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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Out in the Open: Racism in America
Aired December 19, 2006 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everyone. And thanks for joining us for a very special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW: "Out in the Open: Racism in America."
We're coming to you from the restored Jefferson Theater in Beaumont, Texas, a theater that used to restrict black people to only the balcony -- not uncommon in theaters all across the South.
Tonight, we have brought together a racially diverse audience of people from East Texas and from all across the country. The very fact that all of us are here says an awful lot about how far our country has come in dealing with issues of race. Yet, as we have been doing for the past few weeks, if you take an impartial look, just below the surface, you find that racism lingers in every corner of our country.
In a recent poll we commissioned, 84 percent of blacks and 66 percent of whites call racism a serious problem.
We are in Beaumont tonight, because just up the road is a town that didn't want us to broadcast tonight from there. Vidor, Texas, has a history of racism.
We recently sent our correspondent Keith Oppenheim to see how that legacy affects the town today. He found conflicting perceptions. Some people say Vidor still has significant problems with racism. But others say, Vidor is fine, and blame outsiders for not letting go of outdated stereotypes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have got the Southern stereotype really stuck on us. It's like, no matter what we do, we can't escape it. It's -- it's a bad sore.
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This small city of 11,000 people is struggling to overcome its history. In the 1950s and '60s, Vidor, Texas, was one of hundreds of American communities that were called sundown towns, places where blacks were warned not to be caught after dark.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless Vidor!
OPPENHEIM: Vidor was also a haven for the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1993, the federal government tried to integrate Vidor by bringing a few African-American families into public housing. The Klan marched. Within months, the black families moved away. The city is still mostly white, despite a large African-American community nearby in Beaumont. Numerous black residents in the area told us, they avoid Vidor to this day.
WALTER DIGGLES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DEEP EAST TEXAS COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS: They think that that's a racist town, and, when you go through Vidor, you better be very careful. And -- and most -- most blacks still refuse to stop.
OPPENHEIM: Our first story on Vidor was broadcast a week ago and described a place that had changed, but still hadn't escaped its racist image. Some residents thought our coverage was unfair.
JOANN FOSTER, RESIDENT OF ORANGE COUNTY, TEXAS: Because you are reporting on something you know absolutely nothing about.
OPPENHEIM: In particular, some people were angry about this interview, in which a local woman told me she would welcome blacks to Vidor, then added this:
PEGGY FRUGE, RESIDENT OF VIDOR, TEXAS: But, as far as mingling and eating with them and all that kind of stuff, I mean, that's where I draw the line.
OPPENHEIM: In Vidor, I was widely criticized for perpetuating a stereotype.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they did the interview here, they chose the wrong people to say the wrong things. And it looked like it was just for good TV.
RUI CORREIA, RESIDENT OF VIDOR, TEXAS: Vidor is a town that anyone can move in, and...
CHRISTINA CORREIA, RESIDENT OF VIDOR, TEXAS: Be accepted.
R. CORREIA: ... and be accepted.
OPPENHEIM: Rui and Christina Correia clearly break the stereotypes. Rui is from the West African island nation of Cape Verde, and came to Vidor six years ago on a mission with the Mormon Church. He married Christina, who is from here. They now have a son. And Rui teaches Spanish at the high school.
C. CORREIA: We love it here, and we're normal. I don't even think about being married to a black man. I mean, it's just like he's white. I just don't think about it. We're treated just like everybody else.
OPPENHEIM: Charles Jones lives in Beaumont, and doesn't believe he would be treated like everybody else. Jones says, when he was a teenager, he experienced racism in Vidor.
CHARLES JONES, RESIDENT OF BEAUMONT, TEXAS: .. are people in Vidor who are trying to change the image, but they don't -- they don't welcome blacks there. They don't -- they aren't -- they aren't really comfortable with blacks living inside of, working in Vidor. They don't want them in the schools with their children.
OPPENHEIM: So, two views -- many whites who feel the progress they have made has gone unrecognized, many blacks who believe racism persists.
Mark Potok has studied racism in East Texas.
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: What really happens is that, if you go across the tracks -- and there are tracks in most towns in East Texas that separate the towns racially -- and you actually speak to black people, you will find that they have an entirely different view of reality than the whites who live across town.
OPPENHEIM (on camera): In this town, Vidor, many residents tell me they feel unfairly targeted, and that national media stories, like this one, make it more difficult for the city to heal -- Paula.
ZAHN: Thank so much, Keith.
We have come to Beaumont to continue a national dialogue we started on this program. How do we get below the surface and bring racism out into the open?
I want to make it clear, this town meeting is not meant to pick on Vidor. We invited the city's mayor to join us tonight, but he and other city officials said no. I happened to meet with the mayor a little bit earlier today. And he told me that he would have been very happy to join us here tonight, but others in his community didn't think that was such a good idea.
He feels very strongly that Vidor is being exploited as a symbol of racism in America, even though they say it is not that way anymore.
Despite that, a number of people from Vidor are joining us this evening. You will hear them speak.
But we also have a panel that we want to introduce you to as well. That includes Pastor Rodney Moore of Joy Church International in Vidor, former district attorney Guy James Gray, who won convictions against three white men who chained a black man named James Byrd behind their pickup truck, and dragged him to his death back in 1998. That happened in Jasper, about 60 miles from here. And now I want to introduce you to journalist and author Joyce King, whose book called "Hate Crime" happens to be about that case.
Glad to have you all with us tonight.
I wanted to start in the audience tonight with Melanie (ph).
How much do you resent the -- the perception that -- that Vidor today is still a racist town?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been an interesting week. With -- as conversations have happened, and we were invited to come tonight, so many people did not want to come. And the reason is, they just feel burned by the media. They feel like they -- this has happened over and over and over again. And they just want to be left alone.
And a lot of people ask, why -- how can a town that is mostly white -- how can a town that is mostly white not consider themselves racist? Why are we still mostly white?
And I think the answer to that is that this happens over and again. A reporter will come to Vidor with a story, with an agenda in mind, and, through a stereotype of his own, as we saw in the -- the clip previously, choose somebody who is going to give him the type of answer that he's looking for. And, then -- and, then...
ZAHN: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... he broadcasts it as if it's -- as if it's...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... standard.
ZAHN: Let me bounce that off our panel right now.
Rodney Moore, is this something that the media has gotten wrong? Or do you still think, today, many decades after Vidor was a sundown down, racism still exists?
PASTOR RODNEY MOORE, JOY CHURCH INTERNATIONAL: One of my first experiences concerning Vidor was when I was managing a company in Houston, Paula. And we sent a driver over at that time who was black. And we did not realize. And myself growing up in Houston. But I received a phone call from a -- a local business that said, make sure he's gone before dark.
ZAHN: How long ago was that?
MOORE: That was 20 years ago. So...
ZAHN: OK. But are things any better today?
MOORE: I -- I...
ZAHN: Or do you, in your daily life, still see racism directed towards black -- blacks?
MOORE: I think you can see an element, but I do not see it.
We're in the process of planning a church in Vidor that is multiethnic. And we have had no problems at all. Appreciate the good work that city leaders are trying to do to change an image. And that's difficult. You have to be proactive many times to see change.
ZAHN: Can you ever completely shed these scars? No?
GUY JAMES GRAY, FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY: No. Long, long time, just like Jasper.
ZAHN: And is that due to any inherent prejudice on the population's part? Or you just think that the legacy is -- is so deep and so strong, and the pain is so great, that people just can't forget the past?
GRAY: The -- the vast majority of the people in Vidor are good, solid people. But there is a presence of Klan there that has been there all my life, as long as I can remember.
And that reputation has -- has become very solid over the years. When we were working the cases in Jasper, the Klan guys there had communications with the Klan guys out of Vidor. When the Klan came to Jasper in their rallies, there was a Vidor presence in that.
That -- that reputation has a -- has a real base. But there are pockets of racism all over this state and all over East Texas. Vidor may have a slightly larger pocket than some of the others. But it's there. And I don't -- I don't think -- it will be a long time before it's erased.
ZAHN: Joyce, I see you nodding.
JOYCE KING, AUTHOR, "HATE CRIME": Yes.
ZAHN: And -- and do you completely agree with him, that you can just never, erase these scars?
KING: First of all, I do not believe in closure. I believe in healing. I believe in racial reconciliation.
And we haven't had that in this country. Part of the problem is trying to forget history, when we have never learned history. And I think -- I begin a lot of lectures telling students, black and white are in a marriage arranged by God. Neither one of us can get a divorce. We ought to stop trying.
ZAHN: All right. Well, how -- how do you think folks get along in community? Anybody else want to join us? Have any thoughts about the -- the state of harmony, or lack thereof?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (OFF-MIKE)
ZAHN: Yes, very quickly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just wanted to say what's missing is that -- the positive examples of how African-Americans have not only played -- have been accepted, but they have played an important role in our community.
Last year, an African-American was voted as the Mr. Vidor High School. And that's a big deal, just because his friends liked him. There was no talk that -- there was nothing behind it. And -- and, then, there's also Katrina victims, treated very kindly by our community. And there's lots of examples like that. We have some -- some different ethnicities just in our group right here represented, where cultures are just accepted.
ZAHN: Anybody else want to weigh in that who has the opportunity to either spend time in Vidor or chooses not to?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paula, I think that the -- when you talk about racial reconciliation, this community, with a number of ministers, in 1996 led a service reconciliation, specifically on that. And over 100 churches came together with over 2,000 people.
ZAHN: Did it make any difference?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It made a difference, because what we learned through that process was, there's no trust. Trust is the issue. There's no trust because there is no relationship. There's no relationship because there is no communication. There's no communication because there is no intentionality.
And what we found is, people like this pastor here, these pastors' intentionality caused us to come together, to build relationship. Through that relationship, we started understanding each other's views. And our politics changed. Our views changed. Our actions changed.
ZAHN: And we would like to come back to that thought, because it's a very important one.
But we have to take a short break here. And we will continue to learn more about what you did to -- to bring your community together.
In a minute, we are going to broaden our conversation. And I will introduce the other members of tonight's panel to talk about racism just below the surface all across America, when our town meeting continues.
Please stay with us. We will be right back.
ZAHN: And we want to welcome you back to our special town meeting, "Out in the Open: Racism in America."
We are in Beaumont, Texas, talking about the legacy of racism in this part of the country.
And I want to bring in more members of our panel now, talk radio host and executive editor of "The Chicago Defender," Roland Martin, and civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton.
Welcome to both of you. What goes through your mind when you hear what we have heard so far? There seems to be great discomfort in anybody tackling the issue of the past and how it confronts the present.
AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: You know, I think that you have got to be very careful that, when you are protective of your image, saying it's new, that you don't give the signal that you are really in denial and really trying to hide that it's gone.
Give you the best example. In New York City, not the Deep South, 20 years ago, a young black man was killed in a -- a section of Brooklyn called Howard Beach. I led the marches through there. They threw watermelons at us and all.
This year, a young man was beat in that city, in that part of the city. We went back to Howard Beach, and the people came out and welcomed us and said: We don't want to be known for that anymore.
And the story became the progress they made. My recommendation to people of Vidor, if you really felt it was about change and you are no longer that, don't act like it didn't happen. Say: It did happen, but that's not who we are.
And bring the blacks out, and let the mayor come forward. As long as you hide, people feel you have something to hide. The only way reconciliation worked in South Africa is, they say: Yes...
ZAHN: All right.
SHARPTON: ... there was some ugliness. We have to get rid of it.
But in denial means...
ROLAND MARTIN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE CHICAGO DEFENDER": Right.
SHARPTON: ... it's continuing.
ZAHN: All right.
But you heard our guests saying at the top of the hour that -- that she believes that -- that the -- the media has gotten this wrong, and they continue to unfairly use Vidor...
SHARPTON: The media didn't put hoods on people. The media didn't tell people to get out of town by sundown.
And I think, if it's no longer there, then the mayor and everybody should have proudly come and say: That's part of the past. We need to move on.
The fact they didn't doesn't mean it's still happening, but it does mean some of us suspect, what do you have to hide? You should be glad to have CNN put you on to say that's not who you are anymore.
ZAHN: Skelton. KENNETH SKELTON, AUTHOR, "SLAVERY: THE ABUSE OF A NATION": Yes, Paula.
I was in -- going through Vidor a few years ago, and a man stopped, and he looked at me with a very strong stare. And he -- and, then, I knew that I needed to get out of that town.
But I believe that the vocal minority has messed up things in Vidor for the solid majority. And I think that there should be a spiritual and psychological approach to ending racism in America. And just to act like it didn't happen is not going to work, because now we're free to speak, when we were not before.
It prompted me to write a book on this issue, "Slavery: The Abuse of a Nation," and use it as a cyclical model of how passed-down hatred is stronger than firsthand hatred.
And I -- that's what I have to say on that. And I would share with these people in Vidor to not be silent majority. Raise up and be the vocal majority and silence the minority.
ZAHN: I see you all nodding in agreement.
ZAHN: Is that something you are comfortable doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm the pastor at First Baptist Church in Vidor.
And we have seen that issue in the past, that -- the need to be more protective in our activities to bring about reconciliation. I'm a part of this movement that was started several years ago. And the First Baptist Church of Vidor has been in a worship and fellowship agreement with Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church of Beaumont for the last two years.
They have come and worshipped with us. Their pastor is seated right over there, Brother Oveal Walker. He's preached in my pulpit.
ZAHN: What do you think is the impact of that? Has it -- has it changed anything?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you have to start getting to know one another. And I -- and I want to go on record and say publicly that we do not see racism in Vidor as a social issue or a political issue.
It's a spiritual issue. It's a matter of sin vs. righteousness. It's sinful to be a racist. Now, I know that we live in a postmodern country, postmodern ideology that says there is no absolute right or wrong. And that's a great fallacy, because to say and agree with such a statement is to say that a racist has a right to believe that.
We don't believe that. We believe that it is morally wrong. It is sinful. It is against the principles of God, and God's people should not embrace anything like that. And, so, thus, we work to bring about racial reconciliation. That's our heart.
The pictures you showed...
ZAHN: You know what? We are going to take the opportunity, after this next short break, to -- to come back to that idea, because it seems to have a lot of resonance in this crowd tonight.
ZAHN: And -- and we need to -- to remind everybody -- and you, obviously, are very wary of this -- that racism isn't just a Texas problem or a Southern problem. It's everywhere in America.
And we are going to address that next, as well, in our town meeting from Beaumont, Texas.
Please stay with us.
ZAHN: Welcome back.
Tonight, we're at the Jefferson Theater in Beaumont, Texas, for our town meeting, "Out in the Open: Racism in America."
We want to warn you now that, even though our next report is very important, it does contain some very offensive language. And we think that's an important part of this dialogue when Americans speak out about the past.
There was a time when so-called sundown towns all across the South warned blacks to leave before sunset. To the surprise of many, Deborah Feyerick found that some Northern towns share a similar legacy.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Take a close look at this map. It's the state of Illinois. And, like every other state in this atlas, the handwritten pink markings reveal what sociologist James Loewen calls America's hidden problem.
(on camera): All towns that you have marked here in pink had a whites-only policy on purpose? It wasn't an accident?
JAMES LOEWEN, AUTHOR, "SUNDOWN TOWNS: A HIDDEN DIMENSION OF AMERICAN RACISM": That's what I'm saying, formal or informal.
FEYERICK (voice-over): Loewen spent the last five years exploring a dark part of the nation's past, writing a comprehensive history on what he calls sundown towns.
LOEWEN: A sundown town is a town that, for decades, was -- and some of them still are -- all white on purpose.
FEYERICK: They are called sundown towns, because, when the sun went down, African-Americans had to make sure they were outside city limits.
LOEWEN: If you are a black person after dark in a sundown town, you have made a mistake. And I have case after case of people being killed for it.
FEYERICK: When Loewen began his research five years ago, he was surprised to find so many towns, 10,000 by his estimate, that qualified as sundown towns cropping up at the turn of the century, and lasting up until the 1970s.
And they weren't in the Deep South, but mostly in the North, places like Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, to name a few.
LOEWEN: It was said that, if you were driving from Saint Louis to Chicago, you better gas up, and even have a -- a spare tank of gas in your car.
FEYERICK: Some had warning whistles, others, signs at the city limits that said "Whites Only After Dark."
LOEWEN: In Tennessee, a black mule -- and the symbolic meaning of that is: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) don't let your black ass be here overnight.
FEYERICK: Most often, people just knew they had to get out of town, not because of any law, but because they had heard stories of harassment, intimidation, even death.
LOEWEN: Everybody just knew. And, if they didn't know, the chief of police made sure they did know.
FEYERICK (on camera): If the chief of police enforces something, even if it's not on the books...
LOEWEN: That's an ordinance.
FEYERICK: That's an ordinance.
(voice-over): Some of these towns became havens for the Ku Klux Klan. And, even as time passed, and a town changed, it was difficult to shake the history.
Steven Taylor grew up outside Buffalo, New York, in what was once considered a sundown town. He still remembers the blatant racism his mother faced when the family tried to buy a house.
STEVEN TAYLOR, PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: This was back in late '64. She said to him, just before hanging up, "So, by the way, we're colored," which the term that we used then.
And he said, "Well, in that case, Mrs. Taylor, you don't have enough money for this house." Click.
FEYERICK: Loewen believes that most sundown towns have given up their policies.
Still, he says, look closely, and there are many areas that remain off-limits to blacks.
Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Washington.
ZAHN: Now, here is something surprising we found when we asked black Americans if they have been victims of discrimination.
Our Opinion Research poll shows, 51 percent felt they had been victims of racial discrimination, while 48 percent said no. Statistically, black America is divided on that.
Let's bring back our panel now with one more new face added. This time, it is Tim Wise. He is an educator, an activist, and author of the book "White Like Me."
We have heard from the pastoral community tonight...
ZAHN: ... and -- and this effort that is now under way to really spur on this dialogue, and try to find a -- a new sense of harmony...
TIM WISE, AUTHOR, "WHITE LIKE ME: REFLECTIONS ON RACE FROM A PRIVILEGED SON": Sure.
ZAHN: ... out of the -- the pain of the past.
ZAHN: Where do you think it's going to take towns like Vidor?
WISE: Well, it's going to take not just Vidor. I mean, this is not only a national problem, as Jim Loewen's research points out. But it's also not just an interpersonal problem.
I don't disagree with anything that has been said here about racism being sin. But it's also institutional inequity. So, just to broaden the debate just a bit, in 1993, when the most recent drama went down in Vidor, that same year, the federal government's own data suggests there were between two and three million cases of housing discrimination against people of color in this country.
There ain't two to three million people of color in Vidor being the victims of racial discrimination. That's all over America. In 1998, when James Byrd got dragged to death behind that truck in Jasper, the CDC, Centers for Disease Control, reports that there were 70,000 black folks in this country who would not have died, but did die because they did not have the same access to high-quality health care as white folks, on average. That's 70,000 James Byrds. And, A, we didn't hear about it very often in the media. And, B, we didn't have the same level of national outrage.
So, let's keep in mind, we can have black friends. And all white folks will tell you how many black friends we have. Some of us are telling the truth. Some of us are blowing smoke. But, even if we have those close connections, even if we have churches and synagogues and mosques doing the right thing, we have got blatant housing discrimination.
It's not the Klan. It's real estate agents, mortgage brokers, landlords. We have got discrimination, as Reverend Sharpton will tell you...
WISE: ... in the NYPD and law enforcement. We have got to deal with it as an institutional issue.
ZAHN: Roland Martin, let's give you a chance to weigh in here.
MARTIN: And, Paula, you talked about sundown towns in that piece.
The people who enforce that policy, they had children. And those children are adults today. And, so, you grew up as that -- as the policy in our household, in our town. And, so, you cannot suggest that, somehow, it hasn't continued.
So, when you talk about structural, when you talk about whether it's health care, whether it's education, when you talk about how property taxes are apportioned, when you have black school districts, white school districts, black schools, white schools, in terms of where the resources are, and, so, people say, well, my family didn't own any slaves, and we didn't segregate against anybody.
Yes. But, when you are the beneficiary, as a -- as a secondary -- second generation of a system, then, it has an impact. And, so, when we act as if it doesn't exist, you have a problem.
And, look, I am native of Texas. So, I hate the fact, how Vidor is being portrayed. But I will say this here. People continue to have a perception in Dallas 43 years after Kennedy was assassinated, in Birmingham, in Mississippi. And, so, you have to realize that the perception may last 50 years before you get over it.
ZAHN: All right.
Let's give Walter (ph) a chance to -- to weigh in.
And you are from where, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm from Jasper, Paula. And I do want to thank CNN for tackling a very difficult subject matter for America.
And my question really relates, I think, a little bit deeper. I agree with the -- the pastors who spoke about racial reconciliation. But -- but are the effects of racism more related to economics and education, or is it fair to blame race discrimination in America as a culprit? Or should we really focus more attention on the elimination of poverty and education disparities, including areas of cultural diversity in education in order to increase the, I think, the economic power for those that have been, I think, racially discriminated against.
ZAHN: Who on our panel wants to tackle that? Reverend Sharpton?
SHARPTON: I think that clearly, there are economic disparities. I think that clearly there are education disparities. But let's not act like rich blacks didn't have to sit in the back of the bus with poor blacks.
WISE: And those mortgage discrimination numbers...
SHARPTON: Let's not act like there's (ph) institutional racism. The problem is, I go back to Wise's point. Problem isn't the sundown towns of the past, it's what we still do when the sun is up now all over America. Sun-up racism is still a problem. And we have got to be really...
WISE: In fact, you know, wealthy black folks still face racial profiling.
SHARPTON: Right now.
WISE: It isn't poor black folks that aren't getting mortgages. They are not the ones applying for mortgages. That's middle class and above, still facing just race-based discrimination.
ZAHN: Let's hear very quickly, from another member of our audience.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not the overt racism that I think we really ought to discuss. I think it's the covert racism.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not Jim Crow. We understand Jim Crow- ism. There is going to be Klansmen wearing hoods. That doesn't frighten me. That doesn't bother me. It's the covert racism, Ms. Jim Crow Esquire in a suit.
ZAHN: OK, give me an example and then we've got to take a short break and we'll come back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A banker who will look at you, have you do all of your paperwork, and will give you a minimal loan for a car with a high interest rate, or won't allow you to get a mortgage with the same amount of credit report and the same background.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or last week, you had a black sounding name versus a white sounding name, you had 50 percent less chance of getting a phone call back. That is covert racism.
SHARPTON: Or the criminal justice system. We are four times more likely to go to jail charged with same crime, with the same criminal background.
So it's not the guy in the sheet. It's sometimes the guy in the black robe that smiles and sends you to jail and sends somebody else home.
ZAHN: OK, we're going to continue to examine racism in America. We're going to also take you to a town that became notorious during the civil rights area and was -- that is era -- and was the subject of the film "Mississippi Burning." Coming up next, how healing finally came to Philadelphia, Mississippi. Be right back.
ZAHN: Welcome back to the Jefferson Theater in Beaumont, Texas and a special edition of our show tonight here, "Out in the Open: Racism in America." We're doing a series of programs exploring whether there is a hidden racist in all of us, and looking for places where racism still thrives just underneath a well-masked surface of political correctness and civility.
So let's get straight back to our discussion. Mike, I know that you have been dying to make a point here. Please jump in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma'am. Thank you. I think one of the great concerns of the citizens of Vidor is you have made reference repeatedly to a sundown town. The reality is that the sign that hung in Vidor decades ago came down decades before desegregation was the law of the land. And so, consequently, how can the panel reconcile what has become an urban legend with the recent reality of positive relations in town?
ZAHN: Maybe you want to take a shot...
MARTIN: I can reconcile it, because my wife went to Lamar University, and when a carload of four African-American college students came through Vidor, a white person came out of a gas station and said, I would advise you all to get gas in the next town. That was not 40 years ago. That was a few years ago. And so that's how you reconcile it. It's a reality. So the sign may come down, but the feelings are still up.
ZAHN: Rodney, you know an awful lot about this area. What do you have to say to that?
MOORE: Well, I think to say that the element of racism is not there is a statement of denial. And I believe that we have to get things... ZAHN: Do you think this is -- Mike is in a state of denial, or he's making a point that the sign came down well before the federal government said it had to become integrated?
MOORE: No, it's a very valid point, and all of the efforts that are being made are good. But such a deep issue, and people's perception is their reality. So we have to find a solution to change that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it's unfortunate that his wife had that experience here, but it's not a guarantee that if an African- American comes to Vidor, they are going to have a bad experience. My husband is an African, and he has lived here for six years, and has yet to have a bad experience. We have never been stared at or had bad words whispered to us. And that doesn't mean that every African- American that visits Vidor will have that kind of experience, but I think it does speak to the town, that one person can live there for so long and still not have that experience.
And the comment that the pastor had made earlier about us hiding behind our -- our pastor trying to say that it wasn't there, we're not saying it never happened. It happened. But to focus just on that and not get past it -- we admit it, yes, we had a bad past. But we want to move on and we don't want to just talk about that and just focus on that.
KING: I just want to say that I think Vidor...
ZAHN: But aren't they dealing with it here?
SHARPTON: And I think that those -- what she said and what I think the pastor of First Baptist said is commendable. That's why I wish the mayor and others had been there.
Let me tell you something, those of us that have been victimized by racism are not -- we don't want to sit by and be victims. We want to move on. But it's hard to move on if people are trying to act like we're having a hallucination rather than a history. You can't move on until you say, we had a problem, let's heal the problem, let's deal with the problem, both sun up and sundown, and then move on.
ZAHN: But hang on a second. There is certainly a recognition here tonight that that was a part of the legacy.
SHARPTON: But what about those that told them don't come tonight? What about all of us around the country that don't want to talk about this?
MARTIN: But it's not just recognition. What it is is, I as a black man, I would like to go into a restaurant and not have a white patron ask me to go get them a glass of water. I'm not looking for racism, but... ZAHN: Oh, come on. How often has that happened to you?
MARTIN: Paula, it happened to me in Houston, Texas two years ago when I was at a restaurant on Saks Fifth Avenue. I walk into the restaurant in linen pants, linen shirt, and some sandals, and a white guy looks up and says, "I need a glass of water." I said, "Do I look like I work here?" And so trust me, it happens to me. People say, get me a cab. Hell, I need a cab, too. You go get me a cab.
ZAHN: All right. Alicia (ph), we're going to come back to you in just a moment. Hold that thought. We're going to take a short break here.
Communities can overcome a legacy of mistrust and hatred. Philadelphia, Mississippi was once a hotbed of racism. It was the subject of movie "Mississippi Burning." Coming up next, how things changed for the better there when "Out in the Open: Racism in America" continues. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: And we want to welcome you back to hour town hall, "Out in The Open: Racism in America".
The tremendous response we've received to our special coverage on racial issues convinced us that most Americans are very eager to talk about their differences, not just here in Beaumont, Texas, but in other towns that have tried to heal the past by confronting it.
Our Ed Lavandera went to one of those towns to find out what residents are doing to overcome a legacy of racism.
Here's his look.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's just a brochure. But the words tell a terrible story.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's sort of this huge secret that everybody knew but nobody talked about.
LAVANDERA: This little tourist pamphlet by Susan Glisten (ph) and Jewel McDonald tells of Philadelphia, Mississippi's journey of racial reconciliation.
No one who lives here had ever before put the story to paper. The pamphlet takes the dirt road where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964 for helping register black voters. A mob of Ku Klux Klansmen shot and killed them here in the darkness.
DEBORAH POSEY, PHILADELPHIA, MS RESIDENT: Blood that was spilt on this land was a horrendous thing.
LAVANDERA: The pamphlet inspired Deborah Posey, who was nine years old in 1964, to relearn the history of what happened. Her family had always described the murdered workers as hippie troublemakers. She says the truth is still painful for many blacks she owns.
POSEY: Well, they haven't forgot it. It's still pains that they cry about. It's still pains that they dream about. It's still fears that they have. And they react to life according to that.
LAVANDERA: No one was convicted at the time for the killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, but it was a turning point in the civil right movement, later immortalized in the movie "Mississippi Burning".
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You all think you can drive any speed you want around here?
LAVANDERA: About three years ago some residents, tired of living in a city defined by the murders, created the Philadelphia Coalition.
Jewel McDonald, whose mother and brother were savagely beaten by Klan members looking for the civil rights workers, finally could tell her neighbors and friends what they had gone through.
JEWEL MCDONALD, PHILADELPHIA, MS RESIDENT: And you can see my eyes are all tearing up and you know, after 40-some years, you would think, my God, this girl should be over this. But people don't understand.
LAVANDERA: The stories didn't stop. There were tears and there was anger.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To acknowledge the sins of our past.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we do that, I think we'll send rumbles throughout the United States.
LAVANDERA: Jim Prince (ph) and Leroy Clemens (ph), who lead the coalition discovered they had made a breakthrough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as the black community was concerned, whites didn't care. It happened, they just wanted to move on and forget about it.
LAVANDERA: The coalition pushed to prosecute the Klan members responsible for the murders. Last year, it finally happened, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of organizing the mob that killed the civil rights workers, an elderly man sent to prison for the rest of his life.
(on camera): The trial of Edgar Ray Killen and the creation of the Racial Coalition is often described by many people here as simply the first step. No one will tell that you race relations are perfect because in many ways it's still very difficult to get people to talk about racism.
(voice-over): But Jewel McDonald says there is only one way to change the past. MCDONALD: You got to be willing to talk. You got to come to the table.
LAVANDERA: And she says if people here can do that, black and white can come together anywhere.
Ed Lavandera, CNN, Philadelphia, Mississippi.
ZAHN: And we're going to bring back our panel one more time. Rodney Moore, Guy James Gray, Joyce King, Roland Martin, Reverend Al Sharpton, Tim Wise.
Again, glad to have all of you here.
So, Guy, we keep on hearing people say how important it is to talk, but is it realistic to think that justice will ever be colorblind?
GRAY: Yes. I think so. I'm listening to these folks in Vidor and I said earlier, most -- vast majority of the people in Vidor are good, solid citizens. But to deny that there is Klan presence or racial presence in Vidor is just to deny the truth.
As D.A. I watched those reports come across my desk and it's there. As much as I hate to do it publicly, I need to agree with the Reverend Sharpton. You got to talk about these things.
ZAHN: Is it painful to agree with this guy?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's painful. It's painful.
ZAHN: What's the problem if you with this guy? Why is so hard to agree with him?
GRAY: I'm looking at our mayor right there, in Jasper, and Reverend Harden (ph) and Walter Diggles and when we had our problem in Jasper, I think we just talked about it. They were in my office. The sheriff was there, the community held together by openly discussing the problems that we had and facing them and we had a pretty good result, I think because of that. And that's the key...
KING: Can I just add...
ZAHN: ... jump in, Joyce.
KING: We heard a lot tonight about racial healing and reconciliation. You know what leads to racial healing? Justice. We saw it with James Byrd, Junior. These three white guy were arrested within 24 hours of the crime without international media pressure. There was no pressure. And I have to mention my good friend, Sheriff Billy Rolls (ph), who's not with us tonight. There was no pressure on him to do this. He arrested them. Arrest, convictions, that sends a powerful message to this country that justice is the way to open the door to healing.
ZAHN: OK. Very quickly.
MARTIN: When Ronald Reagan gave his first speech after he accepted the nomination, he gave it in Philadelphia, Mississippi and the person who carried that was Trent Lott and the speech was on states' rights. That same person is now the number two Republican in the Senate.
SHARPTON: Just been elected.
MARTIN: The point there is, he is now in power and the speech on states' rights, black folks knew what that meant. We know what states' rights means.
ZAHN: All right. Let's give Jerry a chance to jump in here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unfortunate, but racism is alive and well in Vidor, overt racism. Just last year, my co-workers and I had lunch, we were doing some work in Vidor and we had lunch at a local restaurant, and we were actually -- the cook actually refused to cook for us. And so, if that's not overt, I don't know what is.
ZAHN: Rodney, does that surprise you? Or you've heard these stories before?
MOORE: I've traveled in Indonesia and the southern Philippines and spent extensive time there, and I'm not surprised by a lot. And the reality as a young child growing up in Houston in a black area, I understand that racism is real. And the people of our cities and our towns, we got to listen to those experiences.
And I believe, Paula, thought, that something that people are concerned about today is people's character, integrity. And hopefully our children are growing past base racism and now...
ZAHN: If we do a good job with them.
MOORE: Right. And we need to deal honestly with each other.
ZAHN: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Paula.
I just wanted to comment, I understand what this guy felt when he went into the restaurant and was discriminated against. Not two years ago I was in Beaumont at a Jack in The Box, I walked in and there were three black gentlemen there. As I approached to make my order, they cursed me and called me a white hippie, which -- I don't have long hair. I don't appear to be a hippie in any way. But I felt for my safety and decided it was a better idea to leave. So I understand exactly what he's saying. ZAHN: And that's a point we really haven't been able to touch upon tonight. This really does cut both ways. We talk so much about white racism directed against blacks, what about white racism....
SHARPTON: You've got to deal with the institutional. Blacks don't have the power in this society to institutionally discriminate. You've got racism against Arabs, you've got racism against Indians, all of that is wrong. But I think that Joyce's point is right. Most people want quiet, not peace. The price for peace is justice, I think that's what we got to go.
ZAHN: Tim, you've got to do it in 10 seconds.
WISE: Actually, the point is, in this country, we've got to stop telling black folks to move on and get over it. I'm Jewish, we don't tell Jewish Americans to get over the Holocaust or Jewish folks around this country in polite society.
When white folks stop telling black folks to move on, then we can actually talk about reconciliation. But it's hard to move on when you are the only one that's being asked to do that. When you're the only folks who are being told you need to forget about that, move on, be changed. We're not told that as Jews. Black folks shouldn't be told that either.
ZAHN: Thank you. We're going to take another short break. In just a minute, I'm going to ask our panelists and audience where everyone needs to go from here to heal some of the racism we've talked about here this evening. Please stay with us. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: And we want to welcome you back to our town hall special "Out in the Open: Racism in America." I want to quickly some more thoughts from our panel and our audience. The mayor, please jump in here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not hearing the comment from people saying just get over it. We recognize the pain that has come. However, we all are Americans, we all live under the bill of rights. If there are enforcements issues, let's make the enforcement issues. Where I'm concerned with is economic and educational opportunities. Here in this area, post-Rita, we have a lot of jobs. We're trying to grow this community, and we are ready for people to come here. I am not seeing open racism, but I think it's an economic issue and an enforcement issue if there are problems.
ZAHN: And you were basically saying you could talk, talk, talk, but you don't think that changes anything.
SKELTON: We've been talking for 400 years. Slavery was 400 years of abuse. You cannot take a system that had that much abuse and just ask the folk to get over it. You have to understand that it is deeper than that. It is possible, but you can't just talk about it and say well, I have black friends. That does not work. You have to understand that slavery was abuse and deal with it from abusive mind set.
ZAHN: OK, panelists, I can only give you 12 seconds because we've got the give the panel a chance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, I understand what they were saying, but I want to let you know that this is happening years ago or two years ago, but I want to let you know that 30 days ago, this has happened to me. I went to Wal-Mart in Vidor, wanting to park in a handicapped zone, which I'm a veteran and I'm entitled to that, and I am told that this was not your store, and why are you here? And I had an incident where the manager would not even call the police.
Now I don't think -- you are saying that you want to be fair in everything and you want to accept people into your community, but you are making it hard. I know you may have 10 percent of people that are saying we don't want you hear but 90 percent I understand you want to make a change in Vidor. But everybody must make a change and let everyone know we are here all together. And we don't have a choice, we have to live together.
ZAHN: Rodney, what have we learned today, tonight, about how you move forward? You've heard all the pain here tonight. You've heard how hard it is to recover from the scars of the past.
MOORE: One thing I'd like to say is that I believe our community leaders, we need to continue to see people as human resources that have value. And if we can draw those out into our black brothers and sisters, we need to say, you must forgive.
ZAHN: All right, quickly, Roland.
MARTIN: You can't save your marriage with one conversation. It starts a continuing process over and over. Whether it's church, community, whether it's city council, county government, it has to continue for it to take effective.
WISE: Those of us who are white are going to have to stand up and step up and be allies to black and brown folk. These incidents that we've seen, I refuse to believe that no white people have seen these things happen. The question isn't not, I didn't do it, my daddy didn't, my friend didn't do it, the question is, when you saw it, what did you do to challenge it? And if the answer is nothing, that's an elaboration.
ZAHN: Revered Al, you're a radio guy, 15 second cue.
SHARPTON: But you must have equal protection under the law. While the conversation is going on, we've got to protect people's rights and protect people's opportunity, otherwise it just becomes social conversation. That's not enough.
ZAHN: Joyce, quickly.
KING: In spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. Next month, do more than dream when we talk about the King holiday. I love southeast Texas, thank you.
ZAHN: All right. Thanks to our audience tonight and to our panelists, Rodney Moore, Guy James Gray, Joyce King, Roland Martin, Reverend Al Sharpton and Tim Wise. We learned a tremendous amount from all of you here tonight. We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: And I very much want to thank the residents of Beaumont and Vidor and surrounding communities for their honesty tonight and their willingness to talk about the nation's legacy of racism.
In the weeks ahead on this show, we are going to broaden our discussion to look at discrimination and intolerance against other groups of people in America, against Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, gays and women. And we would welcome any input you might have into that debate. People e-mail your suggestions and comments to us at CNN.com. And ultimately, a fair and impartial dialogue helps us all better understand each other.
Again, thank you for your honesty tonight. Thank you all for being here and thank you for joining us. Have a good night.
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