Show: MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY
Date: March 8, 2015
Guest: Cornell William Brooks, Judith Browne Dianis, Christina Greer,
Janai Nelson, Dale Ho, Tori Wolfe-Sisson, Shante Wolfe-Sisson, Jeh Johnson,
C.T. Vivian, Forrest Harris, Susannah Heschel, Jacqui Lewis, Julian Castro,
Nancy Sewell, Terri Sewell, Jawana Jackson, Claudette Colvin, Lynda
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The day we want the world to know that we are
presenting our feet and our bodies as living witnesses and testimonies to
the truth as we see it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re watching today to dramatize to the nation and to
the world that hundreds of thousands of Negro citizens are denied the right
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the greatest moments that has ever
occurred in the history of our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
My colleague and friend, Dorian Warren, is anchoring the MHP show table
back in New York City. But here at Alabama this weekend, we`re marking the
50th anniversary of the Selma campaign, a civil rights strategy which
ultimately led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Yesterday thousands gathered to witness another signal moment in American
history, watching Congressman John Lewis, who`s very personal courage and
sacrifice 50 years ago made possible the election of the he introduced,
President Barack Obama.
Both men spoke at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the passion,
meaning and eloquence of their words moved many in the crowd to tears.
It`s a reminder that history is not past, the struggle continues.
In just a few hours, thousands are expected to march across that same
bridge once again, taking up the on-going effort to ensure that American
democracy is as real in practice as it is in principle. This morning,
we`ll reflect on the president`s speech and look ahead to the reason for
I`ll be joined by some of those charged with extending the legacy of Selma,
including the NAACP`s Cornell Brooks and the secretary of Housing and Urban
Development, Julian Castro. Dorian, these are indeed ongoing struggles.
DORIAN WARREN, MSNBC HOST: Indeed, Melissa, and as you mentioned, people
from around the country are in Selma today to make the same journey
activists took in 1965 when they were attacked, tear gassed and beaten by
police and state troopers on Bloody Sunday.
But today`s march is not just a tribute to those brave foot soldiers but
also a call to action, a call to remember what they were marching for,
voting rights, equality and full participation in American democracy.
President Obama issued that call when he spoke in the shadow of history
yesterday at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He paid tribute to the
men and women who put their lives in the line and paved the way for the
nation`s first black president while acknowledging that the struggle
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We just need to
open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to know that this nation`s racial
history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet
over. We know the race is not yet won. We know that reaching that blessed
destination where we are judged all of us by the content of our character
requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: The president also spoke of the legacy of Bloody Sunday and how it
forged the way for President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act
of 1965, one of the cornerstones of the civil rights era.
A cornerstone on shaky ground today, thanks to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling
that struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the formula used to
determine which parts of the country need preclearance to change their
Since then, several states have rushed to impose Voter I.D. Laws and other
restrictions. The court instructed Congress to write a new formula, but so
far neither the House nor Senate has held a vote on the VRA. President
Obama urged the members of Congress who journeyed to Selma to take action
when they return to Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning
achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic
efforts. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office.
President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office.
One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who
are willing to die for the right to protect it. If we want to honor this
day, let that 100 go back to Washington and gather 400 more and together
pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year. That`s how
we honor those on this bridge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: After the speech, the first family walked across the Edmund Pettus
Bridge joined by some of those President Obama honored in his remarks, but
the president did much more than look back in his address, he also spoke to
the next generation of activists following in their footsteps.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most
averse and educated generation in our history who the nation is waiting to
follow because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one
person, because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word
"we," we, the people. We shall overcome. Yes, we can. That word is owned
by no one, it belongs to everyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: Melissa, I am so eager to hear your reaction to this speech.
HARRIS-PERRY: As am I eager to harry your reactions, Dorian. I`m here
with Cornell William Brooks, who is president and CEO of the NAACP. He and
I were just saying that this felt like a moment when the president who we
remembered from a previous time re-emerged. He spoke back to critics this
week and it felt like he really gestured towards the moment we were in, not
just the history from where we come.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT/CEO, NAACP: Absolutely. The president
gave a speech that was not only soaringly eloquent, but seemingly honest.
He spoke truth to power. He made the case for the voting rights act paid
tribute to the heroines and heroes of yesteryear while issuing a
generational call to young practitioners of democracy in Ferguson and
Statin Island, all across the country, it was a powerful speech.
HARRIS-PERRY: It truly was. One of my favorite parts, Dorian and Cornell,
was the moment when he clearly was speaking back to that criticism that had
come from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani about him maybe not loving America,
and he talks about the value of critique. I thought it would be nice to
listen to that again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: What greater expression of faith in the American
experiment than this? What greater form of patriotism is there than the
belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be
self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our
imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to
more closely align with our highest ideals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Cornell, it feels to me like that value right there, the
value of criticism as evidence of patriotism is one of the great gifts that
African-American activism brings to the American story. It is in fact part
of the NAACP story.
BROOKS: Absolutely, because patriotism is a reflection of a love for
country and a love such that you`re willing to not only criticize the
nation but call the nation to its highest ideals, to be the country it was
called to be, founded to be.
Those patriots who are not willing to be self-critical demonstrate a lesser
love of country. And the president demonstrated a profound love of country
that reflects the values of people who shed their blood, sweat and tears on
He spoke to the country and he spoke to those critics who are willing to
criticize him for being self-critical and self-reflective as they ignore
injustice in our midst all the while calling themselves patriots. But they
are in fact arm chair patriots, not the kind that we saw on that bridge.
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, Dorian, I want to go back to you on this in part
because it did feel to me like my president just planted a big old shade
tree over everybody who wanted to make the claim that wanted to offer a
He also seemed to have planted to a shade tree over those who claim that he
never addresses race or racism because it felt to me like he very clearly
got to that part in the said and he said, people have been asking me about
race and here`s what I think.
WARREN: He went right there, Melissa. I thought this speech was a speech
that was from the president, but also from the organizer in him. He went
right to the Ferguson report the Department of Justice released this past
Basically made the argument that, on the one hand, racism is not over, we
still have deep pockets of racial inequality and disparity. On the other
hand things have changed and he has this line where he says ask anyone who
was here and lived through Selma 50 years ago and ask them if they have
changed and I think the answer is yes.
He was trying to fight cynicism that exists today but it was also an
organizer`s call to action. It was an organizer`s call to action.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, and it`s an important point, Cornell, to say, look, I
can acknowledge that this moment is not that moment and in fact it`s
important to acknowledge it otherwise I disrespect those who loved through
a more brutal time. I can do that without saying now everything is OK.
BROOKS: That`s right. We don`t have to -- we don`t have to engage in
nostalgia. We can be realistic about the president and the fact that the
president paid both homage to the bravery of those patriots of yesteryear
while at the same time saying we face challenges now, it dishonors Amelia
Boynton at 100 years of age to say that we don`t have the challenges of
It dishonors her service or the service of Congressman John Lewis. So I
believe the president was honest, but he was speaking not only to our
foremothers and our forebearers, but also these young practitioners of
democracy who on the streets all across the country standing with the
NAACP, standing with other organizations, but really standing atop the
American constitution and speaking to the conscience of the country.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you`ve been standing with a lot of those young people.
I`ve been very heartened talking about many organizers and activists from a
previous era, many of whom are still doing work. I asked them about black
lives matter and they said, you know what, I like what those young people
They may not be to where we were, but I feel like they are where we were
when we first started initiating, like the young people who sat down at the
Woolworth counter. Is that what you think, this generation has the
capacity to move us forward in some ways?
BROOKS: Absolutely. The fact of the matter is these young people have
mobile devices and cell phones and transform a moment in Ferguson into a
national and global conversation on police brutality. But we have to take
it a step further.
With the Voting Rights Act imperilled, the NAACP is calling on a generation
to engage on America`s journey for justice. From Selma, Alabama, to
Washington, D.C. across Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia
and into the District of Columbia, 850 miles of direct actions and
We`re saying, look, our forebearers did it then, you can do it now. But
we`ve got to stand together in a multi-generational effort.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that he in that moment was multi-generational. Stay
right there, everybody. The movement may not be -- the revolution may not
be televised, but apparently it might be tweeted and this is a movement
that has spanned generations and it remains undeterred.
WARREN: In recounting the success of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956,
the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned against complacency saying
time itself can become the enemy of progress.
He wrote, "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step
towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle.
The tireless exertions and passionate concerned of dedicated individuals.
This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and
And so even now, 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the
struggle continues, for voting rights, for equality, for progress. Joining
me now from Selma, Alabama, MSNBC reporter, Trymaine Lee -- Trymaine.
TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC NATIONAL REPORTER: Good morning. Yesterday, when
President Barack Obama stood at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge he
said there was nothing more American than the protest march that took place
50 years ago.
To commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Selma to Montgomery marches and
Bloody Sunday, let`s look at how the seeds of that protest are manifesting
LEE (voice-over): Long before the protests in Ferguson, Missouri -- before
young people by the thousands filled city streets marching under banners
demanding that black lives matter, youth in the Deep South were fighting
for voting rights, facing the violence and death.
SHEYANN WEBB-CHRISTBURG, YOUNGEST "BLOODY SUNDAY" PROTESTER: I had made up
my own mind that I wasn`t going to let nobody turn me around.
LEE: Of the countless foot soldiers and unsung heroes from the 1965 voting
rights campaign, some weren`t old enough to vote, let alone leave the house
without permission. Sheyann Webb-Christburg was one of them.
Known as Selma`s smallest freedom fighter, she was just 8 years old when
she and hundreds of marchers were attacked by state troopers on Selma`s
Edmund Pettus Bridge.
CHRISTBURG: I saw hundreds of policemen with tear gas masks, state
troopers on horses. I saw dogs, policemen with Billy clubs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Lord looked and saw me and said I want you to go
and take the lead.
LEE: Frederick Reese was a schoolteacher and co-founder of the Dallas
County Voters League, organizing some of the first marches for voting
rights in Selma. In his early 30s, Reese marched alongside some of the
dynamic leaders, including Martin Luther King and John Lewis, who was 25.
REVEREND F.D. REESE, ORGANIZE EARLY SELMA PROTESTS: When I think of that
young man as that person who had come through many dangers, came through
opportunities that had been denied many people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By the time I was 15, I had been in jail nine times.
LEE: Linda Blackman Lowry turned 15 on the journey from Selma to
Montgomery, the youngest person to complete the entire march.
LINDA BLACKMON-LOWERY, 15-YEAR-OLD SELAM TO MONTGOMERY PROTESTER: I
parents couldn`t do it. They would lose their jobs so it was left up to me
and the other children.
LEE: Now a whole new generation has picked up where the foot soldiers of
Selma left off, using the spirit of past struggles to fuel a new movement
for equal justice. Alecha Irby, Brandy Hatton, Jack (inaudible) and Kylie
Jones are part of the Freedom Foundation whose mission is to inspire and
cultivate local youth.
ALECHA IRBY, SELMA FREEDOM FOUNDATION: We`re really dealing with racial
profiling. We`re also dealing with the removal of Section 5 in the voting
LEE: Earlier this year, they laid down on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to
protest the killing of an elderly black man by Selma police.
BRANDI HATTON, SELMA FREEDOM FOUNDATION: We are really concerned about
equality and the fact that there are still injustices that are occurring in
our time now.
LEE: Despite the passage of time, this new group of activists say their
struggles are similar to those of their predecessors. Even the Pettus
Bridge perhaps the most iconic symbol of the violent struggle for equal
rights remains controversial.
KYLIE JONES, SELMA FREEDOM FOUNDATION: The name on the bridge is still
named after a KKK grand dragon. There`s still a memorial in our cemetery
that memorializes and commemorates a man that killed 200 African-Americans
during the civil war. If that stuff is still here and that means someone
in this town still thinks that`s OK and that`s a problem.
LEE: While the bones of history are buried throughout this town, the spear
of so many who struggled, the ones so many heartfelt victories and suffered
bloody losses lives in this new generation of freedom fighters and like
their predecessors, this group is undeterred.
JONES: The ones who came before us definitely laid some groundwork, but
it`s not done yet. And so if we stop talking about it, we`re thinking that
it`s over, but it`s not.
LEE: That was just a glimpse at how the mantle is being passed to the next
generation and folks are excited about taking that torch and passing it on.
Back to you, Dorian.
WARREN: MSNBC`s Trymaine Lee in Selma, Alabama, thank you. Joining us now
for more on the continuing struggle is Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of
the Advancement Project live from Washington, D.C. Judy, good morning.
JUDITH BROWNE DIANIS, CO-DIRECTOR, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT: Hi. Good morning,
WARREN: Where do you see the gains of the civil rights movement most at
DIANIS: Well, I mean, we`ve got a lot. One is, of course, the issue of
voting rights. The Supreme Court in the Shelby County case really did take
a dagger to the heart of the Voting Rights Act, so we are pushing for a new
restoration of voting rights and we`re hoping that people won`t be
hypocrites about going down to Selma and commemorating and not realizing
that it is still hanging on by a thread.
I think the other piece, of course, is that at the end of the day when we
look at all of the activity and the movement and mobilization across the
country, we haven`t finished the business of civil rights and racial
justice in this country.
That scathing report about the Ferguson Police Department just is pulling
off one layer of the onion of how African-Americans continue to meet
injustices every day in America and that it is systemic.
So we have a lot of work to continue to get at structural racism and of
course, there`s a movement that is building that is taking on these next
WARREN: So, Judy, you mentioned we haven`t finished the work of racial
justice. Talk to us about some of the things that need to be done to
guarantee full and fair access to the ballot in particular.
DIANIS: Sure. Well, first, of course, there`s the restoration of the
Voting Rights Act. We have to get something passed in Congress that makes
sure that states like Alabama, for example, continue to be covered so that
the Department of Justice has to preapprove changes.
So we`ve got this Voting Rights Act piece. We also believe we need a
constitutional amendment for the right to vote so that courts and
politicians will stop manipulating and messing with our right to vote. You
know, and then I think at every level throughout the country we have to
have watchdogs for democracy.
We have to have a strong voting rights movement where people understand
that we have to protect our right to vote as much as we protect our free
speech and freedom of religion. That this becomes -- it is sacred.
What we saw yesterday was people marching across that bridge. What we`ve
seen in the historical videotapes is that the right to vote is sacred and
that we have to protect it at every turn.
WARREN: So let me bring into this discussion Christina Greer, assistant
professor of Political Science at Fordham University. Christina, I want to
ask you, what are the other things? What`s the other body of work we need
to do to advance racial justice in this country?
CHRISTINA GREER, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, FORDHAM
UNIVERSITY: Well, I think going on with President Obama`s speech, we
really need to make sure we get youth involved from a very young age,
And part of that has to do with homes and communities, but part of that is
the systemic problem where we need to make sure that educators understand
this history and this legacy and that educators and people outside one`s
family also recognize the daily injustices and indignities that so many
African-Americans suffer every day.
We know that there`s work being done, especially in the south. You`ve got
project south, the Southern Peoples Movement across all 14 states. They`re
putting together a multi-generation strategy to combat all these ills.
But really helping people recognize, especially for African-Americans, that
even though we have been fighting this very long road, right, as we collect
other allies, right, because we know that immigrants are under attack, the
LGBT community is under attack.
Black people are under attack, Latinos are under attack, Asian-American
communities are under attack, women`s reproductive rights are under attack.
So if we can actually think about our allies then we can really start
productive moving forward.
WARREN: Christina, stay with me. I want to thank Judith Browne Dianis in
Washington, D.C. Up next, we go back to Melissa in Selma.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right now in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws
across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we
speak, more such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights
Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product
of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act
stands weakened. It`s future subject to political rancor. How can that
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama here in Selma yesterday afternoon
where he urged Congress to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. Here with me
now are Dale Ho, director of the ACLU`s Voting Rights Project and Janine
Nelson, who is the associate director counsel of the NAACP`s Legal Defense
It`s so good to have you both with us today. Talk to me about what you
heard from the president yesterday. Did he effectively make a case for why
we need a strengthened Voting Rights Act?
JANAI NELSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR-COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE: Absolutely.
I think he situated this historical moment in the present day context. He
said this is a movement that has spanned generations and yet still today we
know there are rules and laws that are specifically intended to keep people
from the polls.
That`s unacceptable 50 years after Bloody Sunday, after people shed their
blood, protested and laid their lives on the line to give us the democracy
that we enjoy now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Dale, help me to know what precisely needs to be in the new
Section 4 that will pass muster with what the Supreme Court said, but will
be sufficiently effective to do the work of preclearance.
DALE HO, DIRECTOR, ACLU`S VOTING RIGHTS PROJECT: What the Supreme Court
said was that the Section 4 provision can`t be based on events that
happened decades in the past. So we need a provision that`s based on
current record of discrimination in the states that are currently passing
laws, making it harder for people to vote.
So what`s been proposed in the Voting Rights Act amendment I think does
exactly that, it`s an updated provision that`s based on recent events and
rolls into the future.
HARRIS-PERRY: How does that provision -- how is it different -- we heard
from Reverend Barber yesterday that that has real holes in it.
HO: Actually the Voting Rights Act amendment is what`s been proposed by
HARRIS-PERRY: So Reverend Barber yesterday suggested to us that the holes
existed because of the length of time and the kinds of communities and
particularly the voter I.D. would not be part of it.
NELSON: Yes, so one of the concerns among the civil rights advocates who
want to ensure that there are greater protection is that some of the
coverage jurisdictions, some of the states like Alabama that gave birth to
the Voting Rights Act was not covered under the amendment, according to the
practice -- the roll-in coverage formula that is articulated in the voting
rights amendment act, but we need a hearing on the act.
We need to know and test out these theories to see if they actually will
have the impact that we hope they will. There`s also the issue of the
carve-out of photo identification. That`s something we need to think more
carefully about. That is obviously a law that is plaguing our communities.
We are litigating a case in Texas where students are not able to use state
issued I.D.s from that schools, but you can use a gun permit I.D. and there
is a real disconnect there.
So we do need to think more carefully about the photo I.D. provision, but
there are other ways in which we can strengthen the act and hopefully bring
it to the floor, and have a robust debate about it. We at least deserve
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, as you`re talking, we can hear in the background
there`s a jumbotron. We`re at the church where there will be a service
later and I can hear the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King`s voice behind you
even as you`re speaking. It`s just a reminder of how present this moment
is in what we are talking about in terms of trying to preserve access to
the ballot right now.
HO: What`s so amazing about 50 years ago is that as a country we finally,
I think, reached the consensus that everyone ought to be able to vote.
Nine years ago this act was reauthorized 98-0 in the Senate, 330-33 in the
House of Representatives. What`s changed in the last nine years that has
suddenly made these out of date?
HARRIS-PERRY: What has changed? I wonder. Thank you to Dale Ho and to
Janai Nelson. Thank you guys for being here today. Still to come this
morning, my interview with Congressman John Lewis and how the struggle for
civil rights really does continue especially right here in Alabama.
HARRIS-PERRY: In February, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S.
Supreme Court denied Alabama`s request to extend a stay on the federal
decision to strike down the state`s same-sex marriage ban.
This action cleared the way for same-sex couples to marry in Alabama
beginning on February 9th although 52 of Alabama`s 67 counties simply
refused to process the necessary paperwork for marriage licenses, one
Montgomery couple was the first to the altar.
The 21-year-old Shonte Sisson and her partner, Tori, became the first same-
sex couple to wed in Montgomery, Alabama, after camping outside the court
house the night before. Their official marriage comes a year the
commitment ceremony in 2014.
While they can now enjoy the legal protection of marriage, not all Alabama
couples are able to enjoy this basic civil right. On Tuesday, the Alabama
Supreme Court ordered probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage
licenses, stating that Alabama`s same-sex marriage ban still stands.
And now the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to begin hearing oral arguments
about whether states are allowed to ban same-sex marriage on April 28th.
This would allow the court to finally resolve this civil rights question,
possibly by the end of June, wedding season.
In the meantime, Shontae and Tori celebrating their marriage and their life
together, and the Alabama newlyweds join me now. I am so happy to have the
two of you with me today. You all had already undergone a commitment
TORI WOLFE-SISSON, FIRST SAME-SEX COUPLE TO MARRY IN MONTGOMERY, AL.: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why was marriage important?
SISSON: Because there`s no way for me to contact the hospital if something
happens to her. There`s just a litany of duties and responsibilities of
married couples that we just were not afforded with the commitment
HARRIS-PERRY: For me, when I first saw your pictures and the story about
you, I think it was Buzzfeed maybe where I saw that, I ended up posting you
guys to my Instagram on that day because I love the idea that in this
moment in Alabama, where four little black girls were murdered in a church.
Where the children, often African-American young women and girls marched
across the bridge just a few blocks from here, that of course on the next
part of the civil rights journey it would be us, who else would it be?
But I guess I`m wondering about standing in that position of woman, of
queer, of black, and of southern. How do you navigate those identities?
SHANTE WOLFE-SISSON, FIRST SAME-SEX COUPLE TO MARRY IN MONTGOMERY, AL.:
You can only navigate it wholeheartedly. Doing this work is very necessary
to be intentional about being intersectional and the LGBT community. So
being in this position we have the opportunity to represent the faces that
are not at the table when we talk about rights for the gay community.
HARRIS-PERRY: So it`s interesting because you framed that around the
question of sort of bringing race into the question of LGBT activism. I
guess I`m also wondering especially now empire has all of this language
about sort of homophobia within the black community and also navigating
these identities within civil rights struggles.
TORI WOLFE-SISSON: Right. In some spaces we`re the only black and brown
faces when we go, and it`s really important to notice that there are queer
black women who are in the south. It`s important to notice that there are
trans people who are not being noticed because of their complexion. So
that`s one of the reasons that we`re here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So that`s the big political stuff. Tell me a little bit
about how the two of you met and how you fell in love.
SHANTE WOLFE-SISSON: It`s your turn. Well, actually we met on the floor
of our apartment. I came down to Tuskegee to visit my sister. My sister
and her went to undergrad together. She was late to her own event and I
didn`t think I would see her again.
So I asked her a million and one questions about her being a vegetarian,
about her waking up at 5:00 a.m. to meditate. She was really interesting.
You don`t hear that a lot of our queer sisters of color. So that`s how we
I didn`t think I was going to see her again, so about a month later I came
back down to Tuskegee to homecoming and we happened to be at the same place
at the same time and the rest is history.
HARRIS-PERRY: And actually history. But let me ask, now that you know
that the courts are once again pushing back, do you feel at all vulnerable,
does that love story that has culminated in marriage feel vulnerable, that
your own marriage might be invalidated?
TORI WOLFE-SISSON: Absolutely. It`s entirely unfair that we were able to
be legally married and there are so many people who weren`t, as of the
other day, so it`s bittersweet. There`s no way for us to really be
celebrating when there`s so many people who don`t have this opportunity.
And also with a decision like the one that they made last week, that means
that we don`t have any of those protection so it doesn`t even matter.
SHANTE WOLFE-SISSON: It`s just like what`s a marriage license if I can`t
go to the hospital --
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, you all have a beautiful love story, you are
fantastic. We enjoy following you and will continue to do so and will
follow the legacy of this law. Thank you to Shante and Tori Wolfe-Sisson.
Still to come, my interview with Congressman John Lewis.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry, and I`m here in
Selma, Alabama. Sometimes when you stand in the middle of a commemoration
of a civil rights moment, then amazing things happen.
For me at this moment, I have this incredible guest I had not expected.
Our new Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson joins us. Thank you so
much for being here with us.
SECRETARY JEH JOHNSON, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I`m just a
bystander in the street today.
HARRIS-PERRY: So why are --
JOHNSON: Thank you for interviewing me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why are you in Selma? What is your Selma connection?
JOHNSON: I wanted to be here for the anniversary, for this very special
event. Fifty years from the first march, but my ancestors are from Selma,
the Goodwins. My mother`s family were all from Selma. And in fact a
person who I believe to be my great, great grandfather`s name is on the
cornerstone of this church right here, R.M. Goodwins, original secretary of
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, so for me as African-Americans in the U.S. context in
the south in particular, knowing that our legacies exist here, that our
histories exist here and there is so much ugliness associated with it but
also so much resistance and so much culture and so much family and
goodness, how do we connect those two things?
We heard the president yesterday say to critique America is to be a true
patriot. How do we connect those, to be honest about our full American
story while we`re in the context of truly protecting our nation in an
JOHNSON: Big question.
HARRIS-PERRY: You stopped by.
JOHNSON: I know, I did, big question. So much happened here, so much is
significant about Alabama to African-Americans in general. So many, many
of us have our roots here in the south, in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi,
South Carolina, North Carolina and elsewhere.
Almost all of us can trace our heritage to places like this. At the same
time, this is history. And so it was total coincidence seven years ago,
eight years ago when my sister and I and my wife and my kids and my parents
were taking an RV trip through the south.
We wanted to find our Goodwin ancestors. And so we looked around town, we
went to the colored cemetery, couldn`t find anything. Then we stopped here
to look at the monuments to the civil rights era and there we found a
Goodwin right here on the cornerstone. It was remarkable.
And so this -- I connect with this town in a number of different ways that
you`ve kind of just spelled out. It`s a family connection, it`s history,
and it reflects a determination to continue toward a more perfect union.
So I`m happy to be here for all of the above reasons.
HARRIS-PERRY: I have a policy question I want to ask you. Does robust
immigration reform make our nation safer or more dangerous?
JOHNSON: Safer. Let me tell you why. Robust immigration reform means
strengthening border security, but immigration reform in the president`s
view and in my view also means dealing with the approximately 11 million
undocumented who are in this country who are not going anywhere, who are
not going to be -- most of them have been here more than ten years and have
become integrated members of society.
So what the president believes and what I believe is that those who are
here, who have been here, who have kids who are citizens, lawful permanent
residents who have committed no serious crimes, we ought to encourage those
people to come out of the shadows so we know who they are from a law
So that law enforcement, local law enforcement in the communities in which
they live know who they are, so that these people can be encouraged to
report crime and be participants in our society and not live in the
So from a public safety homeland security perspective, it`s good to
encourage these people to come out of the shadows, and that`s what we`re
trying to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: Secretary, I am just so flattered and pleased that you
stopped by to chat with us and with our audience this morning. Thank you.
Thank you for being here.
JOHNSON: Have a good day.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.
Up next, much more live from Selma, 50 years after the Selma campaign that
led to the voting rights act.
HARRIS-PERRY: When the Selma to Montgomery marches took place in 1965,
movement leaders had already spent years strategizing and working in
southern cities. Many of the leaders who attempted to cross the Edmund
Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday were in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1960
orchestrating a sit-in campaign to desegregate lunch counters and
strategizing the freedom rides that would begin a year later.
The city of Nashville is home to not only a history of activism and courage
that defines our nation, but also to an institution that shaped many of
those leaders, the American Baptist College. Its noteworthy alums include
the late Reverend James Bevel and the living, of course, Congressman John
Along with our next two guests, the Reverend C.T. Vivian, an extraordinary
leader in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a Nashville
freedom writer and Dr. Forrest E. Harris, the president of American Baptist
College. Thank you both for being here.
Mr. Vivian, it is such a pleasure to stand here with you. Yesterday you
had the opportunity to hear the president reflect on 50 years. What did
you make of his address?
REVEREND DR. C.T. VIVIAN, CHAIRMAN, SOUTHERN ORGANIZING COMMITTEE EDUCATION
FUND: I think it was just right. He has never been better, but he is
always excellent. Whether he`s in the United States or whether he`s in
Europe, right. He always has so much sense and he is not politicking, like
most politicians do, right. He`s above that.
HARRIS-PERRY: When he spoke yesterday for me, part of what I heard was a
particular structure that sounds to me very much like the structure of a
black sermon. Sometimes the president uses that structure, sometimes he
doesn`t, but I heard him use it the way he laid out the points.
That`s part of why I wanted to have you all here today is that idea that
institutions are part of it. We talk about the big personalities that John
Lewis`s we talk about the moments in history. But the institutions matter.
What do we not know about ABT that we need to know?
REVEREND DR. FORREST HARRIS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN BAPTIST COLLEGE: American
Baptist College was that place where John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, James Bevil
all came in the embryonic stages of development, but with a hunger and
passion for justice. Our school, American Baptist College, was right there
to help match that passion with education.
It caught fire and when Martin Luther King Jr., the sit-in movements at
Nashville all came together, they were ready to speak into that moment of
history because that school was there, and it`s still there as a school who
trains social justice leaders.
It`s important that we come to understand that historical black colleges
have been those kinds of colleges that incubated and took our young people
and nurtured them into leadership.
American Baptist Church has the singular characteristic in this nation
that`s cultivating people like C.T. Vivian, John Lewis and James Bevel.
I`m proud to be president of that institution.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold for me one second because I want to listen to the
president doing a bit of an invocation, a biblical reference point,
something he also did in Selma when he spoke in 2007. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: When it feels the road`s too hard, when the torch we`ve
been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travels and draw
strength from their example and hold firmly to the words of the Prophet
Isaiah, those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will
soar on the wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They
will walk and not be faint.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: When you can hear the crowd responding to that because we
know that verse. And I thought he tapped into what it was and what it is
that faith does in a social movement.
VIVIAN: I think you`ve got to also see that this man went to church every
Sunday, all right, for some 20 years. Church wasn`t just a political front
for him, all right. It was in fact the stuff of life. And this is why our
-- you notice all of our leaders across the years with the exception of one
really, really made church his number one -- their number one concern.
Not only that, that`s who they had to talk to, right, and which they then
learned to preach to as well because the bible has been the basic
understanding of who we are and what we know and what we want to obey.
HARRIS-PERRY: That faith gives us courage and those HBCUs, which are
vulnerable and under attack give us the institutions to make that faith
into movement. Thank you to the Reverend Dr. C.T. Vivian and to the
Reverend Dr.Forrest Harris.
Still to come, we have so much more to get to this morning as we continue
our special edition of MHP, live from Selma, Alabama. We`re going to take
you inside the home where Dr. King stayed during his time in Selma and
we`ll introduce you to the woman who was just a young girl when her family
hosted Uncle Martin.
Plus we have the Secretary of Housing And Urban Development, Julian Castro,
and my interview with Congressman John Lewis. It`s all coming up in our
next hour. Stay with us.
WARREN: Welcome back. I`m Dorian Warren in New York. Melissa is in
Selma, Alabama, this morning outside the Brown Chapel AME Church, the
staging ground for today`s events. Later today thousands of demonstrators
will march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in what will be a
commemoration of the history-making march, what became known as Bloody
Sunday 50 years ago. So too will today`s march be a modern call to action
to ensure that the right to vote remains an unobstructed right for all
Americans, that Congress takes action to rework the voting rights act of
1965 after the Supreme Court struck down the essential section four of that
act just less than two years ago. We have a lot to get to this hour and we
are going to start by going to Melissa in Selma. Melissa, I understand you
had a moment to speak with Congressman John Lewis as he left Brown Memorial
AME Church yesterday?
HARRIS-PERRY: Dorian, I did. And like some of the amazing moments we`ve
been having already this morning, it was extraordinary to stand with
Congressman Lewis and to bear witness to the very personal moments of
reflection he had as he marked this sober 50-year-old memory of Bloody
Sunday. In 1965 John Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committees SNCC. He was on the front lines leading the
protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And Lewis endured some of the
most brutal attacks by the Alabama state troopers. The archival footage of
the brutality he endured is iconic. But John Lewis is no frozen icon stock
in a sepia tone photo. Lewis remains a vibrant, passionate, and effective
advocate for equality and yesterday I had a chance to speak with
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: People tried to keep us from voting, keep us
from registering, so we felt it must be important, it must be powerful.
And I think we all concluded that to vote is precious. Almost sacred. It
is the most powerful nonviolent instrument or tool we have in our
democratic society. And we wanted to use it. We wanted to be able to have
some sense, some control over our own destiny.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sometimes when we talk about courage, we talk about courage
as though there is no fear. As you, as the other protesters, as you
marched in that orderly, nonviolent fashion across that bridge and faced
those police officers, were you afraid?
LEWIS: I was not afraid. Growing up, I saw the signs, I didn`t like the
signs. I was inspired by Rosa Parks. I lost all sense of fear. On that
day and days earlier, I was prepared to die for what I believed in.
Someone, someplace, at some time had to stand up and say we`re not afraid.
You may jail us, you may beat us, you may kill us, but we`re not going to
give up and we`re not going to turn around.
HARRIS-PERRY: My last question, do you feel personal affront at what has
happened to the voting rights act at this point? Do your colleagues owe it
to you personally to pass a new section four formula?
LEWIS: Well, I tell you, when the Supreme Court made the decision to gut
the heart, to stab the voting rights act in the heart, I felt like crying.
But I couldn`t cry. I made up my mind to do whatever I could to try to get
my colleagues to come together to fix the decision of the United States
Supreme Court, and we will fix it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The brutality endured by the brave foot soldiers on Bloody
Sunday is not the end of the story. American lawmakers did not simply see
the violence and begin drafting a voting rights act. Far more strategy was
necessary to culminate in the final triumphant days of a long march when
Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands into Montgomery. Part of that
strategy occurred when following the violence on the bridge, Dr. King
issued a national call that read in part that people of Selma will struggle
on for the soul of the nation, but it is fitting that all Americans help to
bear the burden. I call, therefore, on clergy of all faiths,
representatives of every part of the country to join me in Selma for a
ministers` march to Montgomery. And come they did.
Pastors, priests, nuns and rabbis, black and white, from all over the
country. But the march they had come for did not continue to Montgomery.
The group crossed the bridge, knelt in prayer and then turned around to
head back to Selma. In a moment now known as turn-around Tuesday. But
even though they turned around on that bridge, those willing allies from
across the country were critically important to the larger strategy of the
movement. Together this multi-racial, interfaith group standing together
in the Jim Crow south dramatized that voting rights are an issue for every
American. Some, like Unitarian Minister James Reed, who was attacked and
killed by a racist mob the night after the march, even gave their lives to
A diverse group of religious leaders participated in the final march from
Selma into Montgomery, and the man second from the right in an iconic image
with Dr. King there is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a close confidant of
King`s. He would later write about the march. "For many of us, the march
from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips
and walking is not kneeling, and yet our legs uttered songs, even without
words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."
And I am pleased to be joined by the Rabbi Heschel`s daughter this morning,
Susannah Heschel. Also with us is the Reverend Dr. Jacquie Lewis Sr.,
minister of the Middle Collegiate Church, collegiate church in New York.
Susannah, to stand here with you, I feel your father`s presence with us.
SUSANNAH HESCHEL, FATHER MARCHED WITH DR. KING: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Whenever I say Rabbi Abraham Heschel to people who know the
movement they immediately think that is the story that we have to continue
to tell. That it was a movement of all faiths and people.
HESCHEL: Yes, it was. My father felt very deeply moved by the chance to
be here. He felt that the march had an experience of holiness for him. As
you said, he felt his legs were praying. That was extraordinary. But I
think also Selma did something for the Jewish people. It affirmed the
prophetic Judaism. So we came here to Selma now to celebrate and to say
thank you to the civil rights movement because you saved our souls as Jews,
you gave us back our Judaism in many ways. The Heschel Judaism.
HARRIS-PERRY: That notion of a prophetic religious practice, I heard the
President echo what is a long tradition within African-American largely
Christian Protestant tradition as well but it is not exclusively there.
And we heard it yesterday, in fact calling often on Old Testament text, on
the Hebrew texts that are shared in these faiths. Tell me what faith can
do right now that would be not divisive but instead uniting in building
REV. JACQUI LEWIS, SENIOR MINISTER, MIDDLE COLLEGIATE CHURCH: One of the
things we can do, Melissa, is to tell the story. This story continues, the
call to interreligious, interfaith relationship in the movement is
happening right now. My friend Stash Cutler pulled together a coalition of
Jews and Christians and Muslims and Unitarian Universalists in which you
are one to gather together in Washington, D.C. We went to the Linkhorn
(ph) Congress building and we did a die-in right in the middle of that
room. As we lay on the cold floor in that cafeteria with our bodies
intertwined, and our hearts felting with same clause, our legs had in fact
prayed. Our legs had sung songs. And we`re saying ain`t going to let
nobody turn us around. We need to just continue to believe that this
movement is interreligious, intergenerational and it is happening right
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet there is a real challenge to that. Just this week
we had the Congressional Black Caucus lead a walkout to choose not to be
present when the prime minister of Israel spoke before the Congress. Which
is a political moment, a political and a partisan, but I thought, oh, is
this a fraying of this long relationship between Jewish and black
communities. Is this an indication that it needs to be actively rebuilt?
LEWIS: I think it`s -- I think it`s an indication of work to do, but I
don`t think it`s the end of the story. I think there are many pockets and
places where it`s not just Jews and blacks working together but it`s Jews
and blacks and whites and Latinos and Asians and Muslims. A young woman
named Yasmina, an activist in the Ferguson movement in D.C., is pushing and
shoving for white relationship among folks and working on justice. So it`s
just a piece of the story but more or less the Universalists it is still
bending towards justice -- Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: What would your father say on this day?
HESCHEL: Prime Minister Netanyahu was wrong to say that he represents all
Jews, he doesn`t. My father would say of course we need alliances. As he
said, God is either the creator of all human beings or of no one. We can`t
accomplish anything by ourselves. We are together in this, and President
Obama echoed that yesterday when he said the important word is "we."
LEWIS: Every person of faith. Right? Every person of faith.
HARRIS-PERRY: My favorite moment in the speech was him saying, but the
most important word in the American story is we. We, the people. Yes, we
can. Right? That in fact it is about what we collectively do.
LEWIS: The leadership is dispersed. It`s young people everywhere, it`s
adults everywhere. It`s not just clergy, it certainly not just prime
ministers and our national leaders. It`s every human being.
HESCHEL: And did you see everybody got up and cheered when he started
quoting the prophets, when he started quoting -- President Obama everybody
and preaching President Obama because faith is so important. Because we
want to be inspired. It`s not just about politics and strategy. We need
inspiration and that`s the great of the civil rights movement. And that`s
his gift to us.
HARRIS-PERRY: He spoke of the Joshua generation when he was here
previously and quoted Isaiah. There`s something about this places that
does that to him.
Thank you to Susannah Heschel and to the Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis. Up
next, when we talk civil rights, we`re going to have to talk about housing.
And the secretary of housing and urban development, new dad of a new baby,
Julian Castro, joins me live.
HARRIS-PERRY: In June, 2014, the Atlantic magazine published a provocative
cover declaring the case for reparations. Now, this case was eloquently
argued by Panahasi quotes and rested on evidence drawn from the nation`s
long history of residential housing discrimination. Because while the
American landscape is no longer marred with whites-only signs and black
electoral influence is evidence from the White House to local city
councils, housing segregation remains largely unchanged and housing affects
every area of life, from schools to jobs, even to the quality of the air we
breathe. The battle for fair housing occupied much of Martin Luther King
Jr.`s final years, and shortly after King was assassinated in 1968,
Congress passed and President Johnson signed the fair housing act, legally
barring discrimination in housing. The agency charged with enforcing that
law is HUD, Housing and Urban Development.
And I`m pleased to be here with the secretary of Housing and Urban
Development, Julian Castro. So nice to have you this morning.
JULIAN CASTRO, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY: So good to be
HARRIS-PERRY: Very good to have you. So, I know that you were here in
Selma on Friday and actually took a walk around some of the public housing
projects we`re standing near now.
CASTRO: I did. I actually had a chance to visit three public housing
communities, including the George Washington carver homes that are right
here. These homes are about 63 years old and so I had a chance to listen
to some of the residents and hear from their perspective what they need and
to see the conditions and the housing. Today we have about $26 billion in
backlog public housing needs in terms of infrastructure investment, and so
there`s a real need in our nation to recommit ourselves to ensuring that
there are affordable housing opportunities, whether it`s public housing or
in the private market, in big cities and in small cities in the United
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, if I was not so cold, I would maybe turn a
cartwheel to hear a secretary of HUD invoke public housing and housing for
low income people. I think there was a moment when it became such a kind
of flash point, as though housing for poor people was inherently crime
ridden and bad rather than a place to help families living in poverty and
CASTRO: Oh, it`s amazing when -- and we`ve started to do some of this
research. When you think about all of the folks who are now great success
stories in the United States that have come out of public housing, the CEO
of Xerox and a whole host of entertainers, business people, people who are
in public office, public housing has served really as a hand up out of
poverty. And I think that it`s incumbent upon this generation to make the
same kind of commitment and also to be creative with how we fund that. For
instance, one of the things that we`re proud of now is something that we
call rental assistance demonstration that involves private financing to
help finance improvements to public housing and that`s making about 185,000
units of housing repair available across the United States. So, you know,
it`s relying on what we have, the resources that we have here, but then
also trying to be creative to stretch those resources.
HARRIS-PERRY: When you talk about creativity, I think about the fact that
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did take up housing segregation in particular in
Chicago, in northern cities. It was part of how he moved a southern civil
rights movement into a kind of broader national movement. And yet it has
remained so sticky. It has proved more difficult even than -- as difficult
and as much blood as was shed in the context of getting the vote and
bringing down those colored and white signs, man, housing has been tough.
What kinds of creative new tools start to expand the opportunities for
CASTRO: One of the big missions at HUD, because we have a fair housing
office that is very robust, is to ensure that there`s a level playing
field. For instance, we know today that African-Americans and Hispanics
are shown 10 percent fewer rental properties when they go out there into
the market, and so we have testers that go out. We work with nonprofits
that try and uncover discrimination where it exists and then ensure that
there are consequences for that. But beyond that, one of the things that
that article that you mentioned talked about was the history of the FHA.
And the FHA in its history used to play a role of in some ways furthering
that kind of segregation. Today we`re trying to do the reverse and open up
opportunity. So for African-American home buyers, for instance, 47 percent
of the mortgages go through FHA insured loans.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. Something is happening here.
CASTRO: Yes. I feel like I`m on the red carpet.
HARRIS-PERRY: You and I were talking and there is something --
CASTRO: The academy award or something.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I wanted to acknowledge and it`s Reverend Al Sharpton,
is my colleague, has this crowd revved up, which I love. That is
fantastic. All right. I wanted to ask you your Selma story.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, hold on in a second. But what I meant to do is listen
for a moment to the President talking about how Selma inspired many
communities and then ask you about how that might resonate with your own
experiences. Let`s listen for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: It`s the same instinct that drew
immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande. The same instinct that
led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust
status quo. The same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and
on the surface of the moon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So now we are in the middle of also a concert. It is
getting exciting here. But I wanted to ask how this moment is part of a
longer struggle that is certainly about black folks but not exclusively
about black folks.
CASTRO: That`s right. First, I told the President after the speech very
briefly that I thought that was the best speech he had ever given as
president, very inspiring. And one of the points that he made was the
sacrifices that were made here in Selma, the work of the activists here
really opened doors for everyone in the United States, for a more just
nation. So, my parents were involved in the old Chicano movement in the
late 1960s and early 70s, the Mexican-Americans civil rights movement. And
they were inspired by folks here in Selma and the civil rights movement
more broadly. It just had a ripple effect of folks trying to ensure that
America could lead up to its best ideals and words in the founding
documents. And that continues today and the President said it very
HARRIS-PERRY: Might we see you on the ticket as a vice presidential
candidate next fall?
CASTRO: I`m trying to do a great job at HUD. I doubt it.
HARRIS-PERRY: That wasn`t a no. Okay. Thank you to HUD Secretary Julian
Castro. And up next, they may be the most dynamic mother-daughter team in
all of Selma. Let`s take a listen as we go out.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re listening to the service getting under way here in
Selma, Alabama. This is, of course, the continuing celebration marking and
of course renewal of a movement here in Selma. And on January 9th, the
academy award-winning film "Selma" opened here in Selma, Alabama. And it
might not seem like a big deal for a film to open on its national premier
night, but at the moment, Selma, Alabama, had no working movie theater.
Getting the movie opened required some serious political and economic
effort. And that effort was spearheaded by the city`s Congressional
Representative Terry Sewell. The first African-American woman to ever
serve an Alabama Congressional delegation. This week, Roll Call reported
that Congresswoman Sewell was acting on a very clear directive from the
woman Sewell calls the real congresswoman from Selma.
Representative Terri Sewell`s mother Nancy Sewell, who reportedly told her
daughter, quote, "My congresswoman is not worth her salt if she cannot get
Selma on the day it opens nationwide to play in Selma, Alabama." Nancy
Sewell was the first African-American woman elected to city council in
1993. She served for 11 years and continues to have significant influence.
I am pleased to say that both Congresswoman Sewell and Nancy Sewell are
here with me today. Thank you both for being here.
NANCY SEWELL, AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN ON SELMA CITY COUNCIL: Thank you so
REP. TERRI SEWELL (D), ALABAMA: Thank you, kindly, for coming.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is your home church.
TERRI SEWELL: Yes, it is. Brown chapel, historic Brown Chapel AME Church.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I want to begin by asking you about yesterday.
Congresswoman, while you were there sitting with the president, the
President made reference to the voting rights act and you stood and
TERRI SEWELL: Because it`s so important that we remember the real legacy
that we can leave behind for these wonderful foot soldiers who have the
courage to march is not only do we need to commemorate them, but we also
need to remember the voting rights act was the ultimate thing that they
were marching for. And it`s under our salt, renewed our salt by photo I.D.
laws that are in lots of states. But I think the most important thing that
I was hoping with all those members of Congress and all those presidents is
that we`ll come back with a renewed sense of purpose as members of Congress
remembering why it was the voting rights act was so important. And it was
republicans and democrats. I have to remind my republican colleagues that
it was Senator Dirksen, who really, a republican, who really helped make
that a reality, because, you know, the other member -- the democratic
members wanted it, so it was really interesting.
HARRIS-PERRY: A major theme of the President`s yesterday was this issue of
intergenerational struggle. And I wonder how that is manifest in your
household, in the relationship between you and your daughter?
SEWELL: You have to know from whence you come with a projection for the
future. And so many of our younger people do not realize on whose
shoulders they are standing and why those soldiers were standing. And you
have to help them connect the dots. And you do that forever by teaching
them their history, the real history of the struggle. And so having said
that, it is so important that the older generation works side by side with
the younger generation.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I love what you said there. I think in part because we
can get into a place where we just say oh, those young people don`t know,
they don`t know any better.
NANCY SEWELL: But it`s your -- it`s our responsibility, the Moses
generation, is to teach them and lead -- teach and show them the way. Set
an example, that is true.
HARRIS-PERRY: In this moment as we look back and then as we are trying to
address these questions right now, at the core of the Selma moment is not
only the political, but the economic.
TERRI SEWELL: Absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: The issue of economic development and poverty in this
community. Does the political matter if the economic isn`t there? What
are the connection between them?
TERRI SEWELL: You know, I think that`s really the next wave. We have had
our two mayors that have been African-American here in Selma, and I`m now
the member of Congress from Selma. I have to pinch myself sometimes
because it`s this community that nurtured me and made me who I am. And I
know that we lack economic prosperity in our district, and my challenge
every day is to help provide those resources and opportunities so that
another generation of Selma youth can reach their full potential.
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that when you say you`re the congresswoman, you still
say it as though you`re a little bit surprised.
TERRI SEWELL: I am.
HARRIS-PERRY: That that is true. And to see the two of you together in
this moment is a reminder that that happens because of community, because
of family, and then to talk to both of you while this music is playing is
also a reminder of the ways in which faith plays into that entire
Thank you so much, the Sewells, for being here with us. Thank you to
Congresswoman Terri Sewell and to Nancy Sewell.
Up next, we`re going to take you inside the house that became a safe haven
in Selma for Dr. King.
Also still to come, the woman who took a stand by refusing to give up her
seat, and she did it before Rosa Parks.
HARRIS-PERRY: When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Selma 50 years ago,
he stayed in the home of his long-time friends, Dr. Sullivan and Richie
Jean Jackson. Now, the house speak in the headquarters of the STLC`s (ph)
Selma campaign with leaders convening in the kitchen and dining room to
strategize. King wrote sermons in the turquoise bedroom with the gold
duvet and King regularly used their rotary phone to speak with President
Johnson. It was on their living room television that King watched the
President announce the voting rights act. The Jackson house has been
preserved and turned into a museum, run by daughter, Juwana, who was just
five-years-old when her uncle Martin came to stay at her family`s home.
And Miss Jawana Jackson joins me now. Thank you for being here.
JAWANA JACKSON, FAMILY HOME WAS HEADQUARTERS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS:
Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: What is your memory of the man we know as Martin Luther King
Jr. but who you as a little girl knew as Uncle Martin?
JACKSON: Uncle Martin to me was a man that took time with a 5-year-old
little girl to make sure that I always knew how special I was and how
important it was to feel the moment and also how important it was to
understand what was going on in my hometown. This town was a movement, it
was a social movement for change that would benefit me and so many other
HARRIS-PERRY: So King having been a family friend and staying there ends
up being the thing that sort of focuses attention here. But what I want to
dig in with a little bit with you is that what King did was to arrive where
there was already a movement being built, into a home where there was
already organization growing. Does the preservation of the home as a
museum help to do that, to keep King in the story but also to refocus it on
the broader community?
JACKSON: You know, the Jackson home has been in my family since 1912. It
has a huge history of supporting a community that supported a nation. The
ability now for me to open up this home gives the public a unique
opportunity to see a special place that not only sheltered a movement, but
it was a place that cultivated a community spirit, where all people are
welcome and that is the American dream.
HARRIS-PERRY: So often we think of homeownership and the context of the
American dream as a very private one. I will get my home for me and for my
children. But what you just described is not only a home for your home and
for your family and children, but that it would be a space for community.
Have we lost that part of the story of homeownership and of the American
JACKSON: You know, home is where the heart is. The Jackson home, every
piece of that House has a special memory. It was -- it was the place that
nurtured Martin Luther King Jr., that nurtured the dream. If I did not
allow and take this time to open that home to this nation for future
generations to see where we`ve come from and where we`ve got to go, that is
the quest I now have of the Jackson home.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to also bring in friend and colleague, Dorian Warren,
who is back in New York. And bring you all in on this conversation.
WARREN: Melissa, thanks. And I want to bring back in Fordham Professor
Christina Greer. And Christina, I want to ask you, as we look ahead to the
thousands who will march today across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma,
talk to us about the importance of historical continuity. This is, of
course, an annual march, but it`s the 50th anniversary and it obviously is
getting a lot of attention. Why continue to do this march every year?
GREER: Well, I think it`s because for many black people across this
country, every Sunday is Bloody Sunday. And it is very important that we
recognize the 50th anniversary. However, on a day-to-day basis, so many
black communities are experiencing brutality, indignity, racism, injustice,
on a wide scale, not just with voting rights, but just in their daily
interactions. And so, yes, it`s wonderful that so many people have come to
Selma, from across the globe, I`m sure, but as, you know, for politicians
to really hammer home how important the voting rights act is, but we need
to keep marching and make sure that this isn`t just a once-a-year thing. I
mean, we know that, you know, I believe Reverend Glasgow in Alabama from
the ordinary people society, has been doing a lot of this work on a daily
This isn`t just a celebrity cause for him or for many of the people who
were down there. So I think we have to recognize that`s the key piece, to
really understand our history, not just as black people, right? This isn`t
black people`s history, this is America`s history. This is American
history. These heroes are America`s history. These villains are America`s
villains. Those are the original domestic terrorists, right? So those are
the people we need to recognize. Those are the movements that we have to
go beyond so that we can actually have real healing, substantive healing.
Right? We know that racism still exists, but racism has racists, conscious
and subconscious, right? Active and passive. So, if we`re going to
actually move forward as a nation`s collective history, we have to
recognize it, have some sort of self-reflection as the President talked
about, that real patriotism is self-reflection so then we can actually move
forward in this "we" society that the framers actually laid out.
WARREN: Self-reflection, self-criticism and a call to action to move us
forward towards a full democracy. Christina, thank you. And there in
Selma, thanks to Jawana Jackson.
More with Melissa live from Selma coming up next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yesterday afternoon Joy Reid and I were walking together in
Selma, Alabama, when we met a local family. The sisters and brother were
all teenagers during the Selma campaign of 1965 and all were foot soldiers
of the movement. They defied protective teachers and parents and chose to
take part in demonstrations, risking arrest and violence. I asked one
sister why she risked so much to participate in the movement and she told
me that living under Jim Crow was a daily assault on the self. When she
realized that she could be a part of changing it, she could not sit on the
sidelines. That same spirit motivated another teenager, a decade before
Selma in 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on
a segregated bus, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to move for a white
person on a Montgomery city bus. She was hauled off the bus and arrested.
Colvin has been studying -- had been studying Harriet Tubman and Sojourner
Truth in school that month and inspired by their courage, she chose to take
a stand by refusing to give up her seat. She became part of the basis for
the Supreme Court decision that overturned bus segregation across the
entire state of Alabama.
Claudette Colvin joins me now. I am so pleased to have you with us.
Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: What does Selma mean for you? Your work was in Montgomery,
but what does Selma mean for you?
CLAUDETTE COLVIN, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Oh, Selma means that we can come
here and reflect on all the progress that we have made in civil rights and
the laws that we have changed.
HARRIS-PERRY: You were 15 years old when you made a decision not to give
up your seat. What inspired you to do that?
COLVIN: All the injustices that was perpetrated on the black community at
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there something specific about the experience of being
young people, being teenagers, that makes you willing to risk so much?
COLVIN: I was willing to risk a lot because so many things was unfair.
One of my classmates was on death row supposedly being a serial rapist, his
name was Jerry Mirece and he was later executed in 1958.
HARRIS-PERRY: That sense of injustice holds me one moment. I want to
bring in my colleague in New York, Dorian Warren, and ask you, Dorian, if
you also want to weigh in or Christina Greer there on this question of how
young people have been particularly relevant for social movement.
WARREN: And Melissa, that was one of my questions actually to Miss Colvin
is just the role -- I know she must have been fearful that day as she gave
up her seat at 15. What can she teach our young people today who are
fighting in the Black Lives Matter Movement and other movements around this
country. What inspired her to overcome that fear to take such action,
courageous action of civil disobedience?
HARRIS-PERRY: What inspired you to take that action?
COLVIN: Oh, I just felt that it was wrong and my parents and my
instructors and the elder people before talked about all the injustices and
how we had been mistreated ever since we`d come from Africa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Have you ever wondered why your name hasn`t been more
connected with the civil rights movement in the way that, for example, Rosa
Parks has been?
COLVIN: I understood it. I understood that they had to select someone who
would be representative of all classes and adult, I understood that. But
what I really was disappointed with, that even after the 25th year when
they had an anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott, they did not mention
Browder versus Gayle. And initially it was five women but one woman backed
out, her name was Jeanette Reese, but it was four women. That was Ria
Browder, Mrs. Susan McDonnell, Mary Louise Smithware (ph) but she was a
teenager also and myself that desegregated -- the case went to the Supreme
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me take this moment to say thank you and to thank you
for your role in the movement.
COLVIN: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. Thank you. And thank you to Claudette Colvin
for joining me here. We will have more live from Selma when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yesterday President Obama spoke at the Edmond Pettus Bridge
to mark the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery,
Alabama. The first day of the march in 1965 became known as Bloody Sunday
after state troopers clashed with 600 peaceful protesters on the bridge.
One of my guest today, Lynda Blackmon Lowery was one of those 600
protesters attacked by police that day. She was only 14 years old. She
turned 15 on the second day of the march and became the youngest person to
complete the march all the way to Montgomery. Yesterday Lowery once again
found herself on the Edmond Pettus Bridge, but this time she was seated on
stage with President Obama as he delivered these remarks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: We gather here to honor the courage
of ordinary Americans willing to endure Billy Clubs, the chastening rod,
tear gas and the trampling hoof, men and women who despite the gush of
blood and splintered bone would stay true to their north star and keep
marching towards justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And Lowery has continued to march toward justice as a
protester. She was jailed nine times before her 15th birthday. She went
on to become a case manager at a mental health center. And most recently,
Lowery documented her experiences in Selma in a new memoir for children,
"Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom." My story of the Selma voting rights
Lynda Blackmon Lowery joins me now. I`m so happy to meet you in person.
LYNDA BLACKMON LOWERY, AUTHOR, "TURNING 15 ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM": Thank
HARRIS-PERRY: You sat with the President of the United States yesterday.
LOWERY: Not quite. I sat in the VIP section, and I did meet him, take
pictures with him and the First Lady, and the First Lady and I were talking
so about my scars and my being on the bridge at 14 and being beaten. She
had to tell him, honey, look at this! Because I was showing her my scar on
the back of my head where I had the 28 stitches.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m wondering, given that she is the mother of teenage girls
not far from the age that you were when you took those courageous acts and
were brutalized in that way -- I mean, my daughter is 13. And to hear you
say that makes me both angry and sad but also so grateful for your courage.
What did the First Lady say to you in response?
LOWERY: She was very concerned, and she was looking as I was telling the
story like with her mouth open. And she was holding my hands and she was
saying, I`m so sorry, I`m so sorry, you know. And if she wasn`t sincere,
she got an academy because she sure act like it. But I did believe she was
sincere. And I did feel that she felt that way. As the President said
when he was in the tent with the foot soldiers, that he had -- he wanted
his daughters to know that history. And that`s why they were with him
HARRIS-PERRY: I will say, to echo what the First Lady said, that I`m sorry
that happened. I`m grateful that you chose to be in such a place of
courage, and also in this moment when we turn people into icons, to stand
here with you as a person. I mean, yes, a hero, but as a person, thank you
for your sacrifices. Thank you for the work of all of you. And thank you
for writing about it so our children can learn it and know it.
LOWERY: Well, in this day and age, children need to know that in the world
today, they see everything just topsy turvy and so hurtful and fearful.
And they need to know that they can make a change.
HARRIS-PERRY: They can.
LOWERY: And that change comes with fear.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And yet, you walk through that fear. Thank you to
Lynda Blackmon Lowery. What an incredible day it has already been here in
Selma, Alabama. Just moments ago, Attorney General Eric Holder and
Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch arrived here at the church. And
there`s going to be much more to come from Selma today on MSNBC. Dorian,
thank you back in New York.
WARREN: And thank you, Melissa. Powerful interviews. Thanks also to
Christina Greer here in New York and also thanks to you at home for
watching. That`s our show for today. Be sure to watch MSNBC`s extended
coverage of the annual march starting at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon. Melissa
will be back here in New York next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And you
can catch my show "Nerding Out" on Shift by MSNBC, Thursdays at 11:00 a.m.
Now it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT." Betty Nguyen is
filling in for Alex. Betty.
BETTY NGUYEN, MSNBC HOST: Hello, Dorian. Thank you very much. We do have
a live reports from Selma, including one from Melissa. We`ll talk with
MSNBC`s Trymaine Lee as well and hear from those who are taking part in
this historic weekend.
Also, new protests and questions after an unarmed black teenager is shot
and killed by police in Wisconsin. We`ll hear from a state representative
who was near the scene and heard the gunshots.
Plus, not ready for the real world? The test that revealed that millennial
skills have a big gap in them. We`ll show you one of the questions they
were asked. Don`t go anywhere. I`ll be right back.
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