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Juneteenth Rallies Happening Nationwide Amid Nation's Racial Unrest; 93-Year-Old Activist Calls for Juneteenth to Be a Federal Holiday; Oklahoma Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Stop Trump Rally; NCAA, SEC Threaten Mississippi over State Flag's Confederate Symbol. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired June 19, 2020 - 15:30   ET



ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- beyond the internet. It goes beyond the marches. This is a sustained commitment that people are out here willing to make, willing to demonstrate right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I can feel it. I can feel it all the way through the screen. Alex, thank the two of them for all of us. Thank you so much for that.

And today's marches and rallies marking Juneteenth come as Republican Senator John Cornyn announces he will be introducing a bill to declare June 19th a Federal holiday. And Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee says she will do the exact same in the House.

It is a step forward for an effort championed for decades by our next guest. I have been so excited to get to talk to Opal Lee. Opal Lee at the vibrant age of 93, today led a walk of 2.5 miles in her hometown of Fort Worth. And that distance symbolizes the 2.5 years it took before slaves in Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation.

And so back in 2016, Miss Lee walked all the way from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., to petition Congress to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday. And Opal Lee joins me today. Miss Lee, I admire you. I am honored to speak to you. Welcome.

OPAL LEE, ACTIVIST CALLING FOR JUNETEENTH TO BECOME FEDERAL HOLIDAY: Thank you. And let me clarify something. I walked from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., but not 1,400 miles. I started that way and got past Dallas, Texas, and one or two other places before my team decided that I would only go to the cities and towns that had Juneteenth celebrations and where I was invited.

So, I was invited to over 20 cities, and I got to Washington on January the 10th, 2017. We had asked President Obama to walk with us from the Frederick Douglas House to the Capitol but he was in Chicago. So, I didn't get what I wanted, but I haven't given up. And today was a tremendous day for us.

BALDWIN: Yes, ma'am. And I appreciate the clarification, and I had a feeling you didn't walk every single step of the way. But listen, I appreciate that you have been fighting the good fight. And I'm curious, Miss Lee, just what it would mean for you to have Juneteenth become a Federal holiday. And do you think these announcements from members of Congress on both sides mean that you are getting close?

LEE: I do believe we're getting closer. I'm just elated. I keep telling people when it happens, I'm going to do a holy dance. And I am so grateful for the numbers of people who have joined in making it a holiday.

I'm wanting people to continue to go to our website and sign the petition. We need a million signatures to give to Congress, to let them know it's not just one little old lady in tennis shoes walking the country, across the country, and that our group, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, that's working just as hard. We want the millions of people to let Congress know that they agree that Juneteenth should be a national holiday.

BALDWIN: Miss Lee, if I may, I think this -- to quote you, little old lady in tennis shoes, has managed to do quite a lot for this country and for Juneteenth. And my final question really is, you are 93 years young. You remember when you were not allowed to vote in this country because of the color of your skin and look at where we are now. All these marches on Juneteenth in 2020. I'm curious, what do you make of the last few weeks in America, and how much hope do you have for real change?

LEE: I've got a lot of hope. It's just -- I don't know how to put it, that we go through these cycles, that we have to lose somebody's life before we get around to protesting. And if I was young enough, I'd be out there protesting with them.

Then we do something to placate the community, and before you know it again, this has happened again. And it's happened too many times. And we simply need to be able to alleviate these problems. And they're so pronounced. Juneteenth is trying to alleviate these problems.


Juneteenth is trying to address the hopelessness, the homelessness, the education system that needs to be addressed, the housing situation, job disparity -- Juneteenth is just not a festival.

These are things that we take to heart and want people to know we can solve these problems if we just do it together. And I'm advocating and I hear some other company is too, that we have Juneteenth from the 19th to the 4th of July. You know, slaves weren't free on the 4th of July. But if we could just come together and work our problems out.

BALDWIN: Amen to that. Phenomenal, phenomenal woman, that is Opal Lee. Opal Lee, thank you, happy Juneteenth.

LEE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coronavirus. Coronavirus cases, they are spiking in Oklahoma, but that is not stopping the Trump campaign from going ahead with tomorrow's rally and event that health officials in Tulsa desperately want to stop. We will take you live to the site of tomorrow's rally next.



BALDWIN: We are back. We've got some breaking news coming into us here at CNN.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court just denied a lawsuit to block a Tulsa arena from hosting President Trump's first campaign rally in months. That event is scheduled to take place tomorrow night. Nearly 20,000 people will be packed into the venue. As we talked to a commissioner yesterday, it will be overall 100,000 people once this is all said and done in terms of police responding, vendors, et cetera. And obviously this poses serious risks because of coronavirus.

CNN's Martin Savidge is live at the site of tomorrow's rally in Tulsa. And so, Martin, tell me more about this ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was really considered to be a last-ditch effort on the part of the attorneys in those businesses that have been trying to get this whole event stopped here in the city of Tulsa.

At the very least, the attorneys felt that if they couldn't get it stopped, they were asking the court to demand from the management company that they enforce social distancing inside the event. That would, of course, greatly reduce the number of people who could actually attend. They also wanted to say things like, how about mandating face masks, all these that are medical procedures or accepted medical advice to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It's not going to happen apparently now.

We should point out that Tulsa County here for the fourth time this week sent another 24-hour record for number of new coronavirus cases. The last record was yesterday at 120, today it's 125 new cases.

So, it's clear there's a spike right here, just as you point out, as about 100,000 people come in for the President's rally. There's a group that came from New York today. They were handing out these full- on face shields. They're giving these or attempting to give these to every one of those Trump supporters that is in the front of the line to get into the rally. 20,000 people potentially could be there. They've got 40,000 masks. So far, some people took them, most did not. They're very concerned -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes. Understandably. Hopefully, they wear those masks in there tomorrow. Martin Savidge, thank you very much, in Tulsa.

Joining me now, John Rogers Jr., the chairman and co-CEO of the Ariel Investments, one of the largest Black-run investment firms in the country. And his family also has deep roots in Tulsa dating to the early 20th century when his great grandfather owned a hotel. And during that 1921 race massacre, a mob essentially came, and his family fled for his life. So, John, a pleasure to have you on. Welcome.


BALDWIN: Let's talk Tulsa. Just talk to me about how you feel about the President holding his first rally in Tulsa tomorrow, especially just given your roots.

John, can you hear me?

ROGERS: I can hear you now.

BALDWIN: OK. Let's try this again. It's all good. This is television in the era of COVID over the internet. So, what I want to know is just how you feel given your roots in Tulsa, given your family's story, how do you feel about the President holding his first in-person rally there tomorrow?

ROGERS: Well, I think it's really totally inappropriate. It's really a problem for him to be there for all the reasons that we all know. He has not been a believer in the African-American entrepreneurial story, and so to be there at Tulsa after we've gone through this horrendous attack 99 years ago, it really is a problem that the President would be there at this time.

BALDWIN: I just want to hear more about your family's deep connection to Tulsa. You know, how has that connection, John, shaped who you have become, really one of the most successful Black men on Wall Street? And what can we learn from Tulsa's past problems with racism?

ROGERS: Well, I think we can learn one thing that was really, really important, is that there's been a long history of when African- Americans are successful in business there always seems to find a way for society to come and push us backwards, and push us back down.


And so, we've built up this great business community in Tulsa. My great grandfather, JB Stradford, was one of the wealthiest people in the country.

He owned the Stradford Hotel, he was doing well extraordinarily well, and it was destroyed in that race riot. He had to start all over again. So it just shows you throughout history there's always been a challenge when African-American entrepreneurs start to get great things done, there always seems to be a new challenge that comes in to make life much difficult for all of us.

BALDWIN: And I'm curious just also with your extraordinary business perspective, you know, we are seeing more companies now recognizing Juneteenth this year. Target and Twitter are making the day a company holiday, for example. And it's not just Juneteenth. We're now seeing hundreds of companies vowing to give workers paid time off on November 3rd, on election day.

But this is just the first step. So, what do you think, what is the number-one actionable item that corporations should be taking just in wake of this movement we're witnessing in America?

ROGERS: Well, you know, we have this huge wealth gap in this country. And we have not been able to fully participate in our capitalist democracy. So, what we need to do is have major corporations agree to do business with African-American companies in everything we do. Not just supply diversity but professional services, financial service, technology services. We will (INAUDIBLE) --

BALDWIN: Darn, I think we lost him. John Rogers Jr. We'll have you back. Thank you so much.

Still ahead, the SEC and the NCAA issued an ultimatum to Mississippi -- lose the Confederate symbol on the state flag or lose our business. I'll talk to the SEC Commissioner live next.



BALDWIN: Mississippi, you are officially on notice, both the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference say no university will be allowed to host national or conference championships until the Confederate symbol is removed from the Mississippi state flag. And the SEC Commissioner put it out in a statement.

This is what he said, quote: It is past time for change to be made to the flag of the State of Mississippi. Our students deserve an opportunity to learn and compete in environments that are inclusive and welcoming to all.

And that Commissioner is with me now. Greg Sankey joining me. Welcome. Good to have you on.

GREG SANKEY, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to have a conversation.

BALDWIN: So, Commissioner, why now? Why is this the time to say enough is enough?

SANKEY: That statement actually goes back five years. I said something very similar my first month as Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. And you'll recall that actually this past Wednesday was the fifth anniversary of the shooting in Charleston, in the church in Charleston. And that provoked some questions to me about our position on displays of the Confederate battle flags. And so, I communicated then, Governor Haley in South Carolina and the leadership there changed that display.

We then moved the Women's Basketball Tournament to Greenville, South Carolina, which has been a successful destination. We made the same statement back then about both flags and including the State of Mississippi flag. And it's a restatement. It's shortly after that anniversary the time when we need to make clear statements like that in this country. BALDWIN: It's, of course, noteworthy that you bring up South Carolina

because not only honoring the nine lives lost five years ago Wednesday but also the Governor at the time Nikki Haley's role in having that flag removed in South Carolina. And of course it makes me think of the Governor there in Mississippi. And the Governor has not taken a position, saying it basically needs to be up, you know, to voters there in the state. How concerning is it that you have a state official in that capacity not saying, get it out?

SANKEY: Well, I want to be respectful of our governmental leaders, but also, we felt as a conference important to make our position clear. And again, it's really a restatement of that position. And our goal is to have the legislative leaders, the government's leaders, work through these issues. We've seen that before, and our desire is to see that happen again.

BALDWIN: Also, five years ago, it's a five-year thing, five years ago was Ole Miss that removed the Mississippi State flag from flying high above the campus there. And we've seen responses, you know, in the wake of your comments both from Ole Miss and also from Mississippi State. I'm just curious what are you hearing from others in Mississippi? And are you getting any major pushback?

SANKEY: Well, when you start with our two campuses, we have great leadership and great relationships with those two universities. And they are important parts of the state with wonderful people that really are welcoming, have certainly been welcoming to me.

The feedback I've had from people in the media, from leaders, even in the business community, I've had entertainment leaders reach out directly to say, thank you for making a clear stand. If you go to my social media feed, as you know, you can find those who have slight disagreements. But that's part of our world. And I felt that it was important along with the leadership of our conference, and that is our presidents, our chancellors and our athletics directors to make the statement that we made yesterday.

BALDWIN: Let's keep having this conversation and see what happens with that flag in Mississippi. Greg Sankey, thank you so much for your voice and for your time today. A pleasure.

SANKEY: Absolutely. Thank you.

BALDWIN: And that is it for me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Coming up next as the nation deals with multiple crises including, of course, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, President Trump is returning to the campaign trail.


But is he putting lives at risk for the sake of the votes? "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper after this quick break.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper. And we begin today with the national lead, President Trump tomorrow is

making his return to the campaign trail, an attempt to preserve his presidency as he faces crises on multiple fronts. The President is leading a country in the midst of a pandemic, a deadly one, where in many states the coronavirus infections are surging, in some places --