'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, August 25th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
August 25, 2013
Guests: Nina Turner, Sherrilyn Ifill, Scot Ross, Judith Browne Dianis, Benjamin Crump, Sybrina Fulton, Lee Saunders, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Clayola Brown, Martin Luther King III, Asean Johnson, Wade Henderson, Shanna Smith, William Murphy, Lucia McBath, Ron Davis, John Phillips
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question, do you still
believe we can realize the dream?
And Martin Luther King III joins me to talk about his father`s legacy.
Plus, Trayvon Martin`s mother, Sybrina Fulton, on her mission.
But first, 50 years later the struggle continues.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry, live this morning from Washington,
D.C. where thousands of people turned out to commemorate the 50th
anniversary of the march on Washington for jobs and freedom yesterday.
Only one man who spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial five decades
ago remains alive today, Congressman John Lewis, and he spoke forcefully.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I got arrested 40 times during the `60s,
beaten, left bloody and unconscious. But I`m not tired. I`m not weary.
I`m not prepared to sit down and give up. I am ready to fight and continue
the fight, and you must fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Although, the architect of the march has passed away, many
of the inequities that prompted the struggle remain firmly in place. In
1963, the march called for equal access to jobs, fair wages, unfettered
voting rights and end to racial segregation, and access to decent health
care, schools, and housing. Half a century later the struggles continues.
The struggle continues for decent work and humane conditions that pays a
living wage. The nationwide unemployment rate is 7.4 percent, for African-
Americans it`s 12.6 percent, and for young African-American men between 20
and 24, the unemployment rate is an astonishing 26.8 percent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC ANCHOR, POLITICS NATION: We need jobs. And if
we can`t get jobs, we need to continue these marches. And if we get tired,
we need to sit down in the offices of some of those here that don`t
understand folk want to work and earn for their families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The struggle continues for a living wage for all workers.
Employees of corporate giants like Walmart and McDonald`s are risking their
meager lively hoods to agitate for better pay.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we will raise the minimum wage because you cannot
survive on $7.25.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The struggle continues for full voting rights. Organizers
in state after state are protesting, litigating, educating and agitating to
combat mounting obstacles to the ballot box being instituted by Republican
state legislatures to target poor, minority and young voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The struggle must and will go on in
the cause of our nation`s quest for justice. Until every eligible American
has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote. Unencumbered by
discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules, or practices.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The struggle continues for pathways to economic mobility, a
safe place to live, affordable medical care, quality education, the ability
to walk the streets of any neighborhood without fear of being branded as
criminals because of race or accent or fashion, the ability to grow up with
the sunshine of hope rather than the shadow of fear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN MASON, SR., INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT PHI BETA SIGMA: I want you to
know there`s some inter-zone, when Trayvon Martin can be shot down and the
perpetrator go free, I need to let you know that there`s some interest
owed, and so we march.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: HARRIS-PERRY: The struggle continues for those still
relegated to closets they didn`t choose. The struggle continues for women
who seek to control their own bodies and shape their own destinies. The
struggle continues for those within our borders but without their papers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEWIS: We must say to Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform. It
doesn`t make sense that a million of our people are living in the shadows.
Bring them out into the light and set them on a path to citizenship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yesterday, we commemorated a march, but a march is not a
movement. Fifty years ago it was just a mom, a captivating, restored and
inspirational moment but still just a moment. The struggle began long
before that late summer day and it continues half a century later.
So, as we disperse from the moment, the commemoration, the march, the
question is do we have a movement that can sustain us in the continuing
My first guest this morning missed her speaking slot in march -- excuse me,
at the march back in 1963. But yesterday told the gathered crowd to stand
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Make stand your ground a
positive ring for all of us who believe in freedom and justice and
equality, that we stand firm on the ground that we have already made and be
sure that nothing is taken away from us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams is the widow of Medgar Evers who
was murdered for his activism just two months before the march. She has
been fighting for civil rights for decades. With her Clayola Brown,
president of A. Philip Randolph Institute.
Thank you both for being here.
EVERS-WILLIAMS: It`s a pleasure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mrs. Evers, I want to start with you. What did you think
of yesterday`s event?
EVERS-WILLIAMS: Yesterday`s event was necessary. It was wonderful. I
think it helped to revive justice equality, awful those things we hear
about so much. It helped to bring us together. It also served the purpose
of bringing lots of younger people together. These are the ones that we
see leading us forward. And to me that was perhaps the most profound thing
that could have come. We older ones, who have been in so l need to pass
the torch. We need to pass the torch to those who are with it today.
We`re in a high technological society. These people go out of work. They
don`t have the background and experience because they haven`t lived. I see
that as my role, being that support system to helping to educate them to
the things that happened then.
I think it was something that was badly needed in America not only for
those in attendance but those who could hear and see on television and to
send a message to Washington, to the state houses, to the local levels that
the movement is still alive. And we have to believe that, and we have to
act on it.
I`m one of the old citizens of the time. I could not help but reflect on
things such as the fact that we were not allowed -- people of color were
not allowed on television shows, you know. That we did hold places in
government. And I used the theme that had such a negative connotation,
Stand Your Ground. And I hope I got over to the crowd. We need to seize
that and use it as our own in a positive way. Stand our ground for what we
believe, for what we have worked and for what we have died for and move
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s a reclamation of that spiritual "we shall not be
moved," right? That version of stand your ground.
I love what you said about the young people. There was a group from Howard
University that was right there near where our MSNBC stand was all day.
And I could sort of watch and see how they were responding.
But it was also important what you just said there about this notion of the
understanding of the history. And this is part of what I wanted to turn to
you on Ms. Brown, because we talk about the march being 50 years ago. But
of course, the planning was even two decades before that, because of A.
Philip Randolph. Remind us, remind the viewers who A. Philip Randolph is
and why his legacy and his worn in the march of `63 and even now remains
CLAYOLA BROWN, PRESIDENT, A. PHILLIP RANDOLPH INSTITUTE: Well, Randolph
was the orchestrator to the march because bringing civil disobedience and
large crowds to Washington in order to garner support and movement was not
new to him. In 1941, there was the design for a march because there was
disparities within the military and especially ammunitions. Randolph went
to President Roosevelt to say there needed to be a change so those who
served would have an opportunity for good jobs. And that theme hasn`t
changed. But it was Eleanor Roosevelt who went to him and said this is the
right thing to do.
And the march in `41 was called off because the president then put forward
an executive order, 8802. And with the signature of a pen made jobs that
were sustainable jobs available to minorities.
HARRIS-PERRY: And which reminds us, as you were saying, Mrs. Evers said,
this was speaking in Washington, right, not just speaking in Washington but
to Washington, the president will speak on Wednesday, on the actual day
that is the 50th anniversary. What do you hope to hear from President
EVERS-WILLIAMS: I hope that President Obama will be very strong in his
remarks, whatever they are. But I hope that there will be a sense of a
deeper understanding on his part and all of the others who are -- who did
not have to go through the battles that we did, and to send a message that
will be strong to our government officials that people simply are not going
to sit back and accept things as they are.
We have seen changes with the Supreme Court with voting rights and
everything. I am here, a person who had to count beans in a jar to be able
to answer a question, how many bubbles in a bar of soap to be able to vote.
We are still here.
The problems still exist. I hope that his message, whatever it is, and I`m
sure it will be the right message for America, that it will be strong, that
it will cause more dialogue, and that the people in Washington who
determine the direction of this company will hear loud and clear what it is
that needs to be done.
HARRIS-PERRY: We have just five seconds. It`s OK. I just want if there`s
one policy you want to hear from the president proposed.
BROWN: Well, I hope that the president will say no longer will the
cabinet, the Congress hold back something that is so vital to this country.
And maybe rethink the old idea about using that pen to bring two million
people out of poverty wages into sustainable work and guaranteed ability to
take care of their families. It doesn`t take both houses to do that, with
the courage to sign an executive order it would happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s what Roosevelt did just as a matter of a threat from A.
Phillip Randolph on mass movement. And then yesterday it wasn`t just a
threat, there we were.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you both for being here Myrlie Evers-Williams and for
your continuing work off of two Clayola Brown for continue working and for
keeping the legacy of Randolph alive.
Up next the workers inspired by Dr. King`s dream, then and now.
HARRIS-PERRY: When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in
Tennessee in 1968, he had been working with city sanitation workers who
were striking for jobs safety, better pay, and recognition of their union.
The day before he was killed, Dr. King spoke to workers urging them to
adhere to nonviolence, warning that instances of looting that had broke out
at a recent march and diverted the story away from the injustices of
workers themselves were facing. The sanitation workers union was part of
the American federation of state, county and municipal employees, now the
country`s largest union for employees, 1.6 million working and retired
Joining me now is the current president of that union and the first black
man to hold the title, Lee Saunders. He also addressed those gathered for
the march yesterday.
Lee, I think people forget this was a march for jobs and freedom. Tell me
why there`s been such a concern of attack on labor in recent years.
LEE SAUNDERS, PRESIDENT, AFSCME: Well, I think they want to move labor out
of the way completely. They have attacked the private sector unions,
private membership is now down to six percent, public sector membership and
unions is about 35 percent. So, they want to come after us. We still have
resources. We still have power. So, they believe if they take us out as
they did the private sector unions and they will have free rein to control
this country and we have to stop them. We can`t let them do this. We have
to rebuild our coalition and continue to organize, not only in the public
sector but rebuild our private sector unions. We have got to work with our
community organizations, our allies, our coalition partners. That`s why
yesterday was to important because all of us, the civil rights community,
the religious community, labor, students, retirees, all of us came together
and we made a statement. That statement was we want to be treated fairly.
We want to be able to achieve the American dream. Right now that`s very
difficult to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s been a dramatic decline in the percentage of workers
who are covered by unions, who are part of unions, whether public or
private unions. That has a kind of rippling effect for all workers whether
they are in unions or not. Tell me when you think about organizing people
into unions, explaining the importance of them, are the strategies
different now, are the arguments different now than they were 50 years ago.
SAUNDERS: I think we have to adjust, I think we have to make changes, I
think that we got to go about organizing in a completely different kind of
way. We have to look at new sectors of the economy to organize. My union,
AFSCME, we are organizing child care workers, home care workers, public
service workers all over the country.
We have taken some hits in the past couple of years simply because f what
is going on in states like Wisconsin where Scott Walker stole or voices to
collected bargaining away from us.
But I got to tell you, Melissa, there are number are charged up. And they
are angry, and they are frustrated, just as working American whether they
belong to a union or they don`t. They are frustrated with what`s going on
here. They are frustrated with the fact that the top one percent in this
country still control the 40 percent of this wealth. They are frustrated
that CEOs are making on average 354 times the amount of what working
families are making. That`s the largest wage gap in this country`s
history. We have got to fight back.
HARRIS-PERRY: I was just in Milwaukee about a ago and I kept thinking this
is the place inter racial organizing could happen is on the intersection
between labor and civil rights, right? That you need White working folks
and you need agriculture labors who maybe Latinos and you need Black folks
who are working in a whole variety of jobs. How do you do the work, if for
example during the (INAUDIBLE) right now SCIU and the fast-food workers.
How do we make sure that labor organizing is also interracial organizing?
SAUNDERS: Well, we are linking the movements. I mean, and that`s what we
must do. We are linking the movement with fast-food workers. We are
linking the movement with taxicab drivers who want to organize in city
after city after city. We are linking the movement with the independent
provides, a child are workers, the home care workers.
You know, it was so important for us to link our movement with Occupy Wall
Street because they were able to signal a tone that we were not able to do.
They were not within the union movement, but they had a very strong
message. And that strong message was that there is unfairness that exists
in this country. And the economic equality -- inequality that exists in
this country right now must be addressed.
And so, all of us have to work together. That`s why Dr. King understood
this very, very clearly and that`s why he traveled to Memphis in 1968. He
understood the value and he understood the importance of linking civil
rights with union rights with labor rights with worker rights. He
understood those values. They understood that need to have a larger
community to address those concerns.
HARRIS-PERRY: I thank you so much for the (INAUDIBLE). We`ll have an eye
here on this show fast-food strikes and Walmart work and on the continuing
organizing both with AFSCME and with SCIU.
So, thank you so much for your work.
SAUNDERS: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lee Saunders.
And up next, a mother on a mission. Trayvon Martin`s mom, Sybrina Fulton,
joins me live.
HARRIS-PERRY: There were many powerful and moving speeches during
yesterday`s 50th anniversary of the march on Washington but there was one
courageous woman who spoke very briefly yesterday. Her few words said what
everyone gathered on the national mall already knew and had come there to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTI`S MOTHER: Trayvon Martin was my son. But
he`s not just my son, he`s all of our son and we have to fight for our
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m pleased to welcome Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon
Martin and her attorney Benjamin Crump.
It is so nice to have you both here.
FULTON: Thank you.
BENJAMIN CRUMP, MARTIN FAMILY ATTORNEY: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: I have been following the work that you have been doing
since you lost your son and at every point have been humbled by that work.
Tell me at this moment that you feel is the most important thing you can do
and that those of us who have been so inspired by you can do to honor
FULTON: I think the most important thing that I can do is continue to
fight and just be realistic and not expect things to happen overnight. It
took a long time for everything to occur, so it`s going to take just that
time to try to get things on the right track. And I`m giving my commitment
not to give up until I`m resting in my grave. I will fight for my son. I
will fight for other people`s children, because it`s very important that we
stick together, that we unite and we fight.
The other thing -- question you have was, what can other people do? I
would also tell them not to give up, don`t be discouraged, because
sometimes how things look in front of you, it`s a little gray and get
discouraged, and you know, might want to give up. Don`t give up. Just
continue, continue to take little steps, continue to take little steps and
just be persistent.
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the theme of a lot of folks maybe because we were
50 years after the march kept saying yesterday, many of the speakers, I`m
not tired, I`m not going to be turned around. And yet, it must be
exhausting, the trial, the loss of your son, the trial, the outcome, the
media of it all. Is there a way to restore yourself in the midst of doing
the work, to say I`m not tired, keep moving, but also to take straight from
some other place?
FULTON: Well, I have a strong faith in God and that helps a great deal.
God is first in my life. And I will tell anybody, I will tell any show
because that`s very important to me. I don`t want people to think I`m
doing this by myself, I`m just this super person, super woman and have the
strength of 10 women, that`s not the case. The case is I pull my strength
from God. That`s first and foremost. The second thing I will say is it
helps to know I`m not standing by myself. That I`m not the only one
fighting for our children. So, when other mothers come up to me, when
other fathers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles come up to me and say,
listen, we have to keep fighting. We`re standing with you. We`re praying
for you. We`re supporting you. We`re supporting the foundation. Things
like that really help and they really energize me. So, that energy keeps
on rebuilding and keeps on rebuilding.
I talked to Crump, you know, and I`ve said, you know, I have two boys, I
have two sons. One is in heaven and one is on earth. And I will continue
to fight for both my boys. And I`m just adamant about it because I feel so
strongly that we have to fight for our children.
HARRIS-PERRY: That idea of taking strength from each other felt like such
an important part of what was happening yesterday. The foundation,
Trayvon`s law, and as you were saying to me just before we came on air,
this idea of voting, that Trayvon at 17 never had the opportunity to cast a
vote. Tell me about those three things.
CRUMP: Yes, ma`am Melissa. And I owe Sybrina an apology, no matter what I
was supposed to tell everybody at the march on Washington that we have to
take the conversation that President Obama said, we have to take that
conversation and move it to legislation. And that`s so important because
the Trayvon Martin amendment to the Stand Your Ground laws and the passage
of these anti-racial profiling laws are going to be germane to keeping our
children safe. And so, we`ve got to get everybody in all these states
across America to come out and vote in this midterm election.
Trayvon could not vote. The real question is, you who are 18 years old,
will you vote? Will you be a Trayvon Martin voter. That way -- think
about Emmett Till, it took a decade after his death to get the civil rights
of `64 passed. His mother knew his death was not in vain because of
positive from something negative. Sybrina and Tracy desperately want to
know that Trayvon`s death wasn`t in vain. Lets pass the Trayvon Martin
HARRIS-PERRY: That language, will you be a Trayvon Martin voter and we
will take the conversation started by the president and move it to
legislation, of course that only happens if you are a Trayvon Martin voter.
If you, at 18, you stand and you vote where Trayvon could not vote.
Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for being here. And thank you
for the ways in which your spirit and your faith give strength to so many
of the rest of us.
FULTON: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
CRUMP: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sybrina Fulton and Benjamin Crump, thank you for being here.
Up next, students fighting for the right to vote then and now, 50 years
later the struggle really does continue.
HARRIS-PERRY: Speakers at yesterday`s march on Washington commemoration
issued a call for voting rights that rings as true today as it did 50 years
Just last week in North Carolina we got a sobering reminder that students
who were so much of the driving force behind the movement are today, right
now, being denied those same rights. Last Monday, North Carolina Governor
Pat McCrory just assigned the worst voters suppression bill into law.
Barely hours later while the ink was still fresh, Republican controlled
boards of election in North Carolina immediately took advantage of the new
law by putting students in the crosshairs of their voter suppression
efforts. Students voting rights under attack in the same state were a few
years before the march on Washington, a movement that brought national
attention to the injustice of segregation was sparked by, yes, students.
Four of them, from one of North Carolina`s historically black colleges.
North Carolina A&T won February first 1960 sat down and asked to be served
at a Woolworth counter in Greensboro.
Just last week Appalachian State University, one of the largest
universities in North Carolina lost its early voting sight and its election
day polling place after the Republican majority and (INAUDIBLE) county
board of elections voted to eliminate them.
The early voting site at historically Black Winston-Salem State University
may face the same fate. After the Republican of Forsythe county board of
elections threatened last Tuesday to shut it down, that same day Republican
majority in North Carolina`s Pasquotank County board of election voted to
disqualify the city council candidacy of this young man, Montravias King, a
senior and yet another historically black college, Elizabeth City State
Mow, mind you, the qualifications to run for office in the county are the
same as the qualifications to vote. And Montravias has been a registered
voter in the county since 2009. So, by disqualifying his eligibility as a
candidate and a voter, the board opened the door to challenges to the voter
registration of all students in North Carolina who used school as their
official place of residency.
And Pete Gilbert, head of the Republican party, might do just that. That`s
him right there challenging the registration of student voters. And he has
told the "Associated Press" that he plans to, quote, "take this show on the
road." Well, he`s going to have to stay in his lane. Because as Reverend
Al Sharpton said yesterday, the voting rights tour that began with a march
on Washington is moving forward with its road show this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: When we leave Washington, then we get ready to march, we are
going to go to those states. We are on our way to North Carolina. We are
on our way to Texas. We are on our way to Florida. And when they ask us
for our voter ID, take out a photo of Medgar Evers, take out a photo of
Goodman, Cheney (INAUDIBLE), take out a photo of Viola Louisa, they gave
their lives so we could vote. Look at this photo, it gives you the ID of
who we are.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEWIS: I gave enough blood on that bridge Selma, Alabama for the right to
vote. I`m not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right
to vote away from us. You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You`ve
got to stand up, speak up, speak out and get in the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Congressman John Lewis at yesterday`s march on Washington,
50th anniversary, invoking the historical legacy of the struggle for voting
equality, a struggle that very much continues today as former secretary of
state Colin Powell reminded members of the Republican party this week.
Thursday, just moment after North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory left the
stage at North Carolina`s annual CEO forum, Powell used his keynote address
to deliver a strong critique of the new voting law McCrory signed last
week. Powell said quote "I want to see policies that encourage every
American to vote, not make it more difficult to vote, it immediately turns
off a voting bloc the Republican party needs. These kinds of actions do
not build on the base but turn people away."
In response to the description of voter fraud likely existing but hard to
detect. Powell responded quote, "you can say what you like, but there is
no voter fraud? How can it be widespread and undetected.
Joining me now is Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, Nina
Turner, Ohio state senator and Judith Browne Dianis, is co-director of the
Judith, I want to start with you because the biggest round of applause,
other than for Reverend Sharpton was for attorney general Eric Holder. And
I`m assuming because he said we`re going to Texas. What does it look for
you right now in terms of federal authority intervening on voting rights?
JUDITH BROWNE DIANIS, CO-DIRECTOR, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT: It`s been great
the federal government has stepped up its voting rights work. You know,
after the Supreme Court decision, they decided that they would move all of
their staff and resources that have been put into section 5 preclearance
into section 2 cases. And they haven`t filed section 2 cases in a long
HARRIS-PERRY: They fought because they need to.
DIANIS: Although they could have in other states beyond the southern
states. And so, this really has been an aggressive move by the attorney
general and folks recognize it. I mean, at the march, people were giving
him love because they know that he actually is protecting civil rights and
he is making a real case for why the federal government needs to be
involved. You know, Texas is one of those places where they are saying
well, sovereign rights, you know, why do the feds need to be in our
business? And we know well why.
HARRIS-PERRY: But Scoot, I mean, this point that Judith just made about
outside the south, hello, so Wisconsin, you`ve been reporting on the kind
of battles around labor but now these voting restrictions moving to
Wisconsin as well.
SCOT ROSS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ONE WISCONSIN NOW: Absolutely. With, you
know, Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman who used to be there for Republican
Party in Wisconsin chairman, with his favorite governor Scott Walker, we
have seen a ceaseless and endless assault on voter rights in the state of
Wisconsin, everything from redistributing early voting hours, ending soles
to the polls, putting more partisans into the polling place, doing the
things that will create chaos and long lines so that people go home instead
of exercising the franchise. No surprise they do it in urban areas.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Right.
It gets very clearly as we saw in the North Carolina case around student
voting, right, we are going to starting schools and particular schools,
right, schools where we see particular voting patterns.
Now, you know, I`ve been pushing people on the history of the march and
remembering it all the doesn`t just begin in `63. But I think similarly,
even in this moment, the history of our contemporary voting issues actually
don`t begin in North Carolina, as appalling as it is. Ground zero was
STATE SEN. NINA TURNER (D), OHIO: Yes, and it still remains that way. I
mean, even just a few weeks ago, member -- GOP member, and people talk
about partisanship, it is the Republicans for the most part, far right
Republicans. I`m about truth talk here. You know, my grandma say you can
put truth in a river five days alive truth going to catch up. Well, truth
has caught up and there is only one party that is trying to suppress the
vote, go backwards, trying to crush democracy.
Everybody, regardless of our political affiliation, should hold dear and
true those fundamental principles of what it means to be an American.
Pillar number one, the right to vote, the right to speak your voice
regardless of your socioeconomic status, gender, who you love, your
religion. One woman, one man, one vote. Why in the greatest democracy on
the face of the earth would a party that proclaims to care about those
principles try to crush the votes of some groups. It`s un-American,
undemocratic and we cannot stand for it.
And, so many folks paid a price for this. We forget how far we have come
as a nation. We are a nation of progress, not regression. And so again,
political affiliation out the door, this is about a sense of fairness.
In Ohio this should not be happening in Ohio. but they just introduced a
bill, Professor, to cut early voting days and take away the last three days
of early voting.
HARRIS-PERRY: On this point about the folks who have struggled, I want to
play again and listen to Reverend Al making this point about we already
have our voter ID. So, let`s take a listen just for a moment there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: When they ask us for our vote ID, take out a photo of Medgar
Evers. Take out a photo of Goodman, Cheney (INAUDIBLE), take out a photo
of Viola Louisa. They gave their lives so we could vote. Look at this
photo. It gives you the ID of who we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we decided here in Nerdland to make a photo ID. This is
our Medgar Evers photo ID. We are thinking, maybe, we will make one of
John Lewis, Viola, of all the civil rights workers. Because I thought that
was such a critically important point. For someone to ask you who are you
when you vote? And you say, I`m sorry. I`m of these people, I`m of these
Americans who have already given their blood to vote.
DIANIS: Pay the price, so why are we going backwards. I mean, you think
about North Carolina where we have made so much progress. I mean, you
know, really kind of like one of the birth places of the civil rights
movement. When you think about SNCC (ph) and you think about what happened
in Greensboro and the price people paid to move us forward and here we`re
in 2013 and we have the most aggressive attack on voting rights in that
state. If we look across the country, every rollback they are trying in
North Carolina shows that this -- we are moving backwards. And you know,
for the people like Medgar Evers, for all the people that paid the price, I
think we know that there is a time. And I think voting rights was
mentioned so many times yesterday. And people know this is going to be the
battle of our time.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, Scot, this is the jobs and freedom, right? Again,
I just -- briefly here, Wisconsin feels to me like a testing ground for
interracial cooperative work between labor and voting rights, between labor
and civil rights. Do you have optimism that the people of Wisconsin still
have enough energy and optimism even after sort of having so many of these
rollbacks to do that work?
ROSS: Yes, I think so. I mean, there is definitely a fight in the people
of Wisconsin to continue, whether it is about jobs, whether it`s about
health care and whether it`s about voting rights. Because the people of
Wisconsin are like the people across the country. When a legal voter is
denied the franchise, we cease to be a democracy.
ROSS: And what is the thing that they say. They there is voter fraud.
Well, we know the only fraud is partisans who are manipulate the process to
achieve their political goals. And for instance, in the state of Wisconsin
where Governor Walker passed photo ID, still in the courts, but where he
passed photo ID, he did is and said it was because of fraud. We have had
14 million ballots passed in the state of Wisconsin since 2004 and less
than 24 potentially improper votes.
HARRIS-PERRY: I have got my photo ID. I`m bringing my photo ID.
Scot Ross, Judith Browne Dianis, thank you so much. You`re going to stick
with us a little longer Miss Turner.
Coming up, more on the attorney general`s push to protect voting rights.
That`s up next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: The struggle must and will go on in the cause of our nation`s
quest for justice until every eligible American has the chance to exercise
his or her right to vote unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded
procedures, rules, or practices.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Attorney General Eric Holder speaking yesterday
about his commitment to protecting voter rights to all Americans, the
commitment the justice department continued to make good on this week with
a lawsuit to block the new voter id law in Texas.
Joining me is Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director council of NAACP
legal defense fund.
So Sherrilyn, what is the next step in the litigation battle?
SERRILYN IFILL, PRESIDENT, DIRECTOR COUNCIL, NAACP: Well, it`s steps.
It`s steps. Because civil rights law organizations including my own have
been fanning out across the south. We`ve been collecting all the
information about the voting changes that different officials have been
trying to impose. My own attorneys have been in Texas. They have been in
Alabama. I just got back from Albany, Georgia two weeks ago where there`s
a plan to close six out of seven polling places. We have been in Louisiana
where the legal defense fund is stocking up some litigation.
So, we have been all over the place as have other organizations. And so,
what you are about to see and as we get to the new year and towards 2014,
you`re going to see unleashed a wave of litigation that`s going to be very
difficult for additional to defend. This is not what Congress wanted of
that`s why we had section 5.
IFILL: We didn`t ask for this. Expensive.
The fight was brought to us and we`re going to take it on. So, what we`re
going to see is really an effort to bring to light, to bring into the
courtrooms and into the consciousness of Americans this challenge to
democracy. I mean, you just heard in your previous sequence that`s what
really this is all about. This is a real challenge to democracy. We are
standing at a crossroads and we have to meet the challenge.
HARRIS-PERRY: But Nina, it feels to me like this idea that Congress didn`t
want this is also where democracy could flex its muscle. Do you have any
sense, any optimism we can get a new section 4 formula that will put the
teeth back in section 5 from the congress.
TURNER: Well, I`m very optimistic but also a pragmatist as well. And the
people are going to have to push for this. You know, Dr. King in the 1960s
did what was called a people to people tour where he traveled long with
other freedom fighters to galvanize people and to register people to vote.
I feel like we are in that kind of space right now, people to people, mama
to mama, brother to brother kind of conversation in this country about
voting and how much it is very much a part of our DNA as the United States
of America and we can`t let anybody, as the song says, turn us around.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it is such an interesting, freedom, of course,
comes sort of two summers after the `63 march, tight? It is that freedom
summer that emerges then you see John Lewis and then you have passage of
the `65 act. Is there a way to marry the efforts of litigation that we see
with LDF and the kind of person-to-person direct action that Nina is
IFILL: I think that`s what you see happening. In fact, I really, since
the Shelby County decision, what you`ve seen is this is all not happening
by accident. This is all quite a plan. The march on Washington was
understood to be a kickoff of the kind of work that you`re talking about
and the kickoff of litigation. Congress will come back, you know, after
This is all timed and planned to make sure that we are building a ground
swell so that Congress will have no choice but to hear people. I mean, it
is not going to be just the marches on the street, it is going to be the
flooding in the congressional offices.
So, all of this is part of a planned connected sequence of litigation and
activism. The two have to work together. I spoke yesterday at the march
and that was I said, we know our voice in the court now is not enough, we
have to be talking on the street.
TURNER: Not just southern faces.
IFILL: Not at all.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ohio, Wisconsin, it would be easier if it were just a
TURNER: Congress to expand this. I mean, two boards of election members
were fired for the crime in Montgomery county in Ohio, Lieberman and
Richie, for the crime of trying to expand early voting access. Fired by
the secretary of suppression in the state of Ohio. There is something
wrong with that.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that, the secretary of --
TURNER: Fair elections for all.
HARRIS-PERRY: Secretary of suppression.
A lot of people holding that job.
Sherrilyn Ifill, thank you for your work and thank you for coming in today.
Coming up next, Martin Luther King III joins me to talk about his father`s
legacy and where to go from here.
And also, we are going to be joined by the young activist hoping to follow
in Dr. King`s footsteps.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASEAN JOHNSON, 9-YEAR-OLD ACTIVIST: August 28th, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr., and thousands of others marched on Washington for jobs and
freedom. Congressman John Lewis was the youngest speaker. And now 50
years later I am the youngest speaker.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: You go youngest speaker Asean Johnson. He will be here in
Nerdland when we come back. More at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry and we are live this
morning from Washington D.C. where thousands of people gathered yesterday
to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington for
jobs and freedom.
Perhaps one of the most notable moments of yesterday`s speeches was the
keynote address given by MSNBC`s own, Reverend Al Sharpton.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: We had ID when we voted for Johnson. We had ID when we voted
for Nixon. We had ID when we voted for those that succeeded him, Carter,
Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush again.
Why when we get to Obama do we need some special ID? We need to teach our
young folk no matter how much money they give you, don`t disrespect your
women. No matter how much they promise you, make it clear that you know
that Rosa Parks wasn`t no hoe and Fanner Lou Hammer wasn`t no bitch.
There was a dreamer as I close, a dreamer in the Bible called John. John
looked up said I see a new heaven. I see a new earth. All things are
passed away. I come to tell you, I know why there`s screeching and
hollering and talking crazy because all America has passed away.
They will romanticize Dr. King`s speech. But the genius of his speech was
not just the poetry of his words. The genius of his speech is what
bloodshed in Birmingham, where Medgar Evers hadn`t been killed, where James
Farmer, one of his co-leaders in jail, he didn`t stand here and discuss the
pain. He didn`t stand here and express the anger. He sat in the face of
those that wanted him dead, that no matter what you do, I can dream above
what you do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: With his speech, Reverend Sharpton not only helped to both
invoke and celebrate the memory of one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose
"I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was the culmination
of the march on Washington for jobs and freedom, the height of the civil
rights movement, he also framed a way for us to look forward because the
I`m honored to welcome Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of Martin
Luther King, Jr., and Mrs. Coretta Scott King.
Thank you for being here.
MARTIN LUTHER KING III, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: People often talk about you as the son of Martin Luther
King, Jr. But you`re will the son of Coretta Scott King, which means
you`re the son of the woman who carried on the work after your father`s
death. What did she teach you about how to move the legacy forward?
KING: I would have to say first and foremost m and dad taught us to have a
love of our selves, to have a love of our community -- excuse me, to have a
love of our family, to have a love of our community, and most of all, to
have a love of God. So, love of self, love of family, love of family, love
of community, love of God.
All those things are very important in terms of this -- the mission,
because dad did what he did as a Christian minister. But also, she told
us, although we were getting -- as we were getting particularly as she was
getting older, we were getting older, that it`s the next generation. So,
I`m honored today to be here with Asean who did an incredible job yesterday
in his message.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was -- Asean, it was absolutely incredible to see you
standing there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday. At one
point you wanted to get the microphone back and you didn`t get the chance.
What was it you wanted to say if you would have gotten that microphone
ASEAN JOHNSON, SPEAKER, 50TH ANNIVERSARY MARCH: I really wanted to say
thank you for letting me take minutes of her time and speak before she
spoke, because she only had three minutes for all of us to speak. So, I
really wanted to say thank you to her. That`s pretty much all I wanted to
HARRIS-PERRY: Tell me what was your most important message yesterday,
JOHNSON: My most important message was to let the people know that Chicago
school closings are very dangerous and they are not helpful to the
community, because you`re going to have a lot of kids very heart broken to
not go back to their public school, because you have to wait and go to a
whole other school where you could go to your neighborhood school and CPS
could put more funding into it.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the things I love, Mr. King, about Asean -- every
time I hear him -- is that he minces no words.
KING: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: He says, look, this is a bad policy. This is how it`s going
to affect people.
And certainly part of the struggle we have as adults is we want to be
political. We want -- what is the most important, no word mincing message
that you think we need to carry away from this commemoration of the march?
KING: You know, this commemoration indication really it was tone setting
because 50 years ago because we have significant unemployment. The mantra
was jobs and freedom. Yesterday, it was jobs, freedom, and justice.
Over the last two months, we saw the Voting Rights Act gutted. We saw a
verdict in the Trayvon Martin case that a lot of person concern about, when
58 percent of those in jail are black folk and we have 13 percent of the
population, we`ve got to have a discussion, we`ve got to address criminal
justice system, we`ve got to find a way to in sure it`s not constantly
reinforced in our society.
All of those messages, also as it relates to immigration policy, a lot of
things came out yesterday. This is a march, but it`s not over. Reverend
Sharpton and I talking about a national action initiative to realize the
dream. The dream is not done yet. So, we`ll be going to several more
communities, in addition to leaving here and Washington.
HARRIS-PERRY: Asean, Mr. King`s father stood there 50 years ago and said I
have a dream. Do you have a dream?
JOHNSON: Yes, I have a dream that we should have peace between our two
worlds and there should be no more violence in the world, because as you
see, there`s a lot of violence in Chicago and everywhere else. That`s my
dream is to have peace and no racism in our world.
HARRIS-PERRY: That dream of peace and a meaningful peace, not because
we`re not harming each other but because there`s justice, as you just said,
justice as part of that peace, how do we actually have conversations with
each other across -- what you said there, Asean, are two worlds. 2013 and
this brilliant young man is telling me he still feels like we live in two
How do we build the vocabulary to talk to each other across those worlds?
KING: I think number one, we need to -- first of all, our schools teach
ethics. To teach young people how to use a different method of resolve in
their conflicts. We need human relations, sensitivity, and diversity,
exposure, and that`s whether we`re in schools, or whether we`re in police
departments, whether we are governments or businesses. So, our whole
society needs it but we can start by teaching it in kindergarten all the
way through high school.
HARRIS-PERRY: What was the first place, Asean, that you learned about Dr.
Reverend Martin Luther King? When did you first hear about him?
JOHNSON: I first heard about him when I got into private school. That`s
when I heard about Martin Luther King when we were doing Black History
Month. That was the first time I heard about him when I was 4 years old.
And I had a favorite line, wow, if I knew he can do that -- maybe if I knew
Martin Luther King can do that, he was a great man, maybe I can grow up to
be a great man.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m pretty sure you`re a great man already.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I`m pretty sure we don`t have to wait for you to grow
up to be a great man. You`re a great man right now.
I thought Reverend Sharpton`s speech yesterday was extraordinary,
particularly in the ways he said the mattered because what your father did
was not complain but to generate a vision of something bigger than we have
right now. That`s what dreamers do. They provide that vision for us. Was
there any moment either in Reverend Sharpton`s speech throughout the day
that you will walk away with and say this is what I will remember from the
2013 march on Washington?
KING: I think perhaps the moment I will remember more than anything else
is Asean, because everything we do is for generations behind and
generations yet unborn. That`s the moment I want -- Dr. Lowery on the one
spectrum, you had older folks, middle aged folks, but Asean is something
that we should always remember not because of what he said but what he
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s take a listen to Asean yesterday at the march on
(BEGIIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: Help us fight for freedom, racial equality, jobs, public
education because I have a dream that we shall overcome.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: When you say, "We shall overcome", Asean, what does that
mean for you?
JOHNSON: When I say we shall overcome, I was saying we will overcome the
racism that has been done in our two worlds, as I say, because we have
recently the Trayvon Martin case that the jury was all white and they
convicted him not guilty, even though he had shot and killed this boy, this
young boy who was innocent.
HARRIS-PERRY: Did you have a chance to meet Sybrina Fulton, who was
Trayvon Martin`s mom?
JOHNSON: Yes, I did have a chance to meet her.
HARRIS-PERRY: What did you-all talk about?
JOHNSON: I introduced myself. We took some pics. She gave me advice to
not let anybody push you around. And like don`t let nobody tell you to do
something bad when you know it`s wrong.
HARRIS-PERRY: Dr. King is for so many of us a symbol for the very best of
what our country can be. In the final moments of the segment before we go
to break, do you have a personal memory, though, of your dad? Not Dr.
King, but your King, your daddy?
KING: Well, I`ve just actually written a children`s book for children
between four to eight years old. In that book I talk about my daddy, which
is something I`m blessed uniquely to be able to do.
We used to ride bicycles, we swam, we played. Dad was really truly an
athlete. Most people don`t know that.
He was also very humorous. We also see him as the leader he was.
But my greatest memory is those intimate moments that we had, whether it
was riding bicycles, whether it was going to the YMCA swimming. And every
now and then I did travel with him four or five times. I had one memory
where a dog, a German shepherd dog was there.
Dad was not very tall. But the dog was bigger than I was, almost seemed
like bigger than dad. Because I was there to grab his pants leg and feel
his love, I felt safe with a huge German shepherd dog. I must have been 6
years old, but I remember that, those personal experiences.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I so appreciated the moment of his march. My
father was 21, and at the march and stood and listen to your father, and I
realized I had never asked him about it, I`ve never talked to him about the
This week, I took the opportunity to call and talk to my dad and his twin
brother who were there. I just kept thinking how blessed I am that my dad
is here. So, even though I`ve forgotten all these years to ask him that I
could call and ask him.
So, I thank you for the personal sacrifice that your family has made --
KING: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: -- for the good of our nation.
And, Asean, there is not a person in America right now not rooting for you
because we know you are already leading us. I really appreciate you doing
JOHNSON: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
Thank you to Asean Johnson and to Martin Luther King III.
Thanks so much to both of you.
And, Dr. King`s dream of racial harmony, are we any closer to achieving an
HARRIS-PERRY: For African-Americans, many things have changed for the
better since 1963`s march on Washington, for jobs and freedom. According
to U.S. Census Bureau, there were less than 600 black elected officials in
1970 but that number are grown to 10,500 by 2011.
In 1964, there were only 234,000 black undergraduate college students.
That number rose to 2.6 million in 2012, a tenfold increase. But the
housing numbers tell a different story, much more somber about how far
we`ve come. 1970, 41.6 percent of African-Americans were homeowners. By
2011, that number had risen to 43.4 percent.
There`s no doubt about it. The numbers tell the tale where African-
Americans are when it comes to housing. Not just about who owns a home but
also where we own the home.
Joining me now is Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of Leadership
Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference
Education Fund; and Shanna Smith, president of the National Fair Housing
So, Shanna, why should it matter if we live in integrated neighborhoods or
SHANNA SMITH, NATIONAL FAIR HOUSING ALLIANCE: Well, first of all, Congress
said we should promote racial integration, because it helps with employment
opportunities, it helps with school and education. When you interview
white people who live in integrated communities, they actually say what a
benefit it is, that they have a richer life with that exposure.
And the same with children of color, growing up with people who are
different from them. They get to learn about different cultures, they get
to learn how to interact. And growing up that way when you get into
adulthood and in workplace, you know how to interact, you`re not afraid,
you don`t sit here, and stayed away from other people there.
So, integration actually brings us together and it has great economic
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting. When we talk about integration and
housing, Wade, sometimes people bristle a little bit when we talk about
race. When you can say your zip code should not determine your life path -
WADE HENDERSON, LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE ON CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS: That`s
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, right now, it does.
HENDERSON: It really does.
You know, zip code is so determinative of many other characteristics that
make up your life. So, for example, the quality of your public education
is really determined or reflected in your zip code. The housing stock,
quality of integrated housing in which you live and your economic
opportunities are often defined by your zip code. That should not be the
way it is.
Of course, when we talk about racial segregation, we know that concentrated
segregation is often associated with poverty.
So, the very issues you`re talking about now, quality of life available to
all Americans, all people in our country, should not be determined by your
zip code and yet frequently it is.
HARRIS-PERRY: But here is the challenge I will sometimes hear around
integration. That is the idea that post march on Washington as we live
into Civil Rights Act of `64 and the Voting Rights Act of `65, that
integration meant the destruction of black institutions, that it meant that
the schools that we were going to was shut down, that the communities that
had been robust were broken apart.
How do they have meaningful integration that doesn`t destroy preexisting
SMITH: You know, the issue is we don`t have integration. We`ve had
moments of integration in our history.
Look at Washington, D.C. I moved here in 1990, almost 70 percent African-
American. Today, it`s less than 50 percent.
HARRIS-PERRY: (INAUDIBLE) less chocolate.
SMITH: Yes. My son wrote it`s milk chocolate or white chocolate.
So what we have to do is work with the real estate industry and lenders
because they drive this location, location, location and displacement. So,
integration means we`re living next to each other and I`m not looking to
sell my house because Wade moved in. And he`s not going -- oh, my God, a
white person moved in and now, I`m going to lose my house.
True integration involved economic integration. But when you lo at it,
people who are living in the suburbs here, if you look at Silver Springs,
and you look at the old West and Toledo and some neighborhoods in
Cincinnati, they have been long integrated.
And people don`t run. There`s no white flight.
HARRIS-PERRY: Can you have integration without the loss of --
SMITH: Well, I think you can, but let`s stick with Washington for a
minute, because it is the nation`s capital and yet, it did have residential
segregation and it reflected segregation in our country prior to 1964. We
still have residue of that kind of segregation today.
So, there are physical barriers and dividing lines. If you`re west of Rock
Creek Park, for example, you have a better quality of life of housing,
education and jobs. If you live east of the Anacostia River, you have a
poorer quality of life. Now, that is changing and gentrification is
obviously reflecting that change but there is some displacement. You can
have integration without that kind of displacement but it takes an urban
philosophy and policy that helps to encourage the kind of residential
integration we want.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it`s literally, when you say the wrong side of the
track, because often it was actually tracks or roads or parks.
HENDERSON: That`s exactly right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Shanna Smith, thanks so much.
SMITH: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also, up next, my conversation with two members of the
Congressional Black Caucus. How the events of 1963 influenced their lives
and our policies now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Two of the states where lawmakers are passing legislation
creating some of the most extreme infringements on civil rights today are
without a doubt Texas and North Carolina. The rights of women to control
their own bodies or the rights of all citizens to have access to the ballot
box as preparations are under way for the 50th anniversary of the march --
as they were under way for the anniversary march here, I had a chance to
speak with a member of Congress from each of those states, North Carolina
and Texas, members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
We spoke about the role of the caucus and the issues facing their
constituents back at home and, of course, their memories of that historic
REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD (D), NORTH CAROLINA: The thing that stands out in my
mind is there were a lot of white people joining hands with black people
for a common purpose and that was to address the question of civil rights,
and to come to Washington and see, perhaps one out of four people being
white. Not only were they there, but they were carrying the signs and they
were supporting the cause.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re in Texas where we have just this week learned the
Department of Justice is going to need to intervene in order to protect
voting rights 50 years after this march. Are we marching backward?
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: That`s a very good question.
One, I would say now, being in Texas, being in the district that has been
restricted and protected by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it is more a
part of my heart to be able to save it not for me but to recognize that
protests and petition where seeds were planted by the movement are no
longer or not old-fashioned tools.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about what you can do as a member of Congress not
in D.C., but from in North Carolina, to help reverse some of what`s
happened, in terms of the erosion of voting rights in North Carolina and
halt what looks like, might be potentially the most serious erosion in the
50 years since this march.
BUTTERFIELD: Republicans are not trying to eliminate the black vote. They
simply want to diminish it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, that`s right, that`s by the margin.
BUTTERFIELD: They want to diminish it by just enough to ensure a
Republican majority stays in place. President Barack Obama won North
Carolina in 2008 by 14,000 votes. So, if they can diminish the African-
American and student vote by 10 votes per precinct statewide, Democrats
will become minority party and never again would we be able to have any
influence in policymaking.
HARRIS-PERRY: Congressional Black Caucus has been criticized over the
years that -- in some of the way that I suppose that President Obama is now
that as members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as members of Congress,
here you are, you hold these positions. When I look in these communities,
I still see crime, I still see violence, I still see economic deprivation,
I still see failing schools.
If the answer is not simply to elect good and honest and motivated elected
officials like yourself, what are the answers to those enduring problems
that we`re facing?
BUTTERFIELD: That`s relevant question. I don`t take it lightly. It takes
community support. It takes the faith community. It takes all people of
goodwill of all races working together to make sure that our young people
are productive, make sure they have 21st century schools to be educated in.
We need well-paid, well-trained teachers in the classroom. We need
nonprofit programs in the community that can embrace children who are at
risk, to make sure that they stay on a positive path. It`s a very complex
and comprehensive solution to the problem.
LEE: I think you`re right in one instance. We don`t tell our story.
We`re inside the ball game, inside the ballpark, and inside the United
States Congress every day, putting on our armor and being the firewall
around some draconian efforts to be able to diminish some of the great
needs of our community.
HARRIS-PERRY: That was part of my conversation with Congressman Sheila
Jackson Lee of Texas and Congressman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina.
Up next, the struggle for equal justice by changing the sentencing laws is
just the first step.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOFIA CAMPOS, UNITED WE DREAM: It`s our black and brown bodies in these
cells that are being detained, that are being put into prisons to make
profit of off of us. It`s our youth that are being criminalized day after
day after day and we must rise together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the fierce Sofia Campos of the immigration
organization United We Dream at the 50th anniversary of the march on
Washington here in the nation`s capital yesterday.
Her speech comes on the heals of last week`s announcement from Attorney
General Holder that the Justice Department will overhaul its minimum
sentencing guidelines for drug offenders.
Joining me now are Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, former Baltimore circuit
judge and now criminal defense attorney, William or Billy Murphy, and Wade
Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and
I want to start with you. How important is sentencing reform to this
overall movement of justice?
WILLIAM H. MURPHY, JR., FORMER BALTIMORE CIRCUIT JUDGE: Well, it`s
extremely important because the sentences have been way too high for way
too long. People have gotten an appetite for bigger and bigger sentences.
So, I have to take my hat off to Attorney General Holder for taking this
bold and long awaited move.
He and Obama have -- or the president -- have long wanted to do this. And
now there`s no reelection pressure, they are coming out with what they
believe ought to be done about the system. That`s too little because you
got to end the war on drugs.
The war on drugs is responsible for the destruction of black family. It`s
responsible for why black kids aren`t ready to go to school. It`s
responsible for the high disease rates in our community. It`s responsible
fore the unemployment rate among black people on inner city.
The war on drugs is the 800-pound gorilla that must be killed.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to pause there. I`m going uh-huh, amen. And I
realize, wait a minute, there`s going to be whole group of people who are
listening who are like, say what? How is it the war on drugs is
responsible for those social ills?
MURPHY: Well, the war on drugs is basically a way of depoliticizing the
black community by getting rid of the black men who would otherwise are the
cream of the crop. They are the most entrepreneurial. They are the most
They take the most initiative. They`re brave. They`re really masculine
men that are now being now in prison because they`ve one down the wrong
path and we have encourage that path.
Private prison industry is sucking the life out of the black community.
The expense of the prison system is billions and billions of dollars. So,
I think $73 billion as you pointed out on one of your earlier shows.
And so, this war on drugs is really the enemy of progress in the black
HARRIS-PERRY: When you say depoliticizing, already feels like the other
way depoliticizes we talk about voting rights you and I pretty regularly,
the other piece is disenfranchisement.
TURNER: Oh, yes, of course, states in this Union where once you`re a
felon, you no longer have the right to vote.
HARRIS-PERRY: For life.
TURNER: And that overwhelmingly impacts African-American and Latino
communities, men in particular. There`s something wrong with that. Once
somebody fulfilled their debt to society, why wouldn`t we embrace them and
bring them back in a holistic way that allows them to bring back their
greatness. That benefits all of us.
And memo to the country, most folks who go to prison don`t say there
forever. It`s to our benefit they start to live a good and productive
MURPHY: They said you were good. You`re even better.
HARRIS-PERRY: Folks are coming out. They can`t live in public housing.
They can`t get loans for schools.
HENDERSON: And jobs.
HENDERSON: There`s an extraordinary burden that`s imposed on those who
have already paid their debt to society but it starts with their
disenfranchisement from their right to vote. The truth is if you don`t
vote you don`t count. And by taking literally hundreds of thousands of men
and women in various communities, states like Alabama and Florida and
others without giving them the right to vote, it imposes a burden which
further alienates these individuals from society. So, we have to respond.
But I want to go back to what Billy said with respect to attorney general.
Eric Holder`s proposal is the single most significant proposal for reform
that any attorney general has ever put forth with regard to sentencing.
It`s proof positive that elections do matter. They have consequence. And
without Holder being in his position, we wouldn`t have these reforms under
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, sort of hard to imagine Mitt Romney`s attorney general,
whoever he would have been, would have proposed these kinds of sentencing
MURPHY: There are a couple of other things. ALEC, the organization,
American legislative exchange council which generally comes up with
regressive legislation, they are responsible for stand your ground, for
HARRIS-PERRY: But on this one.
MURPHY: -- is now on the side of sentencing reform. That`s big because
that`s corporate America. That`s all big companies, big pharma, big
prisons, big food.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why? Why are they finally moving?
MURPHY: Two reasons. Number one, they don`t want to see folks
criminalized draconically anymore than we want to see ours. And this is
one America. Whatever the sentencing guidelines says should be the
sentence applies across the board to whites, blacks, Latinos together.
They get that.
They also believe there are too many federal laws. We`re over-
criminalizing folk. And they understand that.
And they want to roll back sentencing guidelines, too. They have been on
board with that for quite a while. And so, they`re not all bad.
HENDERSON: I think it`s really cost as well 2010, the federal government
spent $80 billion on in incarcerating people in this country and the states
are breaking under the budget of state prison systems that they fund. They
can`t afford to maintain these prisons at full capacity today any more than
they can afford to simply throw money away. So, they have to look at this.
TURNER: One of the good things we have done in the state of Ohio, hello,
was sentencing reform, where we take low level, nonviolent drug offenders
and put them back in community-based corrections.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Diversions.
TURNER: That`s right. Yes. We`ve got to do -- we owe that. You know, he
or she without sin cast the first stone. All I`m saying is that we need to
have more compassion for folks and help them get back on the right track.
That keeps all of us safe.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nina Turner, Billy Murphy and Wade Henderson, thank you so
Up next, the parents fighting for justice for their son, the mother and
father of Jordan Davis join us live.
HARRIS-PERRY: The lynching of one African-American boy Emmett Till in 1955
provided a spark for civil rights movement. Yesterday, nearly 58 years
after his death, Emmett Till`s cousin commemorated him and put his legacy
into his own context at the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMEON WRIGHT, EMMETT TILL`S COUSIN: They fired their first shot when they
shot Emmett. They fired their second shot when they shot Medgar Evers.
The third shot when they shot Dr. King.
But we`re not going to run, we`re going to march and we`re going to change
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And as Emmett Till provided a focal point for civil rights
movement five decades ago, so today the death of other black boy is
inspiring newly intense activism, particularly in Florida where protests
against stand your ground laws mobilized not only after Trayvon Martin`s
death early last year but also after the shooting death of Jordan Davis,
also 17 years old last November.
Jordan was sitting with friends in an SUV parked in a Jacksonville parking
lot last November when registered gun owner Michael David Dunn allegedly
fired eight to nine rounds into that SUV after an argument over loud music.
Two rounds hit Jordan.
Every since his death, his parents remained vocal and that`s why they are
here in D.C. this weekend, commemorating the march on Washington and
pushing for more change.
Joining me now are Jordan Davis` mom and dad, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis,
along with the family attorney, John Phillips.
Thank you all for being here.
LUCIA MCBATH, MOTHER OF JORDAN DAVIS: Thank you for having us.
UNIDENTIIEFD MALE: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lucy, did you mean to become an activist? And do you see
yourself as an activist now?
MCBATH: It`s funny you ask that. I come from a family of civil rights
activists. My father was active with the Illinois branch of the NAACP
branch for years. And I remember as a child sitting in the back seat of
the car, traveling around with mom and dad, as we follow Dr. Martin Luther
King and Roy Wilkins of NAACP, I remember just having our blankets and
potato chips and coloring books in the back seat of the car as we followed
And I remember my father giving speeches all over the country. And I had
no idea what he was speaking to or what he was speaking for.
As I became older and understood what my father was doing, I did ask him
one day, I said, daddy, you know, you were never there. You were never
there. And he said I wasn`t there because I was married to NAACP. I was
married to civil rights.
And that is so profound to me right now because I understand exactly what
he meant. Being here has meant the world to me because I believe -- I`m
supposed to carry out what my father started.
There`s something about watching Emmett Till`s cousin standing there now as
an adult man and realizing that Emmett would have been an adult man, that`s
the age he would have been. And yet, knowing that your son was lost and
feeling like have we made any progress. What happened with your son is not
the same thing. We don`t make equivalencies, but the loss of a child and
the need to talk about laws around that loss.
RON DAVIS, FATHER OF JORDAN DAVIS: It goes back for me -- my parents were
both in World War II. My mother is a nurse. She was a WAC in World II.
She was a nurse and she remembered. She always told me a story about those
times she was trying to patch up and save lives of soldiers whether you`d
be black or white soldiers.
And the Southern white soldiers told her the N-word, don`t put your hands
on me, even though she was trying to save their life. And it was always
profound to her that people had so much hate in their heart that they
wouldn`t let a black woman save their life. They would rather die than
that. And that was always profound to me.
My father said when he was in France and Germany and he would drive the
fuel trunk to the front. If you were a black soldier, they would take the
machine gun off the top of your truck they used to protect it against the
German planes if you were a black soldier, because the Southern whites
would think you would go up there and shoot them, your own people.
DAVIS: That was profound for me. My parents always taught me to have the
opposite view of the world and view all Americans as Americans and not
separate. So, that`s why my view is separate. For this to happen to our
son, again, I`m viewing it this was a particular hatred that this person
had for my son as a black child but that`s not the way America and not the
way the world is.
HARRIS-PERRY: If the challenge of trying to raise a child to be safe but
not to hate.
HARRIS-PERRY: How were you walking that path before this tragedy? How
were you trying to communicate that?
MCBATH: Jordan and I had many discussions about these kinds of things.
Many discussions about the fact he was a young black man trying to live in
a world that would not always embrace him because of the color of his skin.
Despite that, he still has the freedom to be who God ordained him to be,
who we believed he would be and he was to continue to aspire to that and
for that no matter what, and that he mattered, that we had feat in him.
We believed in him that he could be whoever he wanted to be, even if he
wanted to be a garbage man, he could do that. But do and be the best you
So, those were the discussions we had with him all the time. We know that
Jordan really believed in who he was as an individual, as a person. We
have no doubt about that.
So, despite everything that has happened, Jordan has turned out to be who
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there any way to get justice? I know there`s a way to
get a conviction. Is there a way to get justice?
JOHN PHILLIPS, DAVIS FAMILY ATTORNEY: Justice is spelled one way. It`s
defined a million different ways. You know, justice starts with a
conviction. This guy clearly did wrong, not only killed Jordan but shot at
three other boys. Stand your ground defense when you shoot three boys
leaving the scene -- I`m sorry, that doesn`t apply, should not apply even
though it may be in jury instructions.
Then, you look at civil justice and civil justice system just gives money,
it`s really not that great. Then you look where Ron and Lucia excel and
Sybrina and Tracy is changing the law.
PHILLIPS: And really getting people. It`s a butterfly effect. And I like
to say I was one of the first ones touched. I mean, I`m sitting here
getting chills over and over again. And kind of like them getting drag
My grandfather and great grandfather were lawyers and judges in Mississippi
who went and drafted wills for people they said they shouldn`t. They
shouldn`t go in these African-American houses and draft wills for them.
And, you know, when this happened, it put me closer to them and helped me
understand, my skin maybe a different color but we`re all part of the human
race. We`ve got to do better. I mean, my God, I`ve been so touched by
everything this weekend -- it`s indescribable.
HARRIS-PERRY: You absolutely set the table for us here. I appreciate how
generous you`ve been with your intergenerational study, that we`re always
standing here with our parents and with our children. And that you have
lost your child is unspeakable. But that you are here together and you are
continuing to parent him, despite his loss, is extraordinary.
I appreciate you continue to be parents to your son, even though your son
MCBATH: Thank you.
DAVIS: Thank you very, very much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lucia McBath, Ron Davis and John Phillips -- thank you all
for being here and for sharing every part of your story.
Up next, my father shares his memory of the march on Washington with me and
the moment that he will never forget. We`ll be right back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The struggle continues. If you`re a regular MHP show
viewer, then you know it is my father who taught me this truism since my
childhood. My father, William Harris, was born in the shadow of World War
II, grow up poor in the Jim Crow South, attended segregated public schools
in Virginia and went off to college in 1960 where he became a student
In August of 1963, my father was 21 years old. He was beginning his senior
year of college at Howard University right here in Washington, D.C.
Now, his twin brother, Wesley Harris, was a senior at the University of
Virginia. And on August 28th, Uncle Wes took a Trailways bus to D.C. where
he met my dad and the two had breakfast, and together walked toward the
Lincoln Memorial to attend the march for jobs and freedom.
This week, I asked my dad to describe what it was like 50 years ago. This
is what he told me.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAM HARRIS, MELISSA`S FATHER: And we were early and Wes and I were
some concerned about whether there would be sufficient numbers of people
there to be impressive. Just as I think our thoughts were beginning to
gather and some level of frustration on that, huge numbers of buses were
rolling in, people, the crowd just magnified itself tremendously.
And for me, I have to tell you, if it were not for skin and bone my heart
probably would, jumped out on to the ground. I had never been in a crowd
so large of black folk who came with a level of seriousness and I`m not
romanticizing it -- a level of commitment and a level of courage.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: My father went on to graduate from Howard University, to
earn a PhD and to become the first dean of African-American affairs at the
University of Virginia. But most importantly, he went on to work as an
advocate for poor communities. He ultimately retired as the Martin Luther
King Jr. visiting professor at MIT.
My father was 21 when he watched the Freedom buses roll into D.C. And
yesterday, his 11-year-old granddaughter, my daughter, stood at the foot of
the Lincoln Memorial as we commemorated 50 more years of struggle.
And as I watched her listening to the speeches on ground made sacred by the
sacrifices of her grandfather, I was reminded of our intergenerational
responsibility. The struggle continues, but you are not alone. You stand
on the shoulders of giants. They are there with you, showing you the way.
And that is our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I
will see you next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" with guest host
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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