By John Blake and Todd Leopold, CNN
(CNN) -- Don Cornelius never led a civil rights march, launched a boycott or gave a speech before a cheering crowd of protesters.
But his impact on America was as profound as virtually any civil rights leader, says Shayne Lee, a sociologist who grew up watching "Soul Train."
Cornelius' groundbreaking TV show didn't just captivate African-Americans -- it tied white and black America together in a way that had not been done before, says Lee, who teaches a course on hip-hop at the University of Houston.
"He was an ambassador, the pope of soul," Lee said. "For a lot of suburban whites living in segregated America, this was their first exposure to this exiting new world of movement and energy. He made black culture more accessible."