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Civil Rights Icon Congressman John Lewis Passes Away; Former U.S. Presidents Comment on Passing of Congressman John Lewis; Legacy of Congressman John Lewis and Civil Rights Movement Examined; President Trump Yet to Comment Publicly on Passing of Congressman John Lewis; Coronavirus Continues to Spread in Southern Half of U.S.; Miami City Mandating Mask Wearing to Combat Coronavirus Spread; Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) Interviewed on Legacy of Congressman John Lewis; Former Education Secretary John B. King Discusses Possibility of Reopening Schools. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired July 18, 2020 - 10:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Saturday morning to you. It is July 18th. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Abby Phillip in for Christi Paul. You're in the CNN Newsroom.

BLACKWELL: Let's take a look at a mural. This is in Atlanta. This is a mural of a man who marched alongside to Dr. King, who rose to Congress, who spent even his last days fighting for the same rights he was beaten and jailed fighting for decades ago. This morning we are honoring indeed a hero, the late Congressman John Lewis.

PHILLIP: And at a time when America is at a reckoning point with its racist past, his life is a lesson for us all. He died last night after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, and even during that battle he remained a crusader for racial justice.

BLACKWELL: We're hearing from formers presidents. President Barack Obama writes "Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such meaningful, remarkable way, and thanks to him we now all have our marching orders."

From former President Jimmy Carter, "He made an indelible mark on history. All Americans, regardless of race or religion, owe John Lewis a debt of gratitude."

PHILLIP: President Trump has yet to make a statement. The flag has been lowered at the White House, and the flag has also been lowered on Capitol Hill at the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. CNN's Martin Savidge has more on Lewis's remarkable life.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Throughout his life, John Lewis stood for people's rights. Born on an Alabama cotton farm into a segregated America, he not only lived to see an African American elected president, he would be a major part of making it happen.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): Tonight, tonight we gather here in this magnificent state in Denver because we still have a dream, we still have a dream.

SAVIDGE: Lewis growing up was angered by the unfairness of the Jim Crow south. He credited Martin Luther King Jr. for inspiring him to join the Civil Rights movement, and eventually Lewis would become one of its most prominent leaders. As a student, he organized sit-ins at lunch counters. In the early 60s he was a Freedom Rider, challenging segregation at interstate bus terminals across the south. The embodiment of nonviolence, he frequently suffered beatings by angry mobs.

Lewis, 23-years-old at the time, was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.

LEWIS: We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now.

SAVIDGE: Then two years later led a march for voting rights in the south. On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he and other marchers were met by heavily armed state and local police. They were set upon and beaten, Lewis suffering a fractured skull. It would be forever remembered as Bloody Sunday. The images of brutality shocked the nation, galvanizing support for the Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.

Lewis never lost his young activist spirit, taking it from protest to politics. Standing up for what he believed was right, Lewis was arrested more than 40 times by police according to his congressional office.

LEWIS: I'm on my way, and we're going to win this race.

SAVIDGE: He was elected to city council in Atlanta, then to Congress in Washington, representing Georgia's fifth district, fighting against poverty and for health care while working to help younger generations by improving education. He reached out to young people in other ways, cowriting a series of graphic novels about the Civil Rights movement, winning him a National Book Award.

In a life of so many moments and great achievements, it was the achievement of another in 2008 that perhaps meant the most -- the election of President Barack Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America.

SAVIDGE: A dream Lewis admits was too impossible to consider decades before even as he fought to forge its foundation. LEWIS: This is an unbelievable period in our history. Martin Luther

King Jr. would be very pleased to see what is happening in America. This is a long way from the March in Washington. It's a great distance from marching across that bridge in Selma in 1965 for the right to vote.


SAVIDGE: In 2011, after more than 50 years on the front lines of civil rights, Lewis received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, placed around his neck by America's first black president.

Lewis wasn't content at just making history. He was also dedicated to preserving it. Consider the impetus of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. And he never stopped stirring up good trouble, as he like to call it, boycotting the inaugurations of George W. Bush after the contested 2000 election, and vocally opposing Donald Trump in 2017, citing suspicions of Russian meddling, and a protest against President Trump's immigration policy, the congressman, by then an elder statesman of the Democratic Party, riled up the crowd with words he had lived by as an activist, as a lawmaker, as a leader.

LEWIS: We must never, ever give up. We must be brave, bold, and courageous.


PHILLIP: The remembrances are pouring in for John Lewis this morning, and we have just heard from President George W. Bush. CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox is in Washington where Lewis spent the last decades of his career. Lauren, what are you hearing from the former president who now is the last of all the living former presidents to weigh in on John Lewis's death?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, what we're hearing this morning, of course, is after his three-decade career on Capitol Hill, Lewis was beloved not just by Democrats and those in his own party, but by Republicans as well, Abby. And here's what I want to read from you George Bush. He says "Laura and I join our fellow Americans in mourning the loss of Congressman John Lewis. As a young man marching for equality in Selma, Alabama, John answered brutal violence with courageous hope. And throughout his career as a civil rights leader and public servant, he worked to make our country a more perfect union. America can best honor John's memory by continuing his journey toward liberty and justice for all."

Also this morning, we are hearing from former President Bill Clinton, who said in a statement, quote, "John Lewis gave all he had to redeem America's unmet promise of equality and justice for all, and to create a place for us to build a more perfect union together. In so doing, he became the conscience of the nation."

And he was often referred to by both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other colleagues as the conscience of the Congress. And, Abby, this morning Nancy Pelosi ordered that the flags at the Capitol be flown at half-staff. And I will tell you that John Lewis was someone who lawmakers from both sides of the aisle looked up to. He was a mentor for many of them. This morning Pelosi said that "John Lewis was a titan of the Civil Rights movement whose goodness, faith, and bravery transformed our nation. May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all in the face of injustice. Make good trouble," she said.

And on Capitol Hill he had a legacy. He was someone who didn't stop fighting for the rights of all people. In fact, he led a very important sit-in on the House floor in 2016. If you remember, there was a fight to get gun legislation voted on, but Republicans controlled the chamber. So Democrats led by Lewis sat on the floor of the House for several house. And he is just someone who never gave up. When he came to Congress, he wanted to create the national museum of African American history. He introduced that bill year after year. Finally, in 2003, it was signed into law. And he said he just could never let a dream go. Abby?

BLACKWELL: I'll take it. Lauren Fox for us there. Lauren, thank you so.

In 2018 CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash interviewed Congressman Lewis in Selma on the 53rd anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

PHILLIP: Dana asked Lewis about the moment that he was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You marched across this bridge in a peaceful protest and you were met with a billy club on your skull. Do you have memory of that moment that you got beaten almost to death?

REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D-GA): I remember so well the moment that I was beaten and left at the foot of the bridge. I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death. I thought it was the last march. Fifty- three years later I don't know how I made it back across this bridge, but apparently a group of individuals literally took me across the bridge back to the church where we left from.


But I do remember being back at the church and someone asked me to say something to the audience. And I stood up and said something like I don't understand it, how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam, and cannot send troops to Selma, Alabama, to protect people whose only desire is to register to vote.


BLACKWELL: Dana Bash is with us now. Dana, there are some interviews that stay with you forever. And to have that conversation with Congressman Lewis on the bridge, I imagine that that is one of them.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: As you said it and stated it like that, Victor, it's impossible not to get incredibly emotional. Anybody who went on that journey, and he turned it into a pilgrimage, a civil rights pilgrimage, which he did every year, took bipartisan lawmakers, bringing them there in the hopes that they not only learn not just his history, but the history of this country, and turn it into something meaningful that could have an effect on them and how they used their power now. He did it very intentionally.

And it was -- ask anybody, Republican, Democrat, independent -- it was a spiritual journey to be on that bridge with him. And he knew it. And that's why he tried to use that impact for good, always tried to use the impact that he knew that his history had for good. And I'm sure you both have encountered this, but it's -- most people who are not very attuned to politics may not know who a congressman is, especially children. It's remarkable the way young people, they know who John Lewis is, and they understand in their hearts the impact that he has and how special he was. I've never seen it as a parent, as a journalist, and as a citizen.

PHILLIP: Yes, I think it is so lucky for this generation that he has been here for this country for so long. You know, Dana, as someone who is a dean in your own right of Capitol Hill, can you talk to us about what John Lewis was like in that chamber. He is such a rare figure in that Republicans and Democrats all want to be associated with him. What were those relationships like? And people can be so cynical. Were they real as far as you could tell?

BASH: They were real. That's a really good question. They were real. Look, he was a partisan Democrat, make no mistake about it. But he was a very different lawmaker. He stood out in so many ways, not just because he had the ability to bring Republican leaders down to Selma with him, but he had the ability to communicate with them.

And I think in large part it's because of what he learned when he was, back when he was a very, very young civil rights activist, the boy from Troy, as Martin Luther King Jr. called him when he answered John Lewis's letter when John Lewis was 17-years-old, and Martin Luther King wrote to him, OK, wrote back to John Lewis, come on board. He got on a bus and he went, and his life and America changed forever because of that communication.

And one thing I want to share with you that might help answer that question, Abby, and the way that John Lewis looked at life is something that he said, again, that civil rights pilgrimage was a couple years ago, it's three days long, and I was able to interview him a few times. And during one of the interviews, John Lewis was talking about how to treat people. And he said people may beat you, they may spit on you, they may call you everything, but love them, just love them. Love is powerful. Believe that somehow, in some way, by respecting their dignity and worth and the dignity and worth of every human being, you can win people over. That is how he approached everything, including politics, which is why he had genuine relationships across the aisle with Republicans, Abby.

PHILLIP: Thank you so much, Dana, for bringing this interview to us. It's a great interview. You should go online and check it out. Thanks, and I'm sure we'll see more this weekend. BASH: Thanks to you both.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, dana.

PHILLIP: CNN national correspondent Kristen Holmes joins us from the White House. Kristen, have we heard from the White House about the passing of Congressman John Lewis?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Abby, not really. And I say that because we have reached out, of course, to the press secretary, to members of the press shop, trying to get a formal statement, have not heard anything back.


And we haven't heard a peep from President Trump, despite the fact that he was on Twitter last night, retweeting himself, including nasty claims about his niece, nothing on the passing of John Lewis. And we have learned that he is at his golf club as we speak.

The reason why I say sort of is because we have heard from members of the press shop on Twitter. And it seems to be more of a personal reflection. I'll pull up what the press secretary said. She said "Representative John Lewis was an icon of the Civil Rights movement, and he leaves an enduring legacy that will never be forgotten. We hold his family in our prayers as we remember Rep. John Lewis, his incredible contributions to our country." Obviously missing from here is any mention of President Trump or this being a statement on behalf of the White House or of President Trump.

And I want to note, John Lewis notably skipped -- boycotted President Trump's inauguration. He said that because of the questions around 2016 in the Russian interference in the election, he wasn't sure if he was legitimately president. President Trump then lashed back out on him on Twitter as we see over and over again. He also boycotted George W. Bush's inauguration because of the court case that happened then. We saw that beautiful statement from George W. Bush. This is the time to remember a Civil Rights icon, not about personal grudges. Abby and Victor?

BLACKWELL: If anyone expected anything different, they have not been paying attention. The president did similar things after the death of John McCain because of his disagreement with the senator. We'll see if the president elevates and makes a statement about the death of John Lewis. Kristen Holmes there at the White House, thank you so much.

PHILLIP: And coming up, to wear or not to wear a mask. The CDC says the pandemic could be under control in a matter of weeks if people wore them. How the mayor of Miami plans to get residents there to wear masks.



BLACKWELL: The CDC projects that the number of Americans killed by the coronavirus could exceed 157,000 over the next three weeks.

PHILLIP: These numbers keep going up. On Friday alone, more than 71,000 cases were recorded here in the United States, 908 Americans lost their lives yesterday from this virus. Cases in this country are on the rise, forcing states like Texas and Arizona to bring in refrigerated trucks as morgues reach capacity.

BLACKWELL: The public health director in one Texas county says that at least 85 infants have tested positive for the virus. And there's still people who refuse to wear a mask. Dr. Anthony Fauci told local leaders yesterday to be as forceful as possible to get people to wear them.

PHILLIP: Starting Monday, people in Miami will not get a warning when they fail to wear a mask in public. CNN's Rosa Flores joins us now from Miami. Rosa, what more can you tell us about what's going on down in Florida?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Abby, according to city of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, these mask-wearing mandates are working. That's why they are ditching the warning and going straight to fining individuals $50 for a first offense. Suarez says that back on July 10th they were seeing about 125 cases a day. Now it's more like 50 case a day here in the city of Miami. And so they're attributing some of that decrease to this mask mandate. Suarez just a few days ago was very close to shutting down the city of Miami. Now he says that that's not the case. Take a listen.


MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R-FL), MIAMI: As of today, we are not issuing a stay-at-home order. That is something that I know has been rumored and there was a lot of rumors about that, but we are not. We are consulting with Miami-Dade County and with all the cities so that if we ever have to issue something like that, it would be something that we do together.


FLORES: Now take a look at the ICU capacity in Miami-Dade County. It is at 119 percent. The goal for the county is not to exceed 70 percent. The good news is that they do have about 400 beds that they can convert to ICU beds, but this is definitely not the situation that any county in the United States wants to be during a pandemic. And if you look at the positivity rate, it's at 27 percent. The goal for the county is not to exceed 10 percent. Well, they've exceeded 22 percent for the past 14 days, which begs the question, OK, so countywide, what is going to trigger more restrictions?

I asked that very question to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez yesterday during a virtual press conference, and he says that the county is not there yet. But Abby and Victor, he says that what he's going to be looking at and continue to zero in are hospitalizations. But as we just noted a moment ago, ICU capacity in Miami-Dade County is at 119 percent right now.

BLACKWELL: Still a problematic number. Rosa Flores for us there in Miami, thanks so much.

PHILLIP: And joining me to talk about all of this is Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. Good morning, Peter, thanks for joining us.


PHILLIP: So look, the situation is pretty dire. And it's kind of all falling down on one simple thing that people can do, wear a mask. We heard from the Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff who said this should be like wearing a seatbelt. Do you think that political leaders need to start viewing it that way, and that they ought to put in some of these mask mandates, enforcing it the way that you're seeing the Miami mayor increasing the penalties for not wearing a mask in public?

HOTEZ: Absolutely. It's incredible that we're still even having this conversation.


Right now, the southern half of the United States accounts for 25 percent of the world's cases of COVID-19, an extraordinary number. So the epicenter of the global pandemic of COVID-19 is in the southern United States. And it started out as a band going across Florida and then along the Gulf Coast through Texas into Arizona and southern California. Now you're starting to see it pick up across Georgia into Tennessee. So it's really the whole southeastern part of the United States now. This is not working. And the fact that we're even still having this discussion about masks is terrible. And now I'm really concerned that we may have let this go too far and we may have to take additional measures and very soon.

PHILLIP: Yes. And overlaying all of this is the political situation. In "The Washington Post" they have a piece this morning about really the chaos that is ruling the federal response, but this really stuck out to me about President Trump. It says, "Trump in recent weeks have been committing less of his time and energy to managing the pandemic, according to his advisers, and has only occasionally spoken in detail about the topic in his public appearances. One of these advisors said the president is, quote, not really working this anymore. He doesn't want to be distracted by it. He's not calling and asking for data. He's not worried about cases." Dr. Hotez, is it too late now at this point to expect a change in tone or behavior or strategy from the federal government?

HOTEZ: To use the word "distracted" when we're talking about maybe the greatest national tragedy we've experienced in I don't know how many years, certainly the greatest public health catastrophe maybe our nation has had in 100 years is just outrageous. We do have to take action.

The other piece to this that not a lot of people are talking about, when you actually look at the deaths, our city of Houston puts it out every day, and what you see is black, black, black, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic, black, black, black, black. This virus is decimating low-income neighborhoods. We're talking about Congressman Lewis today, and this is one of the reasons why his words gave me the courage to speak out and not just only talk about the science but talk about the injustice. He says, John Lewis, I wrote it down this morning. He says when you see something that's not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up, you have to say something, do something. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm so upset when we know this virus is decimating low-income neighborhoods and nobody's putting the numbers, and so I'm very concerned.

PHILLIP: I appreciate you bringing light to that. Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you for being with us. We'll be right back.

HOTEZ: Thank you.



BLACKWELL: Former vice president Joe Biden just released a statement on the passing of John Lewis.

PHILLIP: He writes in part "We are made in the image of God, and then there is John Lewis. He was truly one of a kind, a moral compass who always knew where to point us and which direction to march. To John's family, friends, staff, and constituents, Jill and I send our love and prayers."

BLACKWELL: The morning the Congressional Black Caucus is also remembering its longest serving member, the conscience of the Congress. In a statement, the members write "He taught us to keep our eyes on the prize and that lesson is more crucial than ever."

Joining us now is Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us. First, when did you speak with the congressman last, and what are you feeling this morning?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Well, let me first of all say that I couldn't be feeling any more pain than his family, which I offer my deepest sympathy staff, his staff, Michael Collins, and all of his staff and his constituents. But certainly I am feeling deep pain, and I think that pain is an unspeakable pain, because it was not just the loss of a man, a member of Congress which has served with such distinction, it is a beloved American that brought out the best in everyone.

And the good news is that I had a chance to speak to him in the last week. And his strength, his power, his love, and his connectedness to our journey and the fight for freedom was continued and strong.

PHILLIP: He came into Congress in 1980 -- elected in 1986, part of a rising tide of black members in Congress. I want to get your take on what did he mean to that body? What did he mean to the Congressional Black Caucus members as its longest serving member at this point up until his death? LEE: Well, certainly he exuded what I call the fierceness of now. The

Congressional Black Caucus has always been in the struggle for freedom, empowerment. And as we fought for empowerment as those who cannot speak for themselves, it was really benefiting all Americans. John knew our fight for freedom as African Americans was an ongoing fight. He knew that many would not take that fight seriously over many decades. Some would ask the question why. And he reminded us that no matter how many critics we faced, we needed to be focused on our journey and our reach for victory.


And that is a nation free of systemic racism, a beloved nation. He loved his dear brother, Martin Luther King, who taught him about the beloved community, and he always used those words, that America in her finest moment would be the beloved community. That means that no matter what your affiliation in any manner, you would be part of this community that stood for the best of what we had for our people. He reminded the CBC that we should never get off of our intended journey, and it should be with the fierceness of now.

BLACKWELL: Congresswoman, before we let you go, he fought in the last few years, at least since 2013, Shelby County, the holder, for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act. This is a remarkable time in this country. The Mississippi flag is down, there's an acknowledgement of systemic racism and disenfranchisement. Do you imagine that in his passing that there will be some renewed restoration and renewed, potentially, effort to the restoration, reauthorization of sections of the Voting Rights Act?

LEE: You know, Victor, the one thing that we glean from our beloved John Lewis was his hopefulness. That's how he could be arrested 40 times, that's how he could be hit in the head with injuries beyond one's imagination and still be standing. That's how he could be on the bus rides.

But I believe that it has to be more than hopefulness. It has to be a love and tribute to this man's life. And I think it is the time to vote for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act section five. It is the time to pass many legislative initiatives that John was so much engaged in, really not to add to his legacy but to give a gift to the American people from a beloved man whose life and legacy will live on forever. It is the time, and as I'm reminded every day from his words, the fierceness of now.

PHILLIP: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, thank you so much for being with us this morning and sharing your memories of Congressman John Lewis.

LEE: Thank you. God bless.

BLACKWELL: You, too.

Question now about getting back to school. Will your kids be back in class? Will this be online? It depends on where you live. Coming up next, we speak with former education secretary John B. King, what he's saying about the lack of leadership.



BLACKWELL: Let's talk about what a lot of parents are talking about, getting back to school during the pandemic. With me now, John B. King, former secretary of education under President Obama, and president and CEO of the Education Trust, a nonprofit that works with underserved students. Mr. Secretary, thanks for being with us.

JOHN B. KING, FORMER EDUCATION SECRETARY: Thanks for having me this morning.

BLACKWELL: So in preparation for this conversation, I went back and watched some interviews you did. And back in April you talked about what getting back into the classroom could look like, but there was the assumption that there would be contact tracing and adequate testing before any student would go back in. With that absent, should students return to schools?

KING: Unfortunately, because the current administration has botched the response to the pandemic, we're in a situation where many parts of the country students won't be able to go back to school. We don't have good compliance with public health recommendations, we don't have testing, we don't have contact tracing the way that we should. And as a result, in many places around the country, we're going to see students starting online when they could have been in school but for the failed leadership of the current administration.

BLACKWELL: I talked with the 2019 national teacher of the year, and we talked about what students are missing out on. They're missing socialization, some meals, and a safe place for some students. But when it comes to learning loss, is there any way to know what this means for students, virtual learning versus in a classroom?

KING: Unfortunately, we have a recent study that was done by McKenzie that suggests that on average students have lost about seven months of learning, and that for Latino students, it's actually nine months of learning, and for African-American students 10 months of learning. One of the real challenges is that we still don't have reliable Internet access for low-income students in many parts of the country. And so students weren't even able to log in and participate in learning this spring. And, again, we haven't made enough progress to be in a situation where that will be better this fall. We need Congress really to dedicate resources to helping schools operate successfully online this fall.

BLACKWELL: I know that's just one of the elements that you think Congress has to beef up. What else do you need them to do or want them to do to make sure that students are successful where they are, and then when they come back, there will be the resources for teachers in schools?

KING: Yes, well, we really need Congress to step up over the next few weeks with at least $175 billion to stabilize state and local budget so we don't see huge cuts for school districts and layoffs. We need additional funding, perhaps on the order of $50 billion plus, to make sure that school districts are able to do the things necessary to open safely, things like masks for all of the students and staff, other personal protective equipment for staff, changing the procedures in school around transportation and meal delivery to make sure that classrooms can operate safely.


We need targeted resources for early childhood education, another $50 billion, because if we don't invest in early childhood, our early childhood sector is at the brink of collapse.

BLACKWELL: Before we let you go, the White House would not allow an official from the CDC to testify before the House Education Committee on what it will take to bring kids back into school. The CDC has delayed the guidance on reopening schools. Do you trust that this administration is providing the best information available to states and superintendents about coming back to school?

KING: No. Look, I'm a public-school parent from Montgomery County, Maryland, and I'm deeply, deeply troubled by the lack of leadership from the federal administration. The Education Department has essentially been invisible other than the reckless demand that schools open no matter what the conditions are locally in terms of public health. So we really need a massive shift in the federal approach here. Our international peers are doing in. They are able to reopen schools because they've got the pandemic under control.

BLACKWELL: Former Education Secretary John B. King, thanks so much for your time this morning.

KING: Thank you.

PHILLIP: And just ahead, the passing of Civil Rights icon John Lewis happening as America confronts its racist roots with protests across the country. W. Kamau Bell, host of "United Shades of America," joins us coming up next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very conscious about that. And I remember when you were a little guy, six, seven years old. And there was a drugstore we would shop in, and as soon as we walked in the door the store detective would follow us. I said be really careful, and I pointed out the store detective because we were always being watched.

W. KAMAU BELL, HOST, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA": I remember that lesson, and it sticks with me today, so much so that I'm aware of when I'm in stores even now as a fully grown adult where my hands are. And then as a kid I was aware of it because I didn't want to be arrested. Now as an adult I've become aware of it because I don't want to be killed.


BLACKWELL: The new seasons of "United Shades of America" starts tomorrow night. And we're joined now by host W. Kamau Bell. Good morning to you. Every year when your promos start running, I think, man, that is so timely, whether it's living while black, or white supremacy. Bu then I realize it's not that the show's timely. It's that these topics are always here with us.

W. KAMAU BELL, HOST, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA": Absolutely. If we could solve these problems, I could be out of a job and not have to be talking to Klan members.

PHILLIP: It is one of those things where we just keep coming back to these stories over and over again. What is it like trying to get at some of these issues, white supremacy, reparations? You talked to your mom about the talk. I mean, how do you approach it in a fresh way this season?

BELL: I think we just don't want to repeat ourselves. When we knew we wanted to do an episode about white supremacy, we thought about it, or I thought about it as a sequel to our very first episode where I talked to the Klan. And I was like, we have to make sure we don't look like we're not going back again. We have to do everything we can to show that we're taking the conversation to a new level. So this episode feels very different. We reference that Klan episode a lot, but it's about continuing to advance the conversation.

BLACKWELL: Is there an acknowledgement of white privilege, of systemic inequality, from white people in this episode?

BELL: In this episode, yes, yes. Yes, there is. I think that one thing we did do is we went to Pittsburgh. And Pittsburgh, a lot of people don't realize, is one of the hardest places for black people to live. You can look at research and it tells you that. And so we wanted to talk to actually black people in Pittsburgh because nobody knows that outside of Pittsburgh. And so we wanted to hear from them, why is this place such a hard place to live?

But also we talked to ex-neo-Nazis and ex-Klan members, and those people were able to acknowledge white privilege in a way that a lot of white liberals aren't a way to acknowledge white privilege.

PHILLIP: Look, we are now losing some of this generation, this tie back to history. When you think about what we want to remember of our history and how we learn from our history, what can people expect this season to help along in that conversation about what this country really should understand about itself?

BELL: This country was built on white supremacy. So the ways in which this country operate today is because it started on the genocide of Native Americans and using African-Americans as slaves, and everything we've done is built on top of that.

BLACKWELL: Tell us what's coming up for the rest of the season.

BELL: We have an episode, as you said, about reparations. We have an episode about public schools. We have an episode about, as you said, the gig economy. So we're talking about all the tension points in this country right now.

PHILLIP: Talk to us for a second about your mom. First of all, as you noted on Twitter, she looks really, really good. What was it like to get her to sit down with you? And what was that conversation like? Have you guys talked like that before this episode?

BELL: Yes, we've talked -- we've literally talked like that since I was a child.


So I knew we just always had that conversation. We're always changing that conversation. She knows I'm talking to my three daughters about that conversation. And so really I didn't have to ask her if she wanted to be on the show. She's been telling me she should be on the show since I put my dad on the show in season three.

BLACKWELL: You need to have me on your show.


PHILLIP: That sounds like something a mom would say.

BELL: I didn't book her. I just told her where to show up.


PHILLIP: W. Kamau Bell, thank you so much. Be sure to tune in, an all new episodes of "United Shades of America" premiering tomorrow at 10:00 eastern and pacific only on CNN.

And thank you for being with us this Saturday morning. Thanks for watching.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Newsroom continues after the break with Fredricka Whitfield.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me on this day. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Two civil rights icons gone within just 24 hours. This morning the country is mourning.