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Stores: Reporter

Aired May 28, 2011 - 19:30   ET



TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The biblical story of Lazarus rising from the dead appears to be happening again all over Africa. Many call it a miracle made in the USA. But hold on, congressional budget hawks are circling, and that could be trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lincoln's been shot.

FOREMAN: A new film reignites an old debate about the Civil War, the aftermath, and the lady who helped kill Lincoln.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The evidence is inconclusive.

FOREMAN: On Philadelphia's main streets, a man, a mosque, and the boxing ring upstairs.

And an agricultural revolution is rising from the fields of North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right here in this field is the capital.

FOREMAN: Only one word for it, sweet.


Welcome to STORIES: REPORTER, I'm Tom Foreman.

President Obama spent much of the week overseas trying to build up America's image which has taken a beating lately in terms of foreign policy over wars, trade, even the environment. So you might think that American leaders would be cheering over what many observers, left, right and middle consider an overwhelming success. But you would be wrong. With the economy still teetering along, this story from Jim Acosta is about how we may no longer be able to afford arguably one of our greatest triumphs.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You're about to see what many call a miracle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I could not feed myself.

ACOSTA: This woman in Africa is dying from AIDS, barely able to lift her arms or open her eyes. CONCILLIA MUHAU: This is me. Yes. Wow, they've done a great job. I can't believe it.

ACOSTA: And here she is again, days later, after treatment with inexpensive anti-aids drugs. Talking, walking. It is called the Lazarus effect, capture in a HBO's special by the same name. This astonishing transformation has been repeated all over the continent thousands of times and Michael Gerson wants you to know the story because you're paying for it.

MICHAEL GERSON, ONE CAMPAIGN FELLOW: There are good foreign policy reasons to do this sort of thing.

ACOSTA: Gerson is a conservative columnist with "The Washington Post," a senior fellow with the council on foreign relations and he was once the chief speech writer for the man who got this rolling.

GERSON: He often talked about to whom much is given, much is required.

ACOSTA: This was very important to him.

GERSON: Right. Exactly. There was a motivation here that what America should be in the world, that we should be a source of hope. But also, you know, a kind of conscience motivation here, very much rooted in his faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.

ACOSTA: "He" was George W. Bush. In 2003, Bush started the president's emergency plan for AIDS relief, or PEPFAR, an unprecedented $3 billion a year to help the world fight AIDS. In 2008, he led the charge for renewal and expansion.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: We can bring healing and hope to many more. So I ask you to maintain the principles that have changed behavior and made this program a success and I call on you to double our initial commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by approving an additional $30 billion over the next five years.

ACOSTA: He was not alone. A driving force in the effort was evangelical Christians.

JUSTIN FUNG, THE DISTRICT CHURCH: One of the biggest themes in the Bible throughout scripture is god cares for the poor. This is, you know, something that is really important and it shouldn't be an issue that divides us.

ACOSTA: But division or rather subtraction, are precisely what supporters of PEPFAR now fear. The program comes with a hefty $50 billion price tag, and as congress wrestles with the debt limit and trillion dollar budget worries, foreign aid is under sharp fire. Even in 2008, the last time PEPFAR was reauthorized, budget hawks went after it, including Texan Ron Paul.

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: I concede it's very well-intended and I think if we are to do any social engineering or social suggestions that ought to be here and that we ought not to be naive enough to believe that we can change habits that occur in Africa.

ACOSTA: Paul, who is now running for president, declined our request for an interview on this subject. So did a half dozen other Republican members of Congress who voted against continuing full funding for this part of the Bush legacy even though foreign aid makes up only one percent of the federal budget. But it's not just lawmakers who are concerned, polls have found that most voters want foreign aid reduced or even eliminated.

GERSON: There's a perception out there that waste - that foreign assistance is wasted, it is thrown down a rat hole of corruption. A lot of people believe that, particularly on the right in America.

ACOSTA (on camera): That does happen in some cases.

GERSON: The argument is not there shouldn't be any cuts in government. I mean, there need to be. Everyone recognizes that. The question is whether we're going to have any indiscriminate cuts.

ACOSTA: And what do you mean by that?

GERSON: Well, you know, are we going to have cuts that are working, that are saving people's lives, that when you make those cuts it has a tremendous human cost.

ACOSTA (voice-over): That's why this film was commissioned by the One Campaign, an advocacy group trying to keep PEPFAR from being swept away in the red ink flood. It points out that when PEPFAR began, only 50,000 people in sub Saharan Africa were on AIDS drugs. Today, it's four million. The cost has been driven down to 40 cents per person, per day. And in a region with more than a million deaths annually and 16 million AIDS orphans, keeping parents alive keeps families, communities, whole countries afloat.

(on camera): And people in this country don't see this happening. They don't see it occurring, because it's happening half a world away.

GERSON: I will tell you that the people in Africa know that Americans were responsible for much of what happened to save these societies and they're deeply grateful.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Church leaders all over the country are urging their members to watch the movie and call Congress. Still, it is not yet clear amid all the crushing economic problems at home which way the country's political leadership will go.

GERSON: Barack Obama has not only supported these efforts strongly, but he's praised President Bush for doing it. Very few issues like that.

ACOSTA (on camera): Do you think that PEPFAR can survive the 2012 budget process?

GERSON: I think it's going to be a struggle, you know, in many ways. ACOSTA: And how that budget struggle plays out here will undeniably impact the life and death struggle still going on over there.



FOREMAN: 150 years ago this spring, the civil war began. And in many ways it has never ended. Most of the country says it was about slavery, but a sizeable portion insist it was about state's rights. And one in four voters in a recent poll said they sympathize more with the confederacy than with the union. It is all fueling a new debate about a mystery in history. About a president, an assassin, and a woman's work.


FOREMAN (voice-over): The building that holds this Japanese restaurant in downtown D.C., is a strange place to launch America's most infamous assassination plot. Yet, in 1865, this was the boarding house of Mary Surratt.

The recent movie "The Conspirator" is about how she allowed John Wilkes Booth to meet with her son and others under her roof to plan the kidnapping of President Lincoln, a scheme that turned to murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're found guilty, you could hang.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a southerner and a devoted mother, but I am no assassin.

FOREMAN: And in the long-ago capitol of the confederacy, Richmond, Virginia, the film has re-opened an old debate for historians such as Edward Ayers of the University of Richmond.

EDWARD L. AYERS, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND: If this had happened only a few years later, it would have been a different story.

FOREMAN: In short, was Mary Surratt railroaded?

AYERS: There were a lot of Mary Surratt's and a lot of families like the Surratts in the sense that all across Kentucky, but also across Ohio, Illinois, Indiana. You'd see that families would divide on what was the right thing to do.


FOREMAN: At the time, four brutal years of civil war had just ended, recreations of the fighting are still popular today, but back then more than a half million Americans had just died. Victorious northerners were still furious over the dreadful cost of the conflict, mistrustful of southerners and when the president was assassinated, they demanded vengeance.

AYERS: There were enemies everywhere, and there were spies. LAURIE VERGE, SURRATT HOUSE MUSEUM: It wasn't just Abraham Lincoln that the country was mourning, they were mourning the dead fathers, the dead sons, the amputees and such as that.

FOREMAN (on camera): And they wanted to hold someone accountable.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Laurie Verge knows the case as well as anyone. She oversees another of Mary Surratt's boarding homes, also a tavern, once a confederate safe house, now a museum in Maryland just outside D.C..

(on camera): This room is important.

(voice-over): Booth stopped here as he fled to pick up a rifle hidden inside a wall. Another boarder who ran the tavern for her would swear in court Surratt knew all about it and was certainly in league with the killer. It didn't matter that the border was attacked by the defense as an unreliable alcoholic.

(on camera): Of all the testimony, this was some of the most damning.


FOREMAN (on camera): The rest of the evidence against Surratt is also circumstantial, things like the fact that she said she did not recognize another conspirator whom she clearly knew. It was enough, however, to have her picked up by investigators.

VERGE: I think she expected to be arrested. This lady's cool as a cucumber. She is not the least bit frazzled, the way she's talking to them. She is sort of haughty, and it was like she knew this was coming. She was prepared for this.

FOREMAN (voice-over): But does that mean she was guilty?

AYERS: The evidence is inconclusive, it seems to me.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mother is innocent.

FOREMAN: The movie underscores her illness during the trial, the brutal conditions in which she was held, the frustration for federal authorities over Booth being killed during the hunt, and the fact that Surratt's son, John, was the only suspect they could not find.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to tell us where your son is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whose side are you on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to defend you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By suggesting I trade my son for myself? FOREMAN: Still, her lawyer was not the reluctant amateur depicted in the film but a strong supporter of the confederacy, and she had a much more robust defense than the movie implies.

VERGE: There were lots of defense witnesses. They brought in priests, who testified that she was a good Christian moral woman and therefore she could not be a part of murder and things of that nature.

FOREMAN: Surratt was, however, an easy target. A proud southerner when that alone was widely seen as treasonous, a woman at a time when women were held particularly accountable for the success or failure of their households.

AYERS: One of the lines that they used at the time was that she kept the nest that bred the vipers. So she in many ways is a projection of what a mother gone wrong looks like.

FOREMAN: The military tribunal sent her and three other conspirators to the gallows. Many were certain she would get a last minute commutation to life in prison, but less than 90 days after President Lincoln's assassination, she became the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government.

VERGE: She was being supported on both sides, by gentlemen trying to get her to get up there and her last words that we know of were, "Don't let me fall. Don't let me fall."

FOREMAN: Surratt's son was eventually located and tried two years later in a civilian court. He was not convicted, adding to the argument that has raged ever since.

(on camera): Do you think she would be convicted today?

VERGE: If you're going to try her on grounds of conspiracy, yes, I think she would have.

AYERS: Not a treason worthy of death, it would seem to me.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Mary Surratt's remains were released to her family four years after her death and lie only a few miles from the place where the president was killed, in this D.C. cemetery, still surrounded by as much controversy as the day she died.


FOREMAN: Coming up, the fighting Philadelphians, one man's lonely battle to save a generation.


FOREMAN: According to the FBI, violent crime decreased in most of the country last year. Murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape, all down, all over, almost. In the northeast, the numbers have steadily climbed. So in Philadelphia, Imam Suetwidien Muhammad is hitting back, with the help of a lot of kids, his faith and a gym, where Dan Lothian found this unexpected story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On Philadelphia's rough and tumble north side, violence, like sunset, is routine.


LOTHIAN: Abandoned houses share the same zip code with make shift memorials to the victims, often young men caught up in events they can't anticipate or escape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody from another hood come down and start shooting for no reason.

LOTHIAN: But in the middle of this hood is a former plumbing supply warehouse, a ray of sunshine where Imam Muhammad is renovating the structure and young lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This particular area was an area that was averaging six murders a month. There was a lot of violence, a lot of crime. You know, just a lot of trash, a lot of, you know, debris.

LOTHIAN (on camera): So this is the kind of place people would be running away from.


LOTHIAN: But you were coming here.

MUHAMMAD: We would come here.

LOTHIAN: Despite the violence -


LOTHIAN: The gang violence, the shootings, the deaths, you came here.



MUHAMMAD: Change. We needed to bring about change.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): And that is what led to this.

MUHAMMAD: Let's box.

LOTHIAN: A boxing gym in an unlikely place. Right above his mosque. Prayers and punches. Once a promising amateur boxer himself, Imam Muhammad had 96 fights, winning the vast majority. Before hanging up his gloves and using his hands to start building a dream. He's reaching out to young people trapped in tough corners, and risking a knockout punch in the process.

(on camera): Do you have young people who have been in gangs?


LOTHIAN: Young people obviously involved in violence?


LOTHIAN: Dropouts from school.


LOTHIAN: What is your hope for them when they walk in this door?

MUHAMMAD: I hope for them that they will immediately turn their life around.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): The idea of a religious man teaching a violent sport as a means of escaping violence is not without controversy.

MUHAMMAD: It's so unusual that we come under fire from even a lot of Muslims. You know, Muslims will say, well, some think Muslims aren't supposed to engage in boxing. You know, I think that one of the greatest boxers of all time was Muhammad Ali who this gym is named after. Myself, I was a boxer for 18 years. It kept me out of a lot of trouble, it kept me off of the streets. It kept me focused. It gave me the discipline. And I think that's all we're really trying to offer.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): The gym was actually an afterthought. The mosque's 500 members acquired the old warehouse 10 years ago and converted it into a worship space. The problem was they needed only a fraction of the 50,000 square feet.

(on camera): I'm smelling something down this hallway.

(voice-over): So today it holds a deli, a small restaurant, a barber school, beauty salon and an office for the Muslim League of Voters.

Is this part of the whole overall strategy that you bring people in and you keep them here. They don't have to leave to go get lunch.


MUHAMMAD: Yes, they don't have to leave to go get lunch. And we come in. You know, just like a lot of times we go to meetings and we may meet at restaurants or something. Somebody can come in, they can get something to eat, they can sit there, they can have a meeting, you know, whatever they are doing or do their work.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): The mosque holds ghosts as well of the great fighters who have emerged from the hard streets ever since the 1800s, champions like Joe Frazer, Sonny Liston and Joe Giardello.

(on camera): Philadelphia as everyone knows has a rich boxing history but mainly a lot of the boxing clubs have closed their doors. In fact, Joe Frazier's facility recently shut down. So this is one of those unique place where young people from the inner city can come here and train for free.

(voice-over): So they come. Muslims, Christians, those with no faith at all. All are welcome every day to trade the real violence of the streets for discipline with a lot of street creed and the shelter of a caring community.

JEREMIAH KENDRICK, BOXER: I'd rather be here than standing outside. (INAUDIBLE) This neighborhood with the crime rate and everything. So if I can avoid fighting or getting shot at, I'll do that any time of the day.


LOTHIAN: Imam Mohammad hopes through the discipline, the shared responsibility, the respect for their opponents, they are taking something else away.

(on camera): You try to show them what real success is.

MUHAMMAD: Yes, we try to show them what real success is. We've really trying to show them, you know, this is what you can do. You can be something. You can make something out of your life. You can be a champion.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Against the brutal backdrop of life here, he insists each round in the ring helps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice try. Nice try.

MUHAMMAD: We don't have a lot of time to think about doing good or what good we need to do. We need to do it immediately.

LOTHIAN: After all, he knows this is the fight of his life and theirs, too.


FOREMAN: Still ahead, the gold rush in North Carolina. Sweet potatoes boiling from the ground and making a fortune for farmers.


FOREMAN: If you haven't already noticed at the supermarket, your favorite restaurant or maybe even in a vending machine, sweet potatoes are booming. That's big news in North Carolina where another record- breaking and recession-beating crop is going into the ground.


FOREMAN (voice-over): It's like watching a magic trick. A tractor rolls over the bare dirt, cutting furloughs, a planter drags behind and there they are, the green shoots of sweet potatoes. There is no more wonderful sight for Jerome Vick.

JEROME VICK, SWEET POTATO FARMER: (INAUDIBLE) that farm is approximately 50 percent of the income on this farm. FOREMAN: For three generations his family has worked this land trying cotton, tobacco, soybeans before finding the climate just right for sweet potatoes.

VICK: We're blessed, unfortunately, with gnats and hot temperatures in the summertime. Those are things we have a supply of. That's just what sweet potatoes want. It's a tropical plant that's adapted to warm temperatures and southern soils we have here are relatively poor soils.

FOREMAN: And now those poor soils are making North Carolinians rich.

SUE LANGDON, NORTH CAROLINA SWEET POTATO COMMISSION: Right here in this field is the capital. North Carolina is the capital of sweet potatoes. Bar none.

FOREMAN: That's Sue Langdon with the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. Listen to her numbers. This year about 400 farmers here will plant 60,000 acres of sweet potatoes worth $182 million to the state economy. That's a record.

LANGDON: We have grown almost half of the sweet potatoes that are produced in the United States. What that means is that one out of every two sweet potatoes came from North Carolina.

FOREMAN: Sweet potatoes themselves didn't come from anywhere. History says they were growing all over the Americas long before Europeans arrived and interestingly right out of the ground they are not so sweet.

VICK: Sweet potato is full of starch like any other vegetable. We put them in our storage facility and cure them for about a week to 10 days. Converts the starches to sugars. That's where the sweet flavor comes from.

FOREMAN: But once that happens they are a natural health food, helping with everything from joint pain to heart disease. So Europeans had joined American consumers to drive the demand for sweet potato fries, chips, pies and more.

LANGDON: Currently about 20 percent of sweet potatoes produced in North Carolina are being exported. And that looks to rise to even more.

FOREMAN: How much more? Hard to say.

VICK: Farmers are being the eternal optimists, he always feels like things will be better tomorrow.

FOREMAN: This year he expects to grow 500,000 bushels, enough to meet the sweet potato needs of four million people.

VICK: (INAUDIBLE) that we got four million people eating at our dinner table which is perfectly all right with me. I just have to build a bigger dinner table if we get more visitors.


FOREMAN: And with that, I'm Tom Foreman. Thanks for watching.