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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  July 18, 2020 12:00am-2:00am PDT

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justice. and the country has still not achieved itself. the pathway of progress is under construction. you have to roll up your sleeves and continue the work. >> i'm fired up. i'm fired up. >> i'm ready to march. >> and good evening, once again, day 1275 of the trump administration, 109 days to go until our presidential election as we come on the air tonight "the washington post" is on the board with a new story, a report out this evening that offers a very telling portrait of this president exactly during these unprecedented times, and we quote. trump in recent weeks, "the post" reports, has been committing less of his time and energy to managing the pandemic according to advisers. one of these advisers said the president, quote, is not really working this anymore. he doesn't want to be distracted by it.
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this comes as we enter yet another july weekend once again in sad record territory. that's because we have just recorded 75,820 new cases of coronavirus in our country in a single day, and that's a single-day record for the second day in a row. the curve showing the daily caseload keeps on going up. we're well past 3.6 million new infections now with nearly 140,000 deaths. tonight dr. anthony fauci, who the white house has been keeping off of television, was allowed to appear on the "pbs newshour" where he promptly gave a blunt assessment of what we need to do right now to stop this spread. >> what we've got to do is reset. you may need to pull back a bit on a phase. you don't necessarily need to lock down, but you've got to do three or four or five things that are absolutely critical,
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judy, because we know they work. and that is universal wearing of masks. stay away from crowds. close the bars. my main concern right now is i want to get that curve down to a really low level. if we go into the late fall and winter at that baseline level, as cases emerge, it will be infinitely easier to contain them than trying to chase them in a mitigation. >> tony fauci talking to judy woodruff tonight on pbs. you may recall late last month, fauci told congress we could see as many as 100,000 cases a day. we are indeed getting closer to that number every day. florida remains the nation's epicenter. more than 11,400 new cases reported just today. miami beach has now imposed an 8:00 p.m. curfew. it's a start. broward county has followed suit while also closing bars, ordering masks to be worn in certain areas, limiting social
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gatherings again in certain areas. more than 10,000 new infections were reported today in texas. now officials are struggling with the grim task of dealing with the growing number of bodies. the federal government today sending body bags and 14 additional refrigerator trucks. all this week the president has largely avoided the topic of the surge in covid-19 cases. he continues to focus on his push to reopen the nation's economy. we just heard dr. fauci recommend masks to avoid another shutdown. the cdc has made the same recommendation. the president has now given fox news his opinion. >> i don't agree with the statement that if anybody wear a mask, everything disappears. hey, dr. fauci said don't wear a mask. our surgeon general, terrific guy, said don't wear a mask. everybody was saying don't wear a mask. all of a sudden, everybody's got to wear a mask and as you know, masks cause problems too. with that said, i'm a believer
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in masks because i think masks are good. >> so while there won't be anything close to a national mask mandate, you may recall trump did wear one last saturday during a visit to walter reed hospital. still more retailers are joining the list of mask-required stores including lowe's and home depot. they join target and cvs and others. we also have an updated snapshot of how americans view trump's leadership during this public health crisis. only 38% of those questioned in a new "washington post"/abc news poll say they approve. 60% now say they do not. 64% say they don't trust what trump says about the outbreak. nbc news reporting his top aides are now divided about how the president should be dealing with all this. some are urging him to stay on the sidelines. others want him to be more visible and outspoken as he has been about reopening our schools. tonight "the washington post" reports the white house is
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blocking cdc director robert redfield from testifying at a house hearing next week on the subject of how schools can safely reopen in the fall. the cdc, as you'll recall, was expected to issue their guidance this week. it was promised to us by mike pence, but that's been delayed until the end of the month. there are a couple other headlines tonight. secretary of defense mark esper has taken steps that essentially ban the confederate flag from military installations. he did it in the gentlest way possible by detailing which flags can be displayed. he omitted the confederate flag from the list. there are also the alarming images out of portland, oregon, about the militarized anonymous federalized agents picking up and detaining protesters in unmarked vehicles. we have much more on that story tonight including the mayor of portland, oregon, standing by to talk with us. one more thing.
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there was another update on the health of ruth bader ginsburg today. the 87-year-old justice revealed she's being treated for a recurrence of cancer, this time on her liver apparently. she says she'll keep her workload at the supreme court, has no plans to retire. ginsburg was admitted to a johns hopkins facility earlier this week for an unrelated infection. she has since been released. it's a lot on a friday night. here for our leadoff discussion, annie karni, white house reporter with "the new york times." jonathan karl, chief white house correspondent for abc news, but he has a book out which is why we're able to talk to him on our broadcast. it is called "front row the at the trump show." also back with us, dr. anne rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at ucla where she also runs the university's center for global and immigrant health, specializing in emerging infectious diseases. good evening and welcome to you
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all. annie karni, i'd like to begin with you. and the question is this. the new polling on this pandemic shows it closing in, maybe even to reduce it to political terms, around the president. if you want to look at us as a red and blue country, some of it is because the disease is entering what we are identifying as red states, turning them red on the covid-19 map. here is a report from the poll itself. the partisan gap in infection fears has closed somewhat in the past two months as outbreaks have moved from urban, predominantly democratic areas to a broader swath of the country including republican areas of the sun belt and the south. the share of republicans who are at least somewhat worried has risen from 44% to 54%. annie, significant, an 11-point rise. >> it's huge, and it's not
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surprising that this would really strike home with people when they see it in their own communities. i mean that's -- and we're seeing it also -- we saw this at the tulsa rally that trump tried to have last month where what happened there was that the campaign severely underestimated how fearful the president's own supporters were about getting sick and booked a huge stadium that was more than half empty when the president spoke there. this is just the latest example that the reality of this situation is something that from the very beginning of this pandemic, the president and his aides have not been able to talk their way out of, to spin their way out of, to hope that it just goes away. this is affecting his own supporters, and the president is trying to forge ahead holding campaign events. he wants to hold an in-person convention, and the reality of this pandemic is making it increasingly clear that it's almost impossible for him to go
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forward as he wants to right now. >> jon karl, what about we members of the public during the greatest public health crisis of the modern era in our country? what about the white house coronavirus task force? is it still a thing? do they still meet? do they still carry out their duty to brief the president? is the reporting true that he hasn't attended a task force meeting himself since april? >> the task force is still there. they still work. the vice president still convenes them. they almost never have direct contact, though, with the president of the united states who has, as you know, just the day before yesterday talked to dr. fauci, the leading expert on all of this for the first time in more than a month. and publicly the president hasn't appeared with that task force for ages. in fact, over the past month, brian, the past month as this virus has raged, as we've seen
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spikes throughout much of the country, increasing infections, increasing hospitalizations, and now we're seeing an increase in death rates, the president over that period of time over the past month has only had three events that were related in any way whatsoever to the pandemic. he has had events on just about every other topic that he wants his campaign to be focused on, but he has stayed away from anything related to this virus. >> anne rimoin, talk about your state of california. it's been surging. to those of us out east, especially in the new york metropolitan area, as things moved west, california seemed to us so cautious, and yet now looking at the numbers, it looks like so many of these other states with cases of reopening-itis. >> you know, brian, you're absolutely right. we did a great job at the beginning.
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we shut down. we did everything that we possibly could to slow the spread of the virus, and that's what we did. but then we made the fatal error of opening up too soon. this virus is only going to stop spreading when we have herd immunity, and we are nowhere near this point. the deal is we got one way out of this, and that is by clamping down and using all the tools in our toolbox right now to be able to stop spread of the virus. and that goes -- you know this drill -- masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, limiting contact. >> so, annie karni, the math of this presidential campaign, in the past 24 hours we've heard the president warning they're going to destroy the suburbs. we heard mike pence today in the midwest say that this won't be a safe country under joe biden. they're going to go deep on the demographic they've got and test the math of their hoped for silent majority?
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>> i think that is clearly what the plan is. the president outlined the new campaign mantra in the speech he gave on july 4th at mount rushmore, which was a pretty divisive address where he really wants to talk about tearing down monuments. he wants to talk about the protesters. he wants to talk about cancel culture. this is where the conversation -- where he's directing conversation away from the pandemic. the problem is that his poll numbers are falling, and this is where you mentioned at the top of the show the disagreement among advisers and the white house about what he should be doing. today kellyanne conway came out and said that the president was doing better when he was holding the daily coronavirus task force briefings, and he should bring those back. this, to me, was a tell of how
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many -- how they lack good options right now because those coronavirus task force briefings where they ran two hours and the president would fight with reporters, they were pulled down after aides and donors and allies begged the president to stop doing those because he was hurting himself. now ignoring the pandemic appears to be hurting himself, and just talking about these culture wars is hurting themselves to the point where some advisers want some version of acknowledgement of this health crisis to come back. they don't have a lot of good options on the table for how to resuscitate this re-election campaign. >> so, jonathan karl, because while we may not be abc news, nothing gets past us around here, there we were last night reporting on the story, the superb reuters still photo of the giant vinyl binder that kayleigh mcenany brings out to the podium in the briefing room every day. and we're looking at the cross tabs, and yet it was interesting to see golf and goya and fauci
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and mueller misspelled. but there unmistakably was karl, front row. what gives you your own cross tab, and what do you imagine it says in that chapter? >> i can only -- i can only imagine. there was also one called "absurd." i don't know if there's any overlap between those two cross tabs. look, i came out and was very critical of the press secretary for holding briefings that seemed to me to be more like political events, like staged political events, attempting to undermine the press, the reporters in the room rather than inform them about what the president's up to. and i don't think that was -- that was particularly appreciated, but, you know, i feel strongly about this, brian. i've been in that room under 15 different press secretaries now, and, you know, every press secretary represents the president in the best possible
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light. but press secretaries are public servants. they aren't campaign spokespeople, and the credibility really, really matters, especially in a time like this. and, you know, you mentioned the attacks on dr. fauci. just this week the press secretary said that the idea that there's any tension between fauci v. the president couldn't be further from the truth. i mean as she was saying that, peter navarro was sending his op-ed off to the new york -- to "usa today." dan scavino, the deputy communications director, a guy who is as close to the president as anybody in that white house, was, you know, putting on his facebook feed cartoons mocking fauci. the press office itself was sending out talking points critical of the leading infectious disease expert, who is advising this president, who is advising this white house. so, you know, i imagine some kind of a response to that might
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have been in that tab, but who knows? >> indeed. jonathan karl, you're so right. and our language and wording has had to migrate with the times, and we don't say things plainly enough, often enough. but make no mistake, there was a hit out on fauci from inside the west wing of the white house. that much was clear. hey, anne rimoin, it is also clear the white house is blocking cdc information from the public during a public health crisis. that should be said clearly. imagine withholding new standards and guidelines for returning to school and imagine, anne, being the head of a local school board, remembering that schools are decided locally still in our country despite the president's threats. what a choice, what a personal and economic choice this is for all parents.
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what an enormous choice this is for school districts who need all the information they can get. >> brian, you're absolutely right. the cdc is the organization that the world has looked to historically as the gold standard, giving us the best information possible about how we move forward. we are literally sidelining the most important public health institution in the world and leaving it just out open in the air trying to decide what to do. the fact of the matter is we all want the kids back in school. we all do. but we can't do it if we don't have the rate of infection down and have really good guidelines in place and the funding in place to be able to enforce those guidelines right now either. the fact of the matter is we are really just -- we're sailing in uncharted territory with no
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captain at the helm. i mean it's a very disturbing moment. we need leadership, and we need guidance for this whole country. we need a national strategy to keep pushing us forward. and without it, we are literally at sea. >> great thanks to our big three on a friday night after the week we've had. annie karni, anne rimoin, and jonathan karl, look at you with your own cross tab. we knew you when. coming up after our first break, in another country, we might call it elements of a military junta. camouflaged troops in combat gear with no markings jumping out of unmarked vehicles on city streets, taking people into custody. but, no, we just call it a week night in portland, oregon. the mayor of that city is standing by to talk to us about who they might be and what on earth they are doing on the streets of his city. and later on, is history repeating itself or worse?
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the man who wrote the book on the great influenza is here. he has an alarming new warning for us about those days recorded in the black-and-white pictures and what they might have to do with the year 2020. all of it as "the 11th hour" gets under way on this friday night.
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the federal government chooses to deploy troopers on our streets, as you mentioned, which is purely political theater. it's not about public safety, and it's certainly not about
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problem-solving. this is a total and complete distraction from the trump administration's failure to lead a national covid-19 response. >> oregon governor kate brown demanding the federal government remove its militarized anonymous federal agents from the streets of portland. administration officials say the feds were deployed after 49 days of what they say has been violence and vandalism nonstop during black lives matter protests. video captured the camouflaged forces without any markings who refused to identify themselves, driving unmarked vehicles, teargassing protesters, loading them into unmarked vans. one protester armed with only a boombox was shot in the head last weekend with a non-lethal weapon. his mother told thor ghosnian, quote, his face and skull were fractured and that he finished facial reconstruction surgery sunday morning. coat, he still has a tube in his skull to drain the blood. we welcome to this broadcast, a
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man in the middle. the democratic mayor of portland, oregon, ted wheeler. mr. mayor, where did these guys come from? who are they, and under what authority are they in your city? >> so these are federal troops. they've been sent here by donald trump. they are sent here amidst increasing rhetoric from the trump administration. you'll recall last week president trump said he would, quote, dominate protesters. he's making good on that threat by sending his troops to cities like portland, oregon. and we've made it very clear they're not needed here. they're not wanted here, and we want them to leave. they're escalating what's an already tense situation, and frankly they're making things much worse. >> is it true that your p.d. can't handle it? what legal right do they have to -- again, coming in unmarked themselves, no visible identification in unmarked vehicles and putting people in
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the back of minivans. >> yeah, the tactics being used here by the trump administration and the troops he's sent there, they're abhorrent. to send these vehicles out, they're unmarked, to have people literally grabbed off the streets, pulled into these vehicles and apparently done so -- they're doing so without any probable cause whatsoever, this is nothing short of an abuse of police authority. this is being coordinated from the white house. it's being done to bolster the president's failing campaign, and this is a time when americans need to wake up to what's happening right here on our streets but not exclusively in portland. it's happening all over the country in other cities, and this is a threat. this is a direct threat to american democracy. so we're unified here in portland from our federal officeholders to our governor, to our state and our local officials, and we're saying to the federal government, take these troops out of here. we don't want them here.
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we don't need them here, and they're making an already tense situation much, much worse. >> i want to show you something ardent trump backer and acting deputy secretary of homeland security kent cuccinelli said tonight. we'll talk about it on the other side. >> well, there are people attacking our democracy, and they're in the streets of portland with the encouragement of mayor wheeler. and they get to roam free by and large without consequence. they're coming to attack our democracy at its base. they don't respect elections. they don't respect the law, and they want to tear it all down. and mayor wheeler is right there with them. >> now, mr. mayor, you're a capable guy. if memory serves, stanford, columbia, harvard, and you have climbed mt. everest. are you not capable of keeping the peace on the streets of portland, oregon, without outside help in this form? >> well, i wish the acting
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secretary had done his homework before he sent his troops here. the fact of the matter was that for the better part of a week, the situation in our city was de-escalated. the energy was coming out of the nightly vandalism and in some cases violence that we were seeing. the crowds were thinning out. our police bureau and our local law enforcement partners and state partners de-escalated the situation by pulling back. things were going well enough that we predicted we would have this all done by the weekend. and instead what happened was president trump sent his troops in. dhs sent their troops in. they shot an unarmed demonstrators in the head, a nonviolent demonstrator, and blew the entire thing back up. so this weekend we're expecting much more not as a result of anything we've done locally, but as a result of the kind of tactics that you're showing on the screen right now. these are the kind of tactics that you would see in a banana republic. no probable cause.
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no marked vehicles. no identification of who these people are. we don't know what policies they're acting under, what directives they're acting under, why they're doing the things they're doing, or who's going to be held accountable. and, again, i would just say if americans think this can't happen in your city, think again because the trump administration, they're on the hunt. they're on the hunt for anything they can do to bolster that man's failing campaign. >> how about confronting them, meeting them with bright lights and a bullhorn and showing the people in portland that you can demand identification, demand to know who they are, where they're from? the reports are they're with customs and border patrol, which would make as much sense as the bureau of prison troops that were in lafayette park. >> so a bullhorn's a good start, but what we're doing as a state, from our federal officeholders
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to our state officeholders to our local officeholders, we're using the bullhorn of the national media, and i'm doing it right now. what i'm telling americans is these kind of banana republic tactics being used by the trump administration, they are putting at risk the lives of our residents, the lives of our local law enforcement, who say they don't want or need these troops here either. and ultimately this is a threat to our democracy. and this is an opportunity for all of us as americans to wake up and say, we do not want these kind of tactics in our communities. so i'm saying once again right here and now, we don't want those federal troops. we don't need those federal troops. and we want them to either stay in their federal building, or we want them to leave. >> ted wheeler, the mayor of portland, oregon, who again has his hands full on the streets of that city. mr. mayor, thank you very much for making time for us. >> thank you, brian. we ask for the attention of our audience at this moment for terrible news just in to us and just confirmed by us.
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the death of legendary georgia democratic congressman and civil rights icon john lewis. we have a look back at his extraordinary life and times from nbc news correspondent geoff bennett. >> reporter: congressman john lewis was often called the conscience of congress, known as a moral leader who commanded respect from democrats and republicans, seen as one of the last unifying forces in national politics. lewis was one of ten children born to sharecroppers in rural alabama in 1940. he grew up on his family's farm and attended segregated public schools. lewis said he was inspired as a young boy by the activism surrounding the montgomery bus boycott and sermons by the reverend dr. martin luther king jr. which he heard on the radio. >> if the spirit moves us to, we have a right to march at night anytime we want to march. [ applause ]
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>> reporter: all of it spurring him to become part of the civil rights movement. organizing sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in nashville, tennessee. in 1961, joining in the freedom rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the south. >> i was not concerned about making history. i just wanted to change things. >> reporter: while still in his 20s, john lewis became a nationally recognized leader. >> i grew in the movement to accept the way of love, the way of peace, the way of non-violence, the way of forgiveness. >> reporter: by 1963, he was dubbed one of the big six leaders of the civil rights movement. at the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic march on washington. >> i have a dream today. >> reporter: but it was in 1965 when lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the civil rights movement. he led more than 600 peaceful protesters against the edmund
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pettus bridge in selma, alabama, marching in support of voting rights. the group brutally beaten by alabama state troopers in what became known as bloody sunday. >> i lost consciousness. 50 years later, i don't recall how i made it back across that bridge to the little church that we had left from. >> reporter: news broadcasts and photographs of the cruelty helping to hasten the passage of the voting rights act of 1965. >> we were taught never to become bitter, never to hate. >> reporter: john lewis' activism continued in congress. >> we have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence. >> reporter: in 2016, after a mass shooting at an orlando nightclub killed 49 people, lewis led a house sit-in trying to force a vote on gun legislation. john lewis often spoke of the good trouble he caused in the 1960s and in the political fights since, invoking the moral
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courage that fueled his lifelong fight for civil rights. >> when you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something. >> reporter: geoff bennett, nbc news, washington. >> it was indeed a gut punch when we learned his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer just a matter of months ago. but he faced it with the same courage and fortitude he needed to get through the civil rights struggle. it is indeed hard to believe we still have black-and-white still photos, black-and-white news reels of the blows he suffered to the head. he came within an inch of losing his life that day. i suppose they can't waste any time for what could be among the most fitting tributes, and that would be the quick renaming of the edmund pettus bridge in his
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honor as has been discussed. we are fortunate to be joined by melissa murray. she's an nyu law professor who clerked for now justice sonia sotomayor while on the u.s. court of appeals level. also with us, eugene robinson, the pulitzer prize-winning columnist for "the washington post." professor, i'd like to begin with you. your reaction again to this gut punch of a bit of news on friday night, to his life and his legacy. >> well, it's a really regrettable bookend to what has been a sad day. we learned this morning that reverend c.t. vivian, who was also one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, passed away. and to find out again at the end of today that john lewis has been taken is also a gut-wrenching blow. so this is incredibly sad news. >> also you mentioned both of these men, both of them recipients of the presidential medal of freedom. it took a while in many cases, in cases all throughout the struggle, for great men and
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women to get recognition. it is taking a while yet, and it is one of the reasons americans of all stripes are still in our city streets. >> that's certainly the case. justice is an ongoing process, and john lewis reminded us of that throughout his remarkable career in congress as well as before that when he was a stalwart of the civil rights movement. but, again, the arc of justice bends, and we keep moving to the moral center of the universe, and the work continues to be done. and as he noted earlier this year, the work that we're seeing on the streets in places like portland and throughout the united states is exactly the kind of work we need to do as a nation to reach a greater period of reconciliation and to try and remedy some of the wrongs of our past. it's hard work, but it's work worth doing, the kind of good trouble that he would have
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reveled in. >> eugene robinson, there were 435 members of the house of representatives, but let's be honest. one of them was different. >> yes. he was -- congressman lewis was one of the greatest americans. he was. this is a tremendous loss for this country, and it -- i am very sad to mark his passing. he was -- he was such an inspiration. that phrase, getting in good trouble, he always used that, and he always told crowds, audiences, especially young people, get in the way. get in good trouble. get in the way. keep getting in the way. and if you think about it, i mean he was -- that protest was -- he understood how american protest was and kind of in many ways the soul of this
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country, what this country is about, how this country was born and how it has gradually, one hopes, been improved over the years. when you think of the arc of his life from student leader of the civil rights movement and then through all those years in congress working, always working, working so diligently, my wife, who knew him, once was just talking the other day about having visited him once in his office in the capitol and looking at the view he had down the mall toward the lincoln
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memorial and of him marveling that he had -- the arc that his life had taken, that it had taken him from the poverty of his young years in the south and the discrimination and the oppression to that seat of power. and that journey, you know, had so much to do with him and with his energy and his commitment and his relentlessness and his wisdom. he was one of the greatest americans. he really was, and he will be so sorely missed. >> eugene, what you just mentioned, which is a towering modesty on top of all of his
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achievements was on display to all visitors. he would find a way to say to whoever was in his presence, whoever was in his office, anytime he was reminded of the trappings that came with the job of a very senior member of congress, he would always find a way to say some version of, yeah, i know. who would have thunk it? >> he always did. he would tell stories of his youth and the way he grew up, you know, out in the yard as a child preaching to the chickens. but, you know, when he walked around capitol hill, walking with him was different because he was such an icon. so people recognized other members of congress and greeted them and said hello with respect
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and with excitement. but if you were walking with him and passers-by saw john lewis, there was respect and love and awe at him and his contribution to making america a better nation and to making us all better that was different from the reaction that any other member of congress that i know of received on capitol hill. he was -- it's a cliche to say he was special, but he really was and a gentle and nice man as well. never high and mighty. always willing to lend his energy and his name and his
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prestige and status and all of that to a good cause. never too weary to keep fighting. and may he rest in power. we are a lesser nation tonight with his passing. >> professor murray, eugene raises a great point. there have been members of congress dwarfed in importance and intellect and heft by john lewis, for whom job one is making sure you know they're here, they're in the room. that wasn't his style at all. here's a guy who was -- had a personal role in an entire movement.
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but, again, fast-forward to modern times. he realized early on black lives matter was not a moment. it, in fact, was a movement all its own. >> that's certainly true, and it's worth noting that during his youth when he was the chairman of the student nonviolent coordinating committee and he was marching with dr. king and he was working for civil rights in the south, he was treated in much the same way the trump administration regards the black lives matter protesters throughout the country. he was a rabble-rouser. he was someone who was working against america. obviously we know now in retrospect that nothing could have been further from the truth. he was actually working for the greatest ideals of america. but in that moment, he was someone who was viewed as a threat and as an enemy, and i think he recognized with black lives matter that the work of each movement in each moment is never really understood in that moment but only later when the work comes to fruition. and his work certainly came to fruition.
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he inspired generations and continued to do great work in congress. and, again, eugene is exactly right. we are a lesser nation tonight for his passing. >> and, eugene, you also mentioned this. he was willing to be an inside player. my goodness, he had his name on congressional letterhead. he had seniority in congress. his office was constantly full of students from his home district in georgia, say nothing of students from all over the country who wanted an audience with him. and yet he -- he still was that kid in the tan raincoat and the backpack, that kid whose life almost ended as a young man. he was still willing to sit in and sit down at the drop of a hat. you gave him a cause, you had a brother in that cause. >> you certainly did, and because he saw how much work was yet to be done, was left to be done. and in assessing, not every leader from the time of the civil rights movement had the patience and the tenacity and
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the determination to do what he did, to rise in congress, you know, with his laborious process. you come into congress, into the house of representatives, you have no seniority. you have a closet for an office, and nobody pays any attention to you, and you work your way laboriously and slowly up to where you do have power and influence and clout. and he had the patience and the commitment to do that in a way that not all of the civil rights leaders from that generation did. he saw that as his contribution.
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it wasn't from the pulpit. it wasn't from, you know, in front of the television cameras. he was -- he was about getting the work done, often in the back rooms, often unsung, but getting the work done that he knew was important. >> we're now joined by a second pulitzer prize recipient, the historian and author jon meacham, longtime friend of this network and this broadcast. jon, your reaction to the passing of john lewis. >> it's an extraordinarily sad day for america and for the cause of the beloved community,
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which is one way of talking about the kingdom of god on earth. john lewis was a minister of the gospel. he was an american of unmatched stature, i believe, and he's the only man i've ever met who met the classical christian definition of a saint. he was willing to die for his beliefs. he shed blood, and not long ago i was talking to bernard lafayette, a classmate of his at american baptist theological seminary, which is this small seminary on a hill across the river from nashville, from the stores where lewis began his protests. and dr. lafayette said, i'm just amazed john made it. and diane nash, who was with him
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in the beginning, an activist living in chicago now, said that she was -- that she always thought that john was a figure really out of the new testament. he was someone who bore witness to the best parts of us, and to do that, he had to confront the worst of us. and from the -- you know, he was born february 21st, 1940, in troy, alabama. he didn't have to imagine what slavery was like because his great-grandfather had been born in slavery in alabama. and he went from that farm that you and gene were talking about to the height of not worldly power. that's not quite right.
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he always believed that the temporal could be a lot closer to -- religious. and i think that's one of the most extraordinary contributions anyone's ever made in american history. >> jon meacham, when did you last see and speak with john lewis? >> about 3 1/2 weeks ago. i met him for the first time 30 years ago on an election night in 1992, and we talked for a long -- we talked and got to know each other over the years. and i had always wanted to write about him, and so the past few months, i don't want to say we've collaborated because he's a big figure than i'll ever be. but i decided to write a book about the power of hope and the uses really of what faith can be
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in politics through the story of his life. and we spent a lot of time because of the virus, because of his illness, we did it all on the phone in these years. but as you know, brian, being around him was a kind of a transporting experience. you felt you were with someone who was conversant with the angels. and he wasn't perfect. you know, he could be prideful. he could be stubborn. but on the things that mattered, on the things that we celebrate
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about this country, justice for all, equality, trying to live up to what we said we were devoted to in the beginning, but we have not been, it was john lewis who is a biblical figure who led us to a better place. and the last conversation we had, which as i say, was probably 3 1/2 weeks ago, it was about how -- i said, what would you say to someone who would be your age when you -- is your age now that when you started? because he started when he was a freshman in college in nashville. and he said, do what you -- if you see trouble, if you see injustice, speak up. speak out. stand up. keep going. the other story just very quickly, brian, so talking to him, you know, all the old stories were in his head. again, a kind of a biblical figure. one thing, like figures from the bible, his family, he grew up being robert lewis, and his
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family called him robert, still did. he became john when he joined the movement, and there's a biblical tradition of that, whether you're elijah or abraham or peter, where you receive a different name when you enter into a great mission. and one of the -- and he had a period of exile when he lost the control of the chairman step of the student nonviolent coordinating committee in 1966. and, remember, john lewis, who now seems this figure of the establishment, longtime congressman, we see the images of him in the corridors of power. he was the radical in 1963. when he went to the march on washington, he was the last surviving speaker at the march on washington.
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so now we have no one who was there on that epic august day. the kennedy administration had stationed people inside the lincoln memorial, ready to cut the mic and play mahalia jackson's "he's got the whole world in his hands" over the loudspeakers if lewis became too radical. they were that worried about what he was going to say. but what he was saying was this fundamentally human message, which was we all have to be treated with dignity. and he was willing to shed his blood, whether it was in nashville or the freedom rides or rock hill, south carolina, or of course selma, alabama. i was with a number of people on the bridge with him, which was his last time there in march. and that's what he said. he said, we just got to keep moving.
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we've got to keep marching. >> jon, right now feels so bad. do you think he went to his reward thinking that maybe he got us through the worst of it? >> you know, he believed something that honestly i don't, and we had a lot of conversations about it. he believed that if enough of us oriented our hearts and our minds to do the right thing, that we could actually bring about the reign of justice and the kingdom of heaven on earth. i'm more of a tragic guy. i don't think we can do that on this side of paradise. congressman lewis fervently believed the opposite. he believed that the beloved community, if you and i and everybody else did the right
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thing, if we treated each other with love and respect, if we actually followed the dictates of the sermon on the mount, if we believed what the bible taught us and we put it into action, that as the prophets said, justice would run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. and that wasn't rhetoric to him. that wasn't sunday morning. he was not a stained glass christian. he was a christian of the streets. he was a christian of substance. and the last public thing he -- the last two public things he did is he went to the black lives matter plaza outside washington, outside the white house, and stood there and believed anew that if we do the right thing, if we listen to the still, small voice of conscience, we will reach the kingdom. the second thing he did was a virtual town hall with president obama, and he repeated that
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message again. and president obama wonderfully said in that town hall that, you know, john's tough, but he's a little dude. and the fact that he did so much as a young man and was willing to face that violence but was not a particularly physically imposing presence shows us the power of example. the story of john lewis will be told as long as the republic survives, and if the republic falls apart, we're going to have to tell that story in order to put it back together again. >> a couple things here for our viewers just joining us. we've lost a giant at the age of 80. just received word john lewis has died. we've been listening to the historian and author jon meacham, who has been collecting
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john lewis' story these past few weeks and months. at the top of the hour in four minutes, we want to let you know we have prepared an hour-long look at the life, legacy, and times of john lewis. but in the intervening minutes before the top of the hour, let's bring in my friend, joy reid, to add her voice to this remembrance tonight. joy? >> hey, brian. yeah, this is a -- this is a tough one, you know, and i think, you know, coming one day after c.t. vivian died, we're losing this whole generation of great men. and it's devastating. it really, truly is. and just thinking about john lewis, you know, he's 11 years younger than dr. king, and i love hearing jon meacham talk about, you know, his grace and graciousness. but when he was young, he was feisty, john lewis. he was the one who dr. king had to say hold on, back down a
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little bit because what he wanted to say to john f. kennedy at the march on washington was fiery. he wanted to indict him. he wanted to rebuke him for not doing enough to save black lives. if you want to talk about black lives matter, he was the original black lives matter activist. he was so much like these young people that we're seeing marching in the streets today. he was insistent. he was making demands, not requests, and he was unabashed in his belief that equality had to happen now, that black people shouldn't have to wait for it. and i think in combination with dr. king, he was just one of the absolute, absolute greats. it's a huge loss for the country. >> joy, if we're looking for good news, he lived to see the words "black lives matter" on 16th street right at the white house in his lifetime. >> yeah, absolutely. i can remember watching him interact with black lives matter activists and, you know,
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reminding him that he was them. you know, he was looked at by a lot of younger activists as part of the hold school, but, no. he really, literally was them. and i was lucky enough as jon was to be in selma in march. he wasn't supposed to be there. he actually was not meant to actually show up on the bridge. and when word got out that he was actually going to be there, this crush of people who just wanted to see and hear him, and i feel so blessed that i got to, you know, shine my camera up there and record that little piece of video when he just reminded us to get in good trouble. what a blessing, you know, to have had him in this world. you know, i just think we were all just graced with his presence, blessed by his presence, and his memory will truly be a blessing to all of us. >> joy reid among the voices contributing. professor melissa murray kind enough to talk to us tonight. eugene robinson was the first of
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our pulitzer prize recipients we were able to reach by phone. then along came jon meacham to add his extraordinary voice to this shocking piece of breaking news. the death of john lewis tonight. and our friend, joy reid, of course. and at the end of the day, at the end of this night and here on the east coast, the closing seconds of this, another wild week, what i raised with joy is important. john lewis, it's hard to believe he was alive and with us and standing with the assistance of a cane at times on 16th street, which really abuts at lafayette square after all of that violence, all of those federal forces marching on, beating on, firing gas upon peaceful protesters. and of course john lewis knows something of peaceful protests. it is really remarkable that he
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was there. he lived to see three words in yellow on black pavement visible from space, and it will probably be said visible from heaven. they read out "black lives matter." read out, "black lives matter." our hour-long look the at the life and times of john lewis begins now. >> in my younger days, i got arrested and went to jail 40 times and since been in congress another five times, and i may get arrested and go to jail again. >> he's an icon of the civil rights movement. >> they found the power of the human spirit in john lewis, and he came to symbolize the student movement. >> he believed that he could help the country find its soul. >> risking death to fight for
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what's right. >> i did not think john would survive. >> he likes to stir things up. he likes a little drama. >> you know to vote, let us vote! >> john lewis is not about popularity. he's about purpose. >> never give up. >> that's right. >> never give in. >> the 17-term congressman faces a new foe, vowing to battle cancer with the same courage he's used to fight for civil rights. his commitment through the years paved the way for a new generation. >> barack obama does not become president of the united states without a john lewis. >> john lewis led them on a mission to change america. >> our country will never, ever be the same because of what happened on this. ♪
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>> what do we do? >> stand up, fight back! >> reporter: when activists turned out to protest the trump administration's separation of migrant children from their parents in june 2018, congressman john lewis was there. >> now, i'm sick and tired, sick and tired of what has happened to our children, to our babies, being taken from their mothers, from their fathers, separated! it's painful. it's a violation of human rights. >> that's right. >> that's right. >> and none of us who live on this little piece of real estate we call america can be happy or satisfied. >> that's right. >> we have to do something. so, we are prepared to take some action here and now. let's do it! >> you feel like you've been placed here for a reason. you have to disturb the order of the thing. >> one expression that he uses that i love, he says that we
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have to make good trouble. ♪ >> lewis first came up with the phrase as a child in pike county, alabama. >> i didn't like segregation and racial discrimination. i didn't like the signs that said, "white waiting," "colored waiting," "white men," "colored men." so i would come home and ask my mother, my father, my grandparents, why. they would say, "that's the way it is, boy. don't get in the way. don't get in trouble." >> born to share croppers in 1940, john robert lewis was one of ten siblings growing up in the fields of cotton country. as a teenager, he was inspired by the montgomery bus boycott and the sermons of dr. martin luther king jr. on the radio. >> because as long as you sit in the back, you have a false sense of inferiority. and so long as you let the white man sit in the front and push you back there, he has a false sense of superiority. >> at the age of 16, lewis
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challenged segregation laws in his own town. >> we went down to the public library in the little town of troy, alabama, trying to get a library card, trying to check out some books, and we were told by the librarian that the library was for whites only and not for coloreds. and that sent me on a path. >> lewis believed that path would lead him to become a preacher like king. he received a work-study scholarship to american baptist theological seminary in nashville and arrived in 1957. >> john has always had a genuine smile, even a kind of boyishness about him that has made him charming. >> he was a person who was easy to talk to and was always interested in social issues. >> reporter: lewis wanted to join the students beginning to integrate schools across the south. his target -- all-white troy
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state university, just ten miles from his home in alabama. he wrote to dr. king for help. king's deputy sent him a bus ticket to visit montgomery in the spring of 1958, when he was just 18 years old. >> and dr. king said, "are you the boy from troy? are you john lewis?" and i said, "dr. king, i am john robert lewis. i gave him my whole name. but he still called me the boy from troy. >> dr. king told the boy from troy he would need his parents' permission to take on troy state, but they were afraid of the consequences and refused. as lewis returned to nashville, he was determined to do something. and then he met the second role model who would change his life. >> tim lawson came to nashville, and he enrolled as a student at vanderbilt university divinity school. >> this unbelievable young man taught us the philosophy and the
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discipline of nonviolence. and he kept saying "respect the dignity and the worth of every human being, even if someone beats you, throw you in jail. look them in the eye and respect them." >> lawson's group began sit-ins at lunch counters in downtown nashville in early 1960. lewis and the other students filled the counters, tried to order food, and then took whatever abuse was hurled at them. when the 20-year-old lewis was arrested for the first time in february 1960, his parents were shocked. >> like a lot of people of color at that time, they were afraid of what was going to happen. he could die. they could lose land or any number of terrible consequences. >> but lewis and the other students continued their sit-ins. and after months of protests, the politicians and business leaders in nashville agreed to desegregate lunch counters in may 1960. >> we all applauded.
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and here was the situation that turned out right. >> with that success, john lewis was even more inspired to take on jim crow laws that segregated people by race and denied basic rights to african-americans. >> there were many meetings when he would come into the meeting with bandages on his head. he had been in demonstrations and had been beaten. he was determined, though. he never let that stop him. i think you would have had to literally have killed him to have stopped him. coming up -- >> john lewis would put himself on the line, without question. i'm a talking dog. the other issue. oh...i'm scratching like crazy. you've got some allergic itch with skin inflammation. apoquel can work on that itch in as little as 4 hours, whether it's a new or chronic problem. and apoquel's treated over 8 million dogs.
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♪ i could no longer be satisfied or go along with an
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evil system. >> fresh from the student sit-ins in nashville, john lewis found a new way to contribute to the civil rights movement in 1961. a group called the congress of racial equality, or c.o.r.e., put out a call for black and white volunteers to ride buses headed into the jim crow south. traveling together would surely put them all in danger. >> they both applied to go on the original freedom rides. john was accepted because he was 21. i asked my father if i could go. he said, "do you think i'm going to sign your death warrant?" >> despite that warrant, lewis went ahead as one of the original group of 13 freedom riders. they set out from washington, d.c., in may 1961 and were soon met by violence. lewis and another man were viciously beaten in rock hill, south carolina. a few days later, a group of riders was attacked in birmingham.
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another bus was fire-bombed in anniston, alabama. c.o.r.e. canceled the freedom rides. they were just too dangerous. lewis and the other nashville students disagreed with the decision. >> it was right at the heart of what they had been talking about in all their workshops -- we can't let violence stop the movement. we've got to be willing to make whatever sacrifice it takes. >> the nashville student group decided to continue the freedom rides themselves. if the adults refused to ride, the students still would. >> i remember several conversations with the department of justice, and they told me, i just didn't understand that somebody would get killed. and i said, i understand, and all of them understand as well. several of the students who were about to get on the bus gave me sealed envelopes that i was to mail in the event of their
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death. >> they knew how dangerous it was, but they were not afraid. they came prepared to face down the dangers with the power of their souls. >> reporter: despite the violence, john lewis got back on a bus to alabama as one of the new group of student freedom riders. >> they're supposed to have had protection, federal protection. but when we got to montgomery, they disappeared, and we were left in the hands of a mob. i mean, it was terrible. that's when john lewis was beaten and jim zwerg was beaten. >> reporter: the riders kept going, this time with federal guards. eventually, they made it to the dark heart of the south -- jackson, mississippi. there, lewis and the others were arrested for breach of the peace and sent to mississippi's infamous parchman prison. >> it really was like going back
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into the, you know, antebellum plantation. it was a plantation prison. it was a rough experience. >> reporter: more students continued to join the freedom rides, and by the end of the summer, hundreds of them filled parchman and other mississippi jails. >> it bonded them. they said, we went in there 100 little movements on campuses and we came out one big movement and we knew each other. >> the people should be expected to get beaten. they should expect to spend in jail, and it may go beyond the summer when they're in jail. >> reporter: that national movement was called the student nonviolent coordinating committee, or snc. when the chairman resigned in the summer of 1963, the organization turned to john lewis. with his country accent and lack of formal education, some saw him as an unlikely choice. >> they needed a chairman who had fought, who had bled, who had been to jail, who had suffered through every indignity that they were then asking the people in the field to suffer
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through. >> they found the power of the human spirit in john lewis, and he came to symbolize the student movement. >> reporter: almost immediately, lewis was tapped to represent snc at the march on washington. at 23, he would be the youngest speaker at the event. but when people in the kennedy administration and more senior civil rights leaders read his planned speech, they said it was too militant. >> at the end of the speech, i said a day may come when we will not confine our march on washington, but we may be forced to march through the south the way sherman did, nonviolently. >> the image of students at sherman scared the bejesus out of people. so you know, they threatened to pull the plug. and catholic cardinals said i'm not going to introduce if they're going to say something like this. >> dr. king and others came to me and said, "john, for the sake of unity, can we make these
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changes?" and i couldn't have said no to dr. king. and we made the changes. >> let us not forget that we are involved in a sphere of social revolution. >> reporter: even with the compromises, john lewis' speech in august 1963 was fierce, though often forgotten in the shadow of dr. king's "dream." >> we don't want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! [ cheers and applause ] >> reporter: in the years after the march on washington, lewis and snc concentrated on registering black voters. >> and the idea is that we got more people participating in government and bringing about changes if we got more people registered to vote, so they could practice their fundamental rights. >> reporter: in mississippi, during the summer of 1964, the students tried to register voters with violent repercussions. and in selma, alabama, snc
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volunteers set up a voter drive but with few successes. >> the board is not in session this afternoon as you were informed. you came down to make a mockery out of this courthouse, and we're not going to have it. >> reporter: in spring 1965, residents turned to dr. king for help. >> we are tired of having registrars refusing to register us and allow us to vote! >> many times, sncc did a lot of work, but when martin luther king came and the media came, it was, you know, described as martin luther king's work. >> there was always this tendency to want to challenge dr. king's leadership. and john didn't share that. john wanted to change the world and he wasn't thinking about credit. >> martin luther king was his hero and his example and model. >> i think they shared a total
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commitment. there was no moral compromise. they were fearless. >> reporter: when king's group organized a protest march from selma to montgomery in march 1965, sncc refused to join, but john lewis chose to march anyway at the front of the line. >> we're marching today to dramatize to the nation that hundreds and thousands of negro citizens of alabama denied the right to vote. >> reporter: his knapsack held an apple and a toothbrush. he was ready to go to jail, as he had so often before. but he was also prepared for worse. >> john just was always available to his death. and i think it was not that he wanted to do, it was at the basis of his leadership was showing a fearlessness that encouraged others. >> reporter: when the marchers crossed the edmund pettus bridge out of town, a line of state
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troopers confronted them. >> you are ordered to disperse, go home or go to your church. >> reporter: they refused to turn back. the violence was broadcast on national television. >> america's conscience was seared by what they saw that day. and i think it was a transformational moment in american history, because i think that's when the american people said, enough's enough. >> reporter: two weeks later, the group set out again, then joined by thousands of americans from all over the country, inspired by the cause. president lyndon johnson used the public outrage to motivate his proposal of a voting rights act. in a speech to congress on march 15. >> what happened in selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of america. >> the only time i saw martin
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luther king shed a tear, and i wasn't with john, but i bet you he cried, too. >> their cause must be our cause, too. >> was when lyndon johnson closed his speech with "we shall overcome." >> and we shall overcome. [ applause ] coming up -- >> to lose two people that are mine in love was almost too much. wo people that are mine in love was almost too much
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♪ we will use the energy and the resources of our organization to implement the voting bill. >> reporter: but the violence against marchers at the bridge in selma in 1965 helped convince congress to pass the voting rights act, and it secured john lewis' reputation as an icon of the civil rights movement. but that march also signaled a breach between lewis and his group, the student nonviolent coordinating committee. >> i felt at the time that the organization, and maybe even the
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movement, was moving in a different direction. >> reporter: 14 months after the selma march, a more militant faction ousted lewis as chairman, and the group soon began calling for very different tactics. >> violence is a part of america's culture. it is as american as cherry pie. >> reporter: the new rhetoric went against everything in which lewis believed. >> we had been preaching the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence, preaching a sense of doing what we called the beloved community, that we're one people, that we're one family. >> reporter: after 40 arrests and countless beatings in the name of the civil rights movement, john lewis left the group he helped to create, but he continued his work in community organizing and voter registration. >> just because he had this disagreement with an organization, it didn't mean that he had to abandon the ideals of the movement. >> he recognized the problem in america of racism and denial and
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unjust treatment, that he wanted to get the problem solved. >> reporter: while working in the south, 27-year-old john lewis was introduced to the woman who would become his wife, lillian miles. >> i said to myself, this young lady is really hip. and i started talking with her. >> she read everything about john's background and respected him tremendously. >> she was wonderful, beautiful, charming, and she taught me a great deal. >> reporter: within a year, the couple was married. lewis also began a new work assignment in 1968, traveling for robert kennedy's presidential campaign. >> i got to know robert kennedy when he was attorney general. i admired him and i thought he would be a great president. >> reporter: lewis took over the recruitment of black voters for the campaign in several states. >> it was a big deal for robert kennedy, and it was a big deal
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for john lewis. it marked his transition to politics. >> reporter: lewis was at a rally with kennedy on the day his idol, dr. martin luther king jr., was shot. >> martin luther king was shot and was killed tonight in memphis, tennessee. >> reporter: just two months later, the nation still reeling from king's death, kennedy won the california primary. lewis was in the candidate's hotel suite waiting while he gave his victory speech. >> my thanks to all of you. and now it's on to chicago and let's win there. thank you. >> and next thing, it was announced on television that he had been shot. >> is there a doctor in the house? >> and we saw the scene, bobby laying on the floor. we all just broke down and just cried, really. >> reporter: two assassinations, tragedies for the nation, as
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well as personal losses for john lewis, helped set his future course. >> to lose two people that are mine in love was almost too much. and later, i just said, some of us must pick up where dr. king and robert kennedy left off. so, if it hadn't been for them, i'm not so sure that i would have gotten involved in american politics. >> reporter: lewis plotted his entry into politics as he continued his voter registration work in the 1970s. >> it is no longer the drama in the streets. it is in washington. it is in city hall, the state capitols around the south and around this country. >> reporter: he ran for the fifth congressional district in atlanta in 1977 and lost. he went on to serve on the atlanta city council but continued to eye the fifth district. >> right now, it's the highest possibility for a black elected official that would like to move
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up. >> reporter: the seat opened up again in 1986, but there was another sncc veteran running, julian bond, who marched alongside lewis, and at the time, served in the georgia state legislature. >> they were inseparable. they had collaborated virtually on everything for more than 20 years. >> reporter: after a crowded primary, the vote came down to a runoff between the two friends. >> the race was on. each of these men badly wanted this seat, and they were willing to go all out. >> so, tell julian bond, here i come. >> reporter: the runoff divided not just lewis and bond, but black atlanta and veterans of the civil rights movement who knew them both. >> practically every prominent african-american leader in the metropolitan atlanta area was supporting julian bond. john wasn't phased by it. he was determined to outwork julian. >> he was all over the place.
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and i think julian kind of thought that he had it made. >> reporter: bond challenged lewis to a series of television and radio debates. >> and the real issue is which of the two of us, john lewis or julian bond, would make the better legislator. >> julian is so smart, so gifted, spoke so well, and i think he thought that he would outdebate me. >> john was a man who expressed what he believed. he never put on airs. he never pretended. he never tried to please other people. >> you know anything about me, that i'm not up for sale. my vote cannot be bought. >> reporter: as the debates continued, lewis' team encouraged him to raise an issue from the earlier primary, when another candidate had challenged everyone to take a drug test, bond had refused. >> campaign advisers, myself included, had been urging john to issue that challenge to julian. john had resisted.
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and then julian made some comment that john had abandoned the voters of the city. >> you know, if it walks like a duck, it acts like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. >> i said, well, mr. bond, i think you're the one doing the ducking. >> i challenge mr. bond to take a drug test. >> that's okay, john. that's all right. >> reporter: the challenge rocked bond's campaign. and three days later, john lewis won the runoff by four points. >> and i want to thank those folks, those good people who had the courage, the real courage to change their votes in the runoff and vote for me. thank you very much! [ cheers and applause ] >> the sense of shock and absolute surprise in atlanta the night that john lewis won that seat is unlike anything i have ever seen. i mean, people were stunned.
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>> reporter: for the two friends, the damage was done. >> it was hurtful to him. i think he was hurt by the way that john presented those issues. >> their friendship was the price they paid. >> there's been a real strain put on this relationship between the two of us, but you know, time is a great healer, and i'm sure in time, the wounds will heal. >> later, he became very supportive, and our friendship was mended. but he was a good friend. if i had to do it over again, i wouldn't do it. coming up -- >> people died for the right to vote! up -- >> people died for the right to vote businesses are starting to bounce back.
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and voice solution at a great price. call or go online today. we're not on the outside now. we're legislators. we're politicians, trying to use government as an instrument, as a tool to bring about change. >> reporter: after a hard-fought
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campaign, john lewis began his freshman term in congress in january 1987. the 46-year-old was already known for his history in the civil rights movement and wanted to use that influence to become effective in washington. one of his first initiatives was a national museum of african-american history. >> he realized, here is a history that is crucial to understanding who we are as americans, but it's a history that's undervalued, undertaught, and there's not a place to come revel in and understand that history. >> reporter: lewis first introduced his bill in 1988 and then again year after year. >> he's not daunted by long-shot causes. i mean, if he thinks that it's right, he's going to stick with it. >> reporter: more than a decade later, lewis gained an unexpected ally, kansas senator sam brownback. >> i was praying at st. joseph's church, and i got this idea that we should have a museum, an
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african-american museum of history and culture, found that john lewis had tried for a dozen years. and he'd get through one house, but not the other. >> reporter: brownback, one of the more conservative members of the senate, was wary of lewis' history. >> i had a public impression of him, which was pretty fiery. but then when i met with him personally, i found a very thoughtful, enjoyable gentleman that had done a great deal for the country, had a great passion. >> you have people that might not agree on some day-to-day issues, but they find common purpose. >> reporter: the bill to create the museum passed and was signed into law by president george w. bush in 2003, 15 years after john lewis first proposed it. it took another 13 years for the building to be finished. the museum opened on the mall in washington in 2016.
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>> there were some who said it couldn't happen, who said, you can't do it, but we did it. we did it. >> reporter: through the years, lewis established himself as a force in washington. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. >> reporter: a member of the influential ways and means committee, a deputy whip for the democratic party, and as a leader of the congressional black caucus. >> i'm going to change my vote and i'm going to vote for the ruling. >> reporter: but his personal life remained in atlanta with his wife, lillian. the separation wasn't easy. >> lillian didn't like it and complained a lot about it. and then she finally realized that he was wed to that work. >> reporter: lewis traveled to atlanta weekly to see lillian and their son, john miles. >> john miles looked forward to seeing him come home for the weekends. they would do things together as the boys would do sometimes. >> reporter: the couple made the long-distance arrangement work
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for decades, until lillian's death in 2012. atlanta was vital to john lewis, not just as his home, but as his political base. >> anything we need from washington, he's got enough friends to get for us. >> reporter: lewis built relationships with colleagues across the political spectrum, by leading congressional trips to selma and other sites of the civil rights movement. through the faith and politics institute, he traveled with more than 300 politicians over the years. >> when we were going on to those lunch counters or when we were marching -- >> i think he's one of the few people in congress who could bring people from many different parties together and say, let's spend three days wrestling with the past. only john could do that. >> okay. >> reporter: lewis built on those relationships to support his chosen projects. >> he tries to use the influence that he has, the respect that he commands, to advance the causes that he thinks are important and
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that what i think are really about fairness, justice, and equality. >> reporter: and no cause was more important to him than voting rights. >> i happen to believe that the vote is precious. it's almost sacred. it is the most powerful, nonviolent instrument or tool that we have in a democratic society. >> there is a history there with him in terms of ensuring that the '65 voting rights act becomes law. and then in his later life, protecting the gains that were won during the civil rights movement. >> reporter: many of those gains lewis helped win were wiped out in 2013 when a stunning decision by the supreme court reversed decades of federal protection for voters in the south. >> so, i think what the court did today is stab the voting rights act of 1965 in its very heart. >> after what i think is probably one of the worst supreme court decisions over the last 50 years, he sprung into action. >> before the ink was even dry,
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states began to put into force effort to suppress people's voting rights. >> he had worked towards the passage of that legislation to try to put back in place the structure of the voting rights act. >> we've come too far. we've made too much progress, mr. speaker, and we cannot go back. coming up -- >> he's trying to talk directly to young people. he has written a comic book, for crying out loud. en a comic bookr crying out loud. instead of trying to decide "should i invest in stocks or not?"
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i'm dealing with friends, people that i love. >> reporter: after more than 20 years in congress, john lewis faced a difficult choice in the fall of 2007. barack obama was running for president, and the election of an african-american to the nation's highest office would be the culmination of lewis' life work. but early on, the front-runner in the primary race was hillary clinton. >> the clintons were very supportive of him. when john had birthday fund-raisers, president clinton would be there. he just would now want to return the favor, you know. i've got to support clintons. they have been with me every step of the way. >> reporter: when georgia democrats chose obama in their primary in february 2008, lewis
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reconsidered his position. >> as it looked like it was more of a reality about to happen, i think people said, well, you know what, it's time for you to shift and kind of get on board this train. you've been on the right side of history for virtually everything else. you need to be on the right side of history for this. >> reporter: the choice was painful for him. but in the end, lewis gave his full support to the obama campaign. >> i love bill clinton. i love hillary clinton. but something is happening in america. something is unbelievable. >> i, barack hussein obama, do solemnly swear. >> barack obama does not become president of the united states without a john lewis. >> reporter: lewis developed a strong bond with president obama. >> i can kind of tell, you know, when president obama is really listening to somebody, and he really listens to john lewis. >> he is known as the conscience of the united states congress,
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still speaking his mind on issues of justice and equality. >> reporter: despite honors like the 2010 medal of freedom, those who work with lewis say he wears his fame lightly. >> in public life, there are a lot of people that seek to get to the front of the room immediately. not john lewis. it's, for me, pretty astounding. >> first thing that strikes you is his humility. he doesn't come off as a sort of grandiose figure. he comes off as a kind, decent soul. >> part of what makes john humble is he knows who he is, and he knows that he has sacrificed for the greater good, so what else does he have to prove? >> reporter: although he still carries his scars from his days in the movement, lewis is still willing to engage with those who hurt him. >> one of the klans member who beat us in rock hill, south carolina, came to this office many years later and said, "mr. lewis, i've been a member
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of the klan. i'm one of the people that beat you. but i want to apologize. will you forgive me?" his son started crying. he started crying. and i cried with him. it is the power, the way of peace, the way of love, the power of the philosophy of nonviolence. [ applause ] >> thank you, brother. good to see you. >> he epitomizes what the nonviolent movement's all about. it's about soul force. it's the force of the human spirit. >> reporter: as a bridge between the civil rights era and a new generation, lewis found a way to share his experiences when he told his young staffers about a comic book from the movement. >> this little comic book, "martin luther king jr. and the montgomery story" sold for 10 cents. and when we were arrested in nashville, tennessee, almost every single one of us had a copy on us.
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>> i started thinking, why isn't there a john lewis comic book? i had never heard the story of sncc. i had never heard the full depth and breadth of john lewis' story. why didn't anybody tell me that i as a young person had so much power? >> he kept saying to me, "congressman, you should write a comic book." and i said, maybe, but they wouldn't give up. and i finally said, "yes, if you do it with me." >> reporter: the first part of their graphic novel called "march" came out in 2013. wearing an outfit just like the one he wore at the bridge in selma, lewis met his new fans at comic-con. the third book won a national book award in 2016. the first time a graphic novel had ever won. >> i remember going down to the public library, trying to get library cards, and we were told that the library was for whites only and not for coloreds. and to come here and receive
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this award, this honor with these -- it's too much. thank you. >> reporter: in another sign of how far he and the nation had come, john lewis celebrated the 50th anniversary of the selma march with an african-american president, retracing those fateful steps over the edmund pettus bridge. >> his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, and a book on government, all you need for a night behind bars, john lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change america. >> this city, on the banks of the alabama river, gave birth to a movement that changed this nation forever. our country will never, ever be the same because of what happened on this bridge. coming up --
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>> we're going to continue to push, to pull, to stand up, and, if necessary, to sit down! , to ! i'm bad.
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you may pay as little as zero dollars for botox®. ask your doctor about botox® for chronic migraine. you got this. in my younger days, i got arrested and went to jail 40 times and since been in congress another five times, and i may get arrested and go to jail again. >> reporter: during his 30-plus years in congress, john lewis has joined protests on darfur, apartheid, and immigration. >> he'll join a march or a demonstration or whatever in a minute, because that's where he got his start, and that's still in his blood. >> i tell my colleagues in the congress, do something. you cannot afford to be still. >> reporter: congresswoman katherine clark decided to do
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something after 49 people were killed at the pulse nightclub in orlando in june 2016. she wanted to force a vote on gun control legislation, but the leadership wouldn't allow it, so she turned to lewis for ideas. >> john said in his very quiet way, we have to do something dramatic. then he paused and he said, we have to do a sit-in. and when john lewis recommends that you do a sit-in, the only answer is yes, any way that i can help. >> reporter: congressman lewis stepped onto the house floor on june 22nd. >> we're calling on the leadership of the house to bring common-sense gun control legislation to the house floor. give us a vote! let us vote! >> reporter: then lewis and his group began an unprecedented sit-in, to try and force a vote. >> they are not trying to actually get this done through regular order. no, instead, they're staging protests. they're trying to get on tv.
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the chair wishes to make an announcement regarding the decorum in the house chamber. >> reporter: the republican leadership shut off c-span to try and block the protesters' access to the public. >> fortunately, we had members who had picked that up with facebook live, periscope, other social media tools. >> what made it so powerful was that there was an attempt to actually broadcast it to the nation, even when c-span wasn't running it. >> reporter: lewis and his colleagues kept the protests going for 25 hours. >> and i'm here today to say, john lewis, we join you in getting into good trouble on behalf of the american people. >> we never did get the vote that we wanted, but i think seeing someone like john lewis saying, this issue is important enough for me to stop the business of the house of representatives is profound.
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>> john lewis taught me that sometimes you might be powerless to stop an injustice, but you can never, ever be silent, because ultimately, the opposite of justice is not injustice, it's indifference, it's inaction, and it's silence. >> we're going to continue to push, to pull, to stand up, and if necessary, to sit down or sit in. >> reporter: the protests helped lewis connect with a new crop of younger activists. >> i think that that moment for john lewis was in many ways an introduction to a new generation. >> thank you, sir. >> many of these young people remind me of what we were like at the age of 18 and 19. and i tell them over and over again, whatever you do, do it in an orderly, peaceful, nonviolent fashion. >> congressman john lewis is here! >> reporter: lewis reached out to the new civil rights movement
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that had grown in recent years in response to video-taped police violence against african-americans. >> never give up. never give in. never become bitter or hostile. >> while they may not always be on the same page, i think he has a clear respect and admiration for their desire to insert themselves into this struggle. >> when you see young people or see football players kneeling, they're trying to make it real. they're trying to make it plain, to wake people up. >> reporter: after the shock of donald trump's election, john lewis decided he needed to wake people up. >> harsh, and frankly, stunning words for president-elect trump from a prominent democrat and civil rights figure. >> i don't plan to attend inauguration. >> john lewis was one of the first to actually stand up against this presidency. >> i don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president. >> reporter: with the perspective of his days in the deep south, lewis was especially
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incensed when trump nominated senator jeff sessions for attorney general. in the 1980s, sessions had prosecuted civil rights workers who were registering voters in alabama. >> i didn't think he was the person to be the attorney general of the united states, to be enforcing the voting rights act. >> i think he felt that the country had tried to push america back to where it was when he was growing up in troy, alabama. >> reporter: in a highly unusual move, senator cory booker asked lewis to join him in testifying against the nomination. >> i'll tell you, it was one of the moments of my life where i am sitting next to my hero and testifying with him. >> we need someone who's going to stand up, speak up, and speak out for the people that need help, for people who have been discriminated against. >> reporter: even though sessions was ultimately confirmed, lewis was lauded for his fortitude in testifying.
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>> what he did was an extraordinary thing. i think he understood that. but i think it was an indication of how strongly he felt that we had made substantial progress during the obama years and that progress was going to be put at risk. >> john lecwis is not about popularity. he's about purpose. >> reporter: more than 50 years after his first protest, the boy from troy remains undaunted. >> i come here to say to you, don't let anybody, anybody turn you around! >> he's a person who could rest on his laurels and still be a historic figure. and yet, in the 21st century, he is as committed to the work as he was in the 20th century when he was a young man. >> we must say, wake up, america, wake up! we have a moral obligation, a mission, and a mandate to say something, to do something! >> i think the model of john lewis is, i'm going to put myself right in the middle of the fight for justice, because this country is still not
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achieved itself. the pathway of progress is still under construction. you've got to roll up your sleeves and continue the work. >> you know, i'm fired up! i'm fired up! i'm ready to march! on the board with a new story, a report out this evening that offers a very telling portrait of this president exactly during these unprecedented times and we quote, trump in recent weeks, the post reports, has been committing less of his time and energy to managing the pandemic, according to advisers. one of these advisers said the president, quote, is not really working this any more. he doesn


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