vines.

From left, Annette Brun, Laurens Tullock and Susan Brown.

Pat and Geoff Wolpert.

Mike Strickland, left, and Gary Wade.

Just for the record, I thought this centerpiece was a great idea. Simply eucalyptus branches wrapped around a white candle. The eucalyptus smelled fantastic.

Over at the Tennessee Theatre, Hallerin Hilton Hill welcomed guests.

The place was packed.

Clips from “The Civil War” documentary were shown with that beautifully haunting theme song, “Ashokan Farewell” playing in the background.

Burns received a very warm welcome.


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4 Responses to Ken Burns: U.S. needs ‘less pluribus; more unum’

  1. Mary Pat Tyree, on May 7th, 2018 at 2:36 pm said:

    Great article Cynthia. Would have loved to hear him. I’ve watched all his projects.

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on May 7th, 2018 at 3:46 pm said:

    Mary Pat: Thanks! I’m with you — I just love his work. Can’t wait to see the ones on country music and Ernest Hemingway!

  3. Deborah Sams, on May 7th, 2018 at 9:54 pm said:

    I was at the Tennessee Theater and so excited to hear Ken Burns. That was the quickest hour ever. I was ready to hear more! Great coverage of the events.

  4. Cynthia Moxley, on May 7th, 2018 at 9:59 pm said:

    Deborah: It really did fly by! Thanks for kind words.

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