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Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.; Civil Rights in America 50 Years After MLK Jr.'s Death. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired April 4, 2018 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, what will it take to rekindle the dream? I ask
William Jawando, a former Obama official who helped launch a mentoring initiative for young black men and civil rights activist Bree Newsome,
who's joining us from Memphis where she's joining the 50th anniversary commemorations for Dr. King. Plus, we talk with the publisher of Dr.
King's papers, Professor Clayborne Carson, who's with us from Stanford University.
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. Fifty years ago on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel
in Memphis, a man who dedicated his entire life to non-violent protests was brutally assassinated. America's most famous, most revered civil rights
leader Martin Luther King Jr. cut down at the age of just 39 and eerily, just a day after he delivered his final and prophetic speech in which he
worried about his own survival and that of his movement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you
to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy tonight; in not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And indeed, in the 50 years since his death, there has undoubtedly been progress in black America. There is a black middle class
and the country has elected its first black president. And then came this anguished reaction on the night of Donald Trump's election by the renowned
political commentator Van Jones.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This was a whitelash. This was a whitelash against a changing country. It was a whitelash against a black
president in part. And that's the part where the pain comes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Dramatic words, indeed. A year before he was killed, Martin Luther King Jr. worried that quote, "The vast majority of white Americans
are racists, either consciously or unconsciously." And my two guests tonight are well-placed to discuss all of this, William Jawando is an
attorney who worked in the Obama White House on the initiative called My Brother's Keeper, designed to help young black men climb up the ladder of
life. And he is not running for local office in his home state Maryland.
And also, Bree Newsome, she came to attention when she removed the confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state house. She's
a civil rights activist and she's with us from Memphis where she's been attending the commemorations for Dr. King. Welcome, both of you, to the
program on this 50th anniversary which is actually a sad day. Can I ask you, Bree, what it means to you to be a black American today? You heard us
quote what Dr. King said a year before he died.
BREE NEWSOME, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I would say there are some things that are new and then there's some things that are very familiar in the
history of America. We have a long history in this country of taking two steps forward and one step back. We've seen progress with the election of
the nation's first black president.
But we've also seen steps taken backwards, mass incarceration, the school- to-prison pipeline, incident after incident of police brutality. And so, these are the same conditions that are contributing to -- to what we see
now. And so, in some ways, there are some things that are new. But in a lot of ways, what's old is new again.
AMANPOUR: All right, we're going to dive in to some of those specifics you've talked about in a moment. But first to you, William Jawando, you
worked in the Obama White House. The first black president, it -- it stunned everybody but it was a moment of great hope. You heard what Van
Jones said on the night that President Trump, probably even surprised himself by winning, that this was a whitelash he thought. So, given your
experience in the White House and now, what does it mean to you? What does it mean to be black in America today?
WILLIAM JAWANDO, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Well, to be black in America is to know that you're in a precarious situation, in that freedoms
that have been recently been won or acquired, or progress that has been made can be taken away in an instant.
Think of the post Civil War reconstruction period where you had state senators and congressman who were African American and how that was
snatched away violently so through lynchings and through Jim Crow laws and segregation. And so, the step backwards that Bree was talking about is
really the story of being black in America.
So, you have to remain vigilant. You have to remain aware and I remember I was working in Ohio when President Obama was elected on the campaign and I
was elated we won Ohio, we knew we had won the presidency. And I walked outside and a middle aged white person was taking his trash down the
driveway and said to me, well I guess racisms over now? Kind of very, you know, disgruntled.
And so, I knew even then that we were going to have a tough time ahead, you know, and that's really what it is to be black in America. To be sober,
understand history and to keep pushing forward even when you have some success.
AMANPOUR: All right. So, let's take this excerpt of a speech that Dr. King made about a year before he was assassinated. These are some very
pointed comments he made about the state of society for blacks in America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of
poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated
schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality, integrated education.
Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character and not on the
basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It's clearly an amazing rallying cry. So, Bree, you mention the issue of segregation and new reports, today, show that the promise of Brown
vs. Board of Education and Linda Brown, who was the center of this, the little black girl who was the center just died last month. And yet, we
hear reports that schools are going back to segregation in parts of the south.
NEWSOME: Yes, absolutely. So, in my home town of Charlotte, North Carolina which at one point, was really heralded for its efforts to bus
students and to integrate the schools. What we now see is that our system is as segregated as it was in the 1960s. And I think it's important to
recognize that as soon as legal segregation ended, it wasn't as though everyone embraced this idea of integration.
There were people who moved forward with that effort, but there's always been a consistent effort to re-segregate. And so, what we have, in many
ways, is a defacto. Segregation, I think, sometimes it's a, kind of, false understanding of what happened in the --
NEWSOME: -- 60s if we think that it ended in victory and that everything that we are dealing with now was simply reaping the benefits of the 60s
civil rights movements.
AMANPOUR: William, I just want to pick up with you on the issue of economic justice. I mean, the I have a Dream speech in Washington was a --
as much about economic dreams that Martin Luther King had as about integration.
So, I was stunned -- I was stunned by the contents in a recent report that suggest that even a young black man who -- a boy who grows up in a well to
do black family living next door to a well to do white family. Despite the father or the parent's wealth, that boy and, particularly, boy is likely to
end up poorer than his white neighbor.
JAWANDO: If you're -- in 99 percent of American communities, if you're a black boy, you're going to have a consistent and persistent income gap from
your white male peer, even if you were born with the same economic circumstances. So, if you're born in the top 1 percent of families, as an
African American boy, you have just as much likelihood of being incarcerated as a white boy born in a household making $36,000.
So, if you're a millionaire black boy, your chances of being incarcerated are the same as a white boy from a household that has $36,000. You're just
as likely to fall out of the top income brackets as you are to stay, if you're an African American boy.
So, just stunning data and it's, also, once you control -- for every other circumstance, the excuses that have been used, family structure, household
income, level of education. When you control for all those things, that gap is still there and it shows us, in really stark terms, the legacy of
institutional racism and discrimination.
[14:10:00] AMANPOUR: Just to -- not to put a too fine a point on it, but basically Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, maintains that anyone could work
their way up out of situation. This is not a race thing, it's a poor thing. Poverty knows no racial boundaries, but this study, in fact, does
debunk that theory.
JAWANDO: Oh, it does. And it's something that we, as African-Americans, knew for a long time because we experienced it, but this puts hard data in
that if you take a white boy and black boy from the same income bracket, same level of education, same circumstances, there's going to be a
consistent income gap of 10 points or more all the way up the economic ladder.
So, I was fortunate. I'm one of the rare -- I'm in the one percent of African-American boys that made it from the bottom to the top and -- but
I'm a rare story and we need to make sure that we're changing policies so that I'm not such a rare story.
AMANPOUR: So Bree, you really came to prominence when you decided to remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol in South Carolina. This
was after Dylann roof shot up a church full of black worshipers. What gave the courage to do that and you even recited the Lord's Prayer as you were
being arrested. Was there anything of Dr. King going through your mind at that point?
NEWSOME: Yes, absolutely. In the lead up to the time that I scaled the pole, of course I was aware of the dangers that I faced, really even more
so than being arrested. My primary concern was a vigilantly coming by with a gun, so that was my greatest concern.
And I reflected, very much so, on King, on non-violent civil disobedience, on the kind of courage that it took for everyone who participated in that
movement to do what they did. And I also recognized that the rights that I have today, I wouldn't enjoy were it not for people who exercised the
courage that they exercised in the times in which they lived.
For me it was very important to make that statement at that time. There was South Carolina processing the casket of some Clementa Pinckney through
the streets of Columbia, South Carolina, the United States flag was at half staff, the state flag of South Carolina was at half staff, but the
Confederate flag was at the top of the pole and symbolically that moment just encapsulated everything that we had been saying when we said, black
To your earlier point that you were making about economics and racism, part of why I became involved in the modern movement, I grew up in a very
solidly middle class family household. I'm the third generation in my family to graduate from college.
What I recognized, however, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down voting rights in 2013, when I saw the Trayvon Martin case unfold, was that there
was no level of education, there was no level of income that could shield me from racism, that could protect me from being the next Trayvon Martin or
protect my child from being the next Trayvon Martin.
AMANPOUR: And the violence that you mentioned, obviously, the latest tragic headline is Stefan Clark in California. You heard from the White
House, I believe they called it a local matter, the Press Spokeswoman at the White House. But, I guess William Jawando, I want to ask you, because
again, it really matters to boys.
I hear and I read these chilling reports that fathers have to have the conversation with their kids, as young as 11 years old, how to behave in
white neighborhoods. Or if you're going to pass white law enforcement or whatever it might be. You're, obviously, the father of girls, but was that
conversation ever had to you, and the fact that it's still necessary is terrifying.
Jawando: Well, that's a conversation that every black parent has with their child or parent of black children has with their child, boy or girl
and it's something that's going to need to be continued, unfortunately, for a long time. Dr. King said that the soul of the nation cannot be redeemed
until we eradicate racism in all of it's forms.
And when Bree climbed the pole an pulled the flag down, that was a sample in racism in all of it's forms and when we are dealing with these police
involved shootings, when we're dealing with economic justice issues and wide disparities between black boys and their white male counterparts,
these are all messages and legacies of slavery.
And so, these conversations are going to need to happen continually in black households and they will, but we're also going to need to make sure
that we're continuing Dr. King's mission, continuing to put policies in place that get at the heart of these types of things.
We're not helpless to this. It's -- implicit bias training is required and necessary for law enforcement officers, who when they see a black boy, are
much quicker to pull their guns, from data and research, than they are to seeing a white boy. And so, we -- there are things we can do. We're not
helpless to this data.
One of the things that was in the report that you -- that we talked about earlier, is that one of the bright spots, even though that 99 percent of
America black boys do far worse economically than white boys.
[14:15:00] Out of those one percent communities, we learn that even if you don't have a father at the home for example, which was my case for much of
my earlier life, if you have fathers in mentor-like figures in your community; you benefit and have a better chance of moving up the economic
ladder. That's why programs like My Brother's Keeper, which I was proud to kick-off at the White House and be a part of, are so important.
AMANPOUR: What do you make of the anger amongst the black community, the Black Lives Matter community, after the shootings at Parkland, when a white
school was -- or mostly white school was targeted in a mostly white neighborhood, and there was a mass mobilization, huge amounts of celebrity
money pledged, marches and all the rest of it?
Now Emma Gonzalez, one of the faces of that movement, has reached out and spoken about, yes, how we need to both be in this together, both
communities. How does that sit with you, Bree?
NEWSOME: I think it's important to recognize anger is often a secondary emotion to hurt. I think that what -- many of the Black Lives Matter
protesters have been expressing is a deep sense of hurt. What has been expressed by young people -- not only Black Lives Matter protests, but even
Black youth have been protesting over the issue of gun violence in communities.
So they've been protesting over this issue for years. It has nothing to do with the students in Parkland. They completely empathize with the students
in Parkland. What they are speaking to again is how pervasive racism is. That Racism is pervasive that it manifests even in how people show empathy
Another example recently is the bombings in Austin. We had a white terrorist sending bombs through packages in the mail. And there seem to be
as much -- and maybe even more empathy for the terrorist than for the black victim. So again, it's really just highlighting the pervasive, really
insidious nature of racism in America.
JAWANDO: And (ph) Christiane, if I could chime on that, just because Bree is hitting such an important point. The racism is so embedded into every
institution in this country.
Just give you two example, when Tamir Rice was shot, within ten seconds of a police officer pulling up to him in Ohio park, the officer called in --
we just (shot), 18-year-old with a gun. And Tamir was 14 years old.
There is data from the America Physiological Association that shows that when people see young black boys, they think they're four to five years
older than what they are. They think they're a threat. They think they're dangerous.
I'll give you another example. The opioid crisis that's going on in this country right now, African American's have not been as affected (ph). It's
actually -- because of racism.
We're not doing as bad in this indicator, partly because it's shown that doctors -- because of this lack of empathy that we're talking about,
prescribe painkillers to African Americans at a much lower rate. So they have not gotten hooked to some of these opioids.
It's because they think that we have a higher tolerance for pain, there's less empathy. So the racism -- the stereotypes that have pervasive in and
are a part of a legacy of Transatlantic slave trade to today are so embedded into our system that we have much, much, much more work to do to
break those things down, and make sure that we're moving forward in understanding our biases.
AMANPOUR: Much work to do, and thank you so much to both of you on this Anniversary. William Jawando, Bree Newsome, thank you so much for joining
JAWANDO: Thank you.
NEWSOME: Thank you for having us.
AMANPOUR: And (ph) Martin Luther King's famous Dream for America resonated all over the world. Indeed, many said the dream died with him that awful
night, April 4th, 1968.
When news of the assignation in Memphis reached Robert F. Kennedy, who was campaigning for the presidency over in Indianapolis, he knew that he would
have to try to keep the peace. So he went to black neighborhood there to share their grief and tried to inspire hope that the dream was still
possible. Here's some of what he said that night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT F. KENNEDY, FORMER UNITED STATES SENATOR: It is not the end of violence. It is not the end of lawlessness, and it's not the end of
But the vast majority of white people, and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality
of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Do they though? All these years later? We turn now to the historian and professor of American history, Clayborne Carson. He was at
the famous speech on the Mall in Washington when he was just 19. And later, King's widow asked him to publish his papers. Professor Carson
joins us now from Stanford University. Welcome to the program, Professor.
[14:20:00] CLAYBORNE CARSON, PROFESSOR, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: Good to be with you.
AMANPOUR: I just wonder what goes through your mind all these years later as you heard those words of Robert F. Kennedy 50 years later.
CARSON: I think that for me, it was hearing the same news, there was a deep sense of loss. I had actually left the country in 1967 for a variety of
reasons, but partially to -- because I refused to be inducted into the military.
And so when I came back in 1968, it was a -- a shock, because this -- within days of getting back in the -- in the states, Martin Luther King was
assassinated and then back in Los Angeles, a couple months later, Robert Kennedy himself was assassinated.
So it -- it seemed that I was returning to a country that was coming apart, and it was -- it was a -- a shock, and -- and the years that followed were
-- were an indication of how much hadn't changed because of civil rights reforms.
In the areas I was in, these reforms had very little impact (inaudible) there was still segregation, a lack of jobs, poverty. So I think that in
some respects, the passage of civil rights legislation made us complacent about the parts of Martin Luther King's dream that hadn't been achieved.
AMANPOUR: Just walk me through -- you were 19, as I said, when that famous speech on the Washington Mall took place, you were there. And then how did
Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King's window choose you to -- to gather, edit, and -- and publish his papers?
CARSON: Well when I entered the historical profession, I -- I wanted to focus on the -- the question of how does change take place and -- and --
and I wrote a book called end struggle, which was about the emergence of grassroots activism during the 1950's and -- and `60s in the south.
So I think was a -- a bit surprised when she called and asked me to edit Martin Luther King's papers, because I had always emphasized a bottom up
approach, and he of course was the -- the main national leader of the movement.
And -- but after talking with her, she had heard about me from another historian who was her advisor, and she felt that because of my background
of being in the movement, studying the movement for civil rights reform in the 1960's, that I would be an appropriate person to look at Martin Luther
And for me it was telling the other part of the story.
AMANPOUR: I wanted to ask about another part of the story, and that is that, you know, we read of course that towards the end of his life, there
was pressure from the more militant side of the -- of the black rights movement, and that at one point Dr. King, who was a committed
integrationist had said and this shows (ph) the notion of temporary separatism. Tell me about that and how serious was he about that as a --
as a cure for what's -- what wasn't happening in the integration front.
CARSON: Well the thing I've discovered about Martin Luther King that is most important is how consistent he was throughout his life. I don't think
he ever went over to being a separatist, he was simply saying that we have to recognize the reality of -- that many people black people are
His own organization was an organization primarily of black Baptist ministers. And the churches that they casted (ph) were pretty much black
churches. They had very few white members. That was a matter of history and -- and choices, and -- and I think that's still the case, he pointed
out that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American society.
So we have to look at American society as it really is. That he was trying to make it into something that was his ideal of -- you know, the last book
he wrote was where do we go from here, chaos or community?
And he wrote that after the passage of civil rights laws and he said that we have a -- as a nation, we have to decide whether we're going to be a
community and really come together and that's putting that by integration.
[14:25:04]It's not just on the surface, but at a deeper level, or there's going to be chaos.
AMANPOUR: Yes, we're still pondering, obviously aren't we, the -- the -- the choice, chaos or community.
CARSON: I don't think we've answered his question.
AMANPOUR: Well, right, exactly. And -- and just finally, you along with others, like the poet Maya Angelou, chose the words that were going to be
on his memorial, the one, the big white statue that's in Washington right now.
What were the words that you chose? What was particularly meaningful for you?
CARSON: Well the -- the words that were supposed to be on the side of -- of the -- the memorial were the words from the opening of his I Have a
Dream speech, where he talks about a big promissory note.
And what he meant was that a promise of the nation had made in its own Declaration of Independence that there were these inalienable rights of
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
And those were human rights ideals, and I -- I thought of the monument as Martin Luther King looking across the title basin at Thomas Jefferson and
talking to the architects of the republic, and saying that you have not lived up to this ideal that justified the creation of the United States.
And I think that that was his primary message throughout his life, is that we have these ideals as Christians, as religious people, as Americans, and
perhaps throughout the world we have these ideals that we profess, but we're not living up to that.
AMANPOUR: All right.
CARSON: And I thinks that's always the job of -- of the minister.
AMANPOUR: Indeed, and -- and it's good to leave us with that thought, that ideals are there to be realized. Professor Carson, thank you so much, and
that is it for our program tonight. Remember you can always listen to our podcasts and see us online at amanpour.com.
And of course you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.