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CNN NEWSROOM

Rim Fire Still Blazes; Remembering MLK "I Have a Dream" Speech; Syria's Chemical Weapons

Aired August 24, 2013 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Fredricka, thank you very much. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Don Lemon.

We'll begin in California where a monster wildfire is creeping further into the iconic Yosemite National Park. The rim fire has more than doubled in size in the last day, swallowing up everything in its path. It's burned 126,000 acres, and it's just five percent contained.

The impact of the fire is spreading far beyond the park itself. Governor Jerry Brown has issued a state of emergency for San Francisco, which is 150 miles away. But the fast-moving flames are threatening water and electrical lines that feed into the city, forcing some to be shut down.

Want to get to CNN's Nick Valencia now, who is joining me by phone from Yosemite National Park. Nice, you are joining us by phone. That's because you've just returned from a tour of the fire lines. What are crews doing to slow down this fire?

Nick Valencia, you there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Hey, Don, yes, we are, I'm sorry, I'm having a little bit of trouble hearing you, but we just came back from Yosemite National Park. We got to the edge of the park. The western boundary has been encroached by this wildfire, what we saw were firefighters aggressively trying to put this thing out.

They are working with limited resources, and part of the thing that's making this too difficult to get a hold on is how fast it's moving. It's extremely dry out here, it's really dry, and the canyon winds push the flames even further especially right around now. In the morning it helps with the moisture in the air, it helps to do sort of - keep the wild -

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And apparently we're having a little bit of trouble with hearing Nick Valencia there in Yosemite, California, but, again, he just came back from a tour of the site and is giving us some information. We'll get Nick back and we'll talk about the evacuation and this fire that has really swallowed up a lot of the forest.

The rim fire though we should tell you, one of the worst ever in the state of California. The fire's already damaged some lines and stations that provide power to parts of the Bay area forcing a state of emergency to be issued. San Francisco gets 85 percent of its water from the Yosemite area reservoir. More than 2,600 firefighters are fighting that blaze, and huge DC-10 air tankers are working from above. They've got it covered, they're trying at least. 4500 structures are threatened as the fire continues its march eastward. Well, so far the fire has had no direct effect on Yosemite Valley, a popular spot for tourists with views of half dome and Yosemite falls.

Fifty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Today thousands rallied in Washington paying tribute to the historic anniversary. Today's march is not just about Martin Luther King Jr., it's about remembering and paying homage to the unforgettable moment in time when the civil rights movement was a national conversation.

CNN's Chris Lawrence joins me now in Washington. Chris, what moments really stood out for you today there?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, I mean, so many. I think seeing the families of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin standing on that stage together. I think talking to a woman who was here in 1963 at the march, is barely out of her teens, and now seeing her in her 80s, talking about what the country was like back then, seeing the changes, and as she talked about looking around at all the people around her, and seeing the change in this country, and I have to say, what really moved the crowd was hearing from Representative John Lewis. He was the youngest speaker at that march in 1963, and here he returns 50 years later to talk about really the heart of that movement. It's been so associated with civil rights and the "I have a Dream" speech, but he brought it back to its original purpose, jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D) GEORGIA: We cannot be patient. We want jobs and we want our freedom now! All of us, it doesn't matter whether we're black or white, Latino, Asian-American, or Native American. It doesn't matter whether we're straight or gay. We're one people. We're one family. We're one house. We all live in the same house! So, I say to you, my brothers and sisters, we cannot give up! We cannot give out! We cannot give in!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE: And, of course, jobs and voting rights were a big issue then, they are today. But I think one of the things we saw here was how much bigger the issues are. It includes immigration reform, the environment, rights for the gay and lesbian community. And one of the big things that jumped out to me was a couple of people got up there and said you know that women did not speak at that march in 1963 and so many did today.

And it was something that struck me as someone who was born after that, you just assume that women were part of the movement in a big public way, and that really wasn't the case. And then today to see so many women on that stage, being such a very public part of this memorial. Don?

LEMON: And, of course, Chris, the official anniversary is the 28th which is actually Wednesday, and, of course, there are big festivities for that day as well.

LAWRENCE: Yes. I mean, you've got obviously President Barack Obama will be right back here, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech. He'll be joined by former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and a lot of big Hollywood stars as well, Jamie Foxx, Oprah Winfrey, singer Leann Rimes. So this is really not the end, it's really just the beginning of a week of looking back at what this march meant.

LEMON: Chris Lawrence, at the National Mall in Washington. Thank you very much for that, Chris.

Coming up, who is the next Martin Luther King Jr.? Does this generation have a voice to inspire the way Dr. King inspired his? We're going to talk it over with National Urban League president Mark Merial one hour from now.

Plus, I sat down with hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons and talked about the challenges and responsibilities facing African-American youth. We agreed on some issues, we totally disagreed on others. You'll see my exclusive interview with the legendary music producer coming up at 6:30 Eastern right here on CNN.

Moving on, kidnapping survivor Hannah Anderson prayed for her mother and brother at a public memorial service today. Authorities say family friend James Dimaggio tortured and killed Christina Anderson and eight-year-old Ethan Anderson and kidnapped 16-year-old Hannah. Well, the FBI rescued Hannah and shot and killed Dimaggio after a nationwide alert.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is in Santee, California, with the very latest on this. So Stephanie tell us about today's emotional service.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was very emotional, Don, as you sat there, I was listening from afar inside the church. You can see the emotions on people's faces as they started to begin the service. It was interesting to watch the dynamics before the service started, Hannah Anderson after this huge ordeal of being kidnapped, losing her mom, losing her brother, just welcoming people into the church, hugging people. She was holding a baby for a while, lots of smiles and then as the service got started, you could see that her tone definitely changed. She had a few tough moments. But there were poignant words from the father as he was remembering Tina and Ethan, and I want you to hear a few piece of what he has to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. KEVIN CASEY, SPEAKER AT THE ANDERSON MEMORIAL SERVICE: When horrific events occur in Germany or in Russia or in Africa, or even in different states, they are not entirely real to us, but when occur our own doorstep and touches us intimately as horrific including murders of Tina and Ethan, then they are indeed very real. We're touched by this evil and we can never be the same again.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ELAM: And you could definitely see that as the weight of all of this started to hit Hannah, you could see it on her face. And I just spoke with her grandmother, Tina's mother, and she said that she's very strong, she did have a few moments, she got through it. But she also said that she feels better now knowing that they've been able to remember and memorialize Tina and Ethan. Because remember, Don, it's been about three weeks now since everything started, they were lost and then they didn't know where Hannah was and now they can actually sort of remember them the way they wanted to.

LEMON: Stephanie Elam, Santee, California. Stephanie, thank you for that reporting.

You can get more of Hannah Anderson's incredible survival story, CNN where Anderson Cooper's special "Kidnapped, the Rescue of Hannah Anderson" tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Just 10 minutes from now, the march on Washington as captured on film, I'm going to talk to a photographer who was there and took some of the most iconic images of that historic day.

But, first, accusations of chemical weapons used in Syria, new video today of what is said to be a chemical weapon storage bin and the White House is paying attention.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Syria's government leveling a new charge at the rebels. The regime said the rebels are using chemical weapons against government forces. This accusation comes the same week the opposition claims the Syrian army used the same lethal weapons to kill 1,300 people. While the two sides trade allegations, President Obama met with the security team today. And no one is forgetting how he warned Syria that the use of chemical weapons would cross a, "red line."

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins me now from Damascus. Fred, what is the regime claiming now?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the regime said that its forces were raiding a neighborhood here, called the Jobar (ph) district which is actually quite close to central Damascus and they said as their forces were closing in that their forces were subject to what they say were chemical weapons.

They believe that the rebels launched those. And later on Syrian TV, Don, the regime showed pictures of what they said was a chemical weapons stash of the rebels that they say their forces had raided. Now it is quite awkward to have these allegations from the regime come just two days after the opposition said the regime had killed some 1,300 people through chemical attacks on the outskirts of Damascus.

It's still is really unclear what exactly happened there. However, the more evidence comes out, the more videos come out, the more testimonies come out from people, especially from that Wednesday incident, it appears more and more likely that some sort of chemical agent appears to have been used. Doctors without borders, for instance now, is coming out and saying that doctors that are working with them documented some 3,600 cases of people who came with symptoms that seemed to indicate that they had been subject to some sort of nerve agent and that more than 350 of those people died.

So, what's clear right now is that there is a big government offensive going on right now. It was going on for the past couple of days and that it seems very likely that some sort of chemical agent was released in the area around Damascus, but who's responsible, what exactly happened, that's still very much up in the air. Of course, you have the U.N. weapons inspectors on the ground here, Don, but they're not able to get to that area just yet. They're in negotiations with the Syrian government and with the opposition to try and get safe passage into those areas, Don.

LEMON: Well, there's been some question about whether this really is - can this really be a coincidence, I mean, the rebels were reportedly hit by chemical weapons and the regime troops are just hit just a few days later.

PLEITGEN: Yes. Yes. I mean, it does seem a little bit awkward. However, the regime has been saying for the past couple of days is that if anybody used chemical weapons on the battlefield, they believe it's the rebels who did it. The rebels for their part, of course, are saying they don't even have the capabilities to do any of this. But testimonies that have come in from a lot of people who witnessed and who were subject to the alleged attacks that happened on Wednesday say that it appears to be rockets that were fired into those areas that may have released those chemical agents.

If that is the case, that would certainly point to the regime being involved in all this. But, again, all of that is very much unclear. You're absolutely right, the timing is very awkward. The whole story seems quite awkward to all of a sudden find a chemical weapons stash in an area that's been under siege for such a very long time. But again, who knows? It's very difficult to tell at this point in time. There is no hard evidence, and the thing that's really troubling about all of this, the longer all of this takes, the more difficult it's going to be to gather evidence.

Because while all of this is going on, there is still a big military operation under way by the Syrian military. They are firing artillery into the same areas that were allegedly hit by that chemical attack the whole day, today and the whole day yesterday. We're hearing that all the time, artillery fire and mortar fire and you wonder if there is evidence on the ground, if there's soil samples, if there's samples on dead bodies, how much of that is actually still going to be around if these places keep taking the sustained mortar and artillery fire.

So, therefore, the U.S. is saying, the international community is saying, those weapons inspectors need to get down there on the ground as fast as possible to assess things and then, maybe, it will come to life what exactly happened here. But it is clear, that something very big and something terrible did happen here. That's something that the president, of course, also said in the interview with our Chris Cuomo just a couple of days ago, Don?

LEMON: Fred Pleitgen in Damascus. Thank you very much, Fred.

Next, the historic march in Washington captured through the lens of an acclaimed photographer. He is sharing his stories and images of that day, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The march on Washington 50 years ago Wednesday produced some unforgettable images. Photos from that day are featured in the new book "I Have a Dream," a 50th-year testament to the march that changed America. It showcases the amazing work of photographer Bob Adelman and he joins me to talk about the march, his memories and his incredible photographs.

It's great to see you in the reflecting pool behind you, Mr. Adelman. You captured perhaps the most iconic images of this march. It's also your book cover, Dr. King was shouting "we're free at last, free at last. Thank God, almighty, we're free at last." What was it like to be standing right there?

BOB ADELMAN, PHOTOGRAPHER: Well, it was thrilling. And I think most people don't realize now that the fate of the civil rights movement was in the balance that day. We were, you know, the people who were - I was both a photographer and in the movement, and we were startled that so many people had showed up. We didn't know that that - it would be such an extraordinary outpouring and we now that if lots of people came, Congress, which was frozen at the time, would act. So, it was very, very extraordinary. But when doc spoke, it was unbelievable. I had never heard such oratory, and standing in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln at the end of his speech, I just thought to myself his truth is marching on. But it was a great, great day.

LEMON: Let's talk about the crowd there on that day. Rich, poor, black and white. It was quite diverse, especially for 1963, for that time.

ADELMAN: Well, the thing that was startling was the number of people, but they came from all walks of life. But it was also a very proud occasion. Most of the people were dressed up as if they were going to church. And it was - we were all proud to be there. Of course, it was terrible apprehension that all 100 or 200,000 people showing up in Washington was going to be a race riot. The president, Jack Kennedy, was opposed to the march initially. They feared it would be, you know, a donnybrook here. Instead, it was a magnificent, magnificent crowd. Well behaved. Very considerate. People were terribly kind to one another.

LEMON: Yes. Mr. Adelman, tell me about some of the big names. We were just looking at a picture of James Baldwin that was there. There was a great shot of Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Charlson Heston talking to Harry Belafonte. Tell us about that.

ADELMAN: Well, you know, Harry Belafonte was the go-to guy in the movement whenever anybody had any problems and we needed some financing, they called Harry. And he somehow found a way to help everybody. But all of those people, not only marched that day, but they would, you know, dipping into their pockets to make it all possible. You know, Dr. King traveled 24 million miles it was estimated, which is 40 trips around the moon. And most of that traveling was to get financial support for the movement. And those people were - all of them were there, you know, because they truly believed.

LEMON: Yes. And as we said, we saw John Lewis, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin there. But, you know, not in the book, but you also shot many powerful photos from that era, two caught my eye, one is a woman waiting to register to vote and another is a child sitting in front of a wagon with a homemade sign. What's behind these two stories?

ADELMAN: Well, the wagon shot was Dr. King's last great mission, which was to help the poor which is still unmet. So he was - the child is on the wagon which was one of the wagons which was part of the poor people's march. And the vote, well, you know, the south re-won the civil war after federal troops left, and our black brothers were deprived of the vote. And the great, great effort was made during - in the civil rights movement to get people registered and voting.

And all of that led, of course, to having Barack Obama as president. And, you know, when he was I guess inaugurated, famously John Lewis asked him to sign his photograph as the new president. And Obama wrote, "because of you, John." And that was for all the people who came out and registered to vote.

LEMON: Yes. And John Lewis tells me and both men teared up at that moment. Bob Adelman, thank you so much. Great work. We appreciate you coming on CNN. Thank you.

ADELMAN: Good to see you.

LEMON: You as well.

Next, you could be a millionaire. But your time to claim your winnings is running out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Time is running out for the person holding a million dollar lottery ticket in New York. The winner has until tomorrow to turn it in, otherwise the cash goes back to the jackpot pool. The ticket was sold in Ryan, New York, August 25th, last year. Can you imagine missing out on this? You know, this has happened before, in 2002 a $68 million prize was unclaimed. The biggest jackpot to go unclaimed in New York lottery history.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Coming up at the top of the hour, who is the next Martin Luther King Jr.? Does this generation have a voice to inspire the way Dr. King inspired his?

Plus, this, I sat down with hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons and talked about the challenges and the responsibilities facing American youth, especially African-American youth today. My exclusive interview with the legendary music producer coming up at 6:30 Eastern, right here on CNN. Don't miss it.

In the meantime, I'm Don Lemon. The top stories, 30 minutes away.

But, first, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.