STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Two descendents of the man who wrote The Wizard of Oz say they're sorry. They're in South Dakota to apologize for what L. Frank Baum wrote before his famous book.
Baum composed newspaper editorials calling for the extermination of Native Americans and his words may have helped to inspire the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890.
Here's Charles Michael Ray of South Dakota Public Radio.
CHARLES MICHAEL RAY reporting:
L. Frank Baum wrote in South Dakota's Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer:
Mr. MAC HUDSON (Great-great Grandson of L. Frank Baum): (Reading) The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends on the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.
RAY: Mac Hudson is the great-great grandson of Frank Baum. Hudson wrote his master's thesis on the impact of Baum's writings. He says within days of the two racists editorials, at least 150 men, women and children of the Minneconjou band of the Lakota people were gunned down on the Pine Ridge Reservation by the 7th Calvary: the Wounded Knee massacre.
This week, Hudson and his cousin, Gita Morena, are on the Pine Ridge Reservation attempting to reconcile the past.
Mr. HUDSON: We're here to say that we're sorry and to acknowledge these editorials, these calls for genocide, and that they helped - they culminated in a bloody massacre like Wounded Knee.
(Soundbite of baby crying)
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. MARIE NOT-HELP-HIM(ph) (Wounded Knee Survivors Association): (Unintelligible)
RAY: Marie Not-Help-Him holds her granddaughter Chavelle(ph). Not-Help-Him is with the Wounded Knee Survivors Association. Her great-grandfather, Dewey Beard, was shot twice during the massacre but survived. However, Beard watched most of his family die when the cavalry opened fire.
As a child, Not-Help-Him knew her great-grandfather. She remembers his large, strong hands. She recalls laying on his chest and listening to his heartbeat. And she remembers his tears as he spoke of Wounded Knee.
Ms. NOT-HELP-HIM: The people who were killed at Wounded Knee are relatives. Their blood is as fresh today as it was then. And the same blood runs in my veins and beats in my heart.
RAY: Today, the reservations in South Dakota are the most impoverished areas of the United States. Not-Help-Him hopes that the apology from Baum's descendants will push forward further reconciliation. Something she says could improve the quality of life here.
Ms. NOT-HELP-HIM: I'm hoping that by their apology the government would also see that and apologize for the gross violations of our rights as human beings.
RAY: Baum's editorials were only a small part of the racist frenzy among white settlers in the 1890s. But Hudson says, growing up, he never knew about his great-great grandfather's dark side. He says the Baum family remembers their patriarch as a brilliant and creative man with a gentle and kind demeanor who cared for his family and supported the Suffragist movement. But Hudson says history shouldn't be whitewashed.
Mr. HUDSON: We should look at the whole man. We should look at the creative part and we should look at the racist environment that would lead somebody who was generally considered to be a fine person to be able to write something like a call for genocide.
RAY: The descendents of those who survived Wounded Knee and the descendents of Frank Baum are gathering this week. They're sharing food, stories and some tears. The Baum family will make an official apology tomorrow in Rapid City.
For NPR News, I'm Charles Michael Ray in Rapid City, South Dakota.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.