Return to Transcripts main page
Civil Rights Legend Rep. John Lewis Dies At 80; GA Governor, Atlanta Mayor Clash Over Mandating Masks; Interview With Athens-Clarke County, GA Mayor Kelly Girtz (D); Florida, Louisiana, Arizona Now Lead The Nation In COVID Cases; Civil Rights Leader Reverend C.T. Vivian Dies At 95. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired July 18, 2020 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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 the monumental loss of long-time congressman and freedom fighter John Lewis. He died overnight at the age of 80 after a six-month-long battle with stage four pancreatic cancer.
News of Lewis' passing comes as we're learning that Reverend C.T. Vivian, one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s most valuable generals, also passing away at the age of 95. His family telling CNN he died of old age and natural causes -- that's how they put it.
Both Vivian and Lewis were recipients of the President Medal of Freedom, the highest accolade an American civilian can receive. They earned it for their commitments to non-violence in their fight for equality even when they were met with brutal beatings and multiple arrests.
Congressman John Lewis famously referred to it as getting into good trouble, necessary trouble.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ordered flags at the U.S. Capitol Building to be lowered to half staff in honor of Lewis.
The flags at the White House also have been lowered although we have yet to hear from the President of the United States on the death of this icon, Lewis.
We begin our coverage with more on the passing of Congressman John Lewis. Here's a look back at his towering legacy.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): 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), GEORGIA: Tonight we gather here in this magnificent stadium 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 Selma.
On the Edmund Pettis Bridge, he and the 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, co-writing 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: 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 that 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 on 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.
SAVIDGE: Lewis wasn't content to just making history. He was also dedicated to preserving it. Considered the impetus of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African-American History and Culture. And he never stopped stirring up good trouble, as he liked 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 election meddling.
At 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 law maker, as a leader.
LEWIS: We must never, ever give up. We must be brave, bold and courageous.
WHITFIELD: All right. Let me bring in now Ambassador Andrew Young, a former congressman and an early leader of the Civil Rights Movement who worked closely with John Lewis during that time and throughout his decades-long fight for justice and equality.
Ambassador, so good to see you.
Mr. Ambassador Young, if you can hear me, this is Fredricka. How are you feeling this morning on the passing of Congressman John Lewis?
ANDREW YOUNG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I can barely hear you. Some static in it.
WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. Ok. Well, tell me, if you can --
YOUNG: Now that's good.
WHITFIELD: -- how about that. Tell me, if you can, your thoughts about Congressman Lewis on his passing.
YOUNG: Well, you know, John has been on this case for 60-some years, and he has been in every phase of it. You mentioned some but he moved almost directly from the Civil Rights Movement into the voter education project, where after getting the voting rights bill signed, he followed Vernon Jordan at the South-wide voter education project and moved across the south registering those voters.
We were also together in India at the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's visit to India. And I can remember John being so happy to be in the presence of Gandhi's legacy.
And that's one of the things that was characteristic of our movement. We went back and we read Gandhi and we read WEB Du Bois when I have not read (INAUDIBLE).
But when we started the movement, we browned it ourselves. I would hope people would go back and read John Lewis' book, which I think was "Good Trouble" and read the books of C.T. Vivian because we have tried to lay a foundation for this generation to carry on and I must say that they're doing wonderfully well, spectacular.
But when you add the human rights problems to the problems of the coronavirus and climate change, there's a heavy burden waiting for this coming generation. So they really have to be prepared for it.
But this is -- Black Lives Matter was a wonderful start, especially because it wasn't just black lives.
John also put a lot of time in creating the Black Jewish Coalition here in Atlanta when the temple was bombed shortly after some of the incidents that occurred here. And we realized that it's not just black lives that matter but it's the lives of all oppressed people and the lives of all of the people of good will that it's going to take to make this world work.
WHITFIELD: And Ambassador Young, you just mentioned, you know, you were impressed by the young people whoa re engaged in movement right now. And just reflecting, you know, you were a very young man when you got engaged with this, you know, movement and really was alongside Dr. Martin Luther King.
And Congressman Lewis was just 15 years old when he wrote a letter to Dr. King, you know, about being inspired by Dr. King. And then he would be this teen-ager and a man in his young 20s who would be right in there with you, with you and with Dr. King. Where did this tenacity come from?
YOUNG: But from 15 to 80 is a good record.
WHITFIELD: Yes. That's an amazing record. Talk to me about his tenacity and what you saw in him all of these years.
YOUNG: Well, John's strength was his humility. He had almost no ego, no sense of his own self-importance, but he had a sense of his spiritual power and he also had a very charming, old school (ph) sort of personality where even when you disagreed with him, you couldn't get mad with him.
And I think -- and he didn't get mad with anybody who disagreed with him. He learned to disagree without being disagreeable. And that's -- one of the reasons that I think we all lived so long is we had no anger in our movement.
We understood the complications of racism, and we saw it as a sickness, not something that people were -- you know, you don't get angry at anybody having polio, and you don't get angry for people if they were born in a situation that deprived them of the love and understanding of different races or genders that made them prejudice. That's just part of the given.
WHITFIELD: That was a common thread that it appears you, Reverend, and your fellow brothers John Lewis and C.T. Vivian would have.
Tell me about the late now Reverend C.T. Vivian and your thoughts about this brotherhood that you all shared.
YOUNG: Well, C.T. Vivian started back -- C.T. Vivian was leading demonstrations in Peoria, Illinois in 1947. And then he went to work at the National Baptist Publishing House in Nashville. And that's where he began to work with Jim Lawson and Reverend Kelly Miller Smith to round up Diane Nash and James Bevel and Marion Barry, who later became the mayor of Washington, D.C.
I mean there was a tremendous cadre of talent and dedication in that national movement and it really opened up the doors for the other college campuses and they were the ones that picked up the freedom rides when they were stopped in Alabama with bombs and threats from the Klan.
YOUNG: C.T. Vivian though, was with me down in -- he was in Selma with John, and I was there also, but where we got beat up was in St. Augustine, Florida where the sheriff deputized the Ku Klux Klan and gave them permission to beat us up.
But people never fought back. They never got angry and Dr. King told me to try to -- that there was no need to keep marching, that we should slow down a little bit because we didn't (AUDIO GAP) people seriously hurt, more seriously hurt. But we wouldn't stop.
WHITFIELD: And clearly -- yes. And none of you --
YOUNG: We kept on going until the civil rights bill was passed in 1964.
WHITFIELD: And none of you slowed down.
Ambassador, Mayor, Reverend Andrew Young -- thank you so much and thank you for all that you have sacrificed, all that you have given, how you've maintained the fight for all these years and passing on the baton and now helping to also honor these amazing foot soldiers in Congressmen John Lewis and C.T. Vivian. Thank you so much, Reverend. Appreciate it.
YOUNG: Thank you and God bless you.
WHITFIELD: Thank you so much.
Stay with CNN as we mourn and celebrates the lives of these CNN -- of these civil rights heroes. Congressman John Lewis, as well as the legacy of C.T. Vivian.
But as we remember these legacies, we're also celebrating how Lewis lived, happy until the very end.
WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.
In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp is now suing the mayor of Atlanta and several other local governments over the mask mandate in the city of Atlanta. Despite new cases continuing to rise across the state, Governor Kemp is also challenging Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms call to limit public gatherings and close restaurant dining rooms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOVERNOR BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: I'm confident that Georgians don't need a mandate to do the right thing. Instead of issuing mandates that are confusing and unenforceable, I'm asking government to enforce the current executive order.
MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA, GEORGIA: What I see happening is that the governor is putting politics over people. We all know the CDC is in our own back yard. The CDC has said that wearing a mask will stop the spread -- help stop the spread of this virus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN's Natasha Chen joining me now from Atlanta. So Natasha, what more are you hearing about this. For several days now we've talked about the governor threatening this lawsuit. Now it is official.
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred. This is an escalation of tension that's been going on between the Atlanta mayor and the Georgia governor.
CHEN: In fact after the law was file, Governor Kemp tweeted that this lawsuit is on behalf of Atlanta business owners and their hard working employees. He said they need to get food on the table and that local elected officials are trying to shutter their businesses and hinder the economic recovery. Bottoms actually responded to that on Twitter saying that more than 3,000 Georgians have died of COVID 19, that she and her family are among more than the 100,000 Georgians who have tested positive for this virus. And she said that a better use of taxpayer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing.
So this has been going back and forth for quite a bit. If you look at the case numbers right now in the state of Georgia, especially in the first half of July, that trend is going steadily upward. So that's why the Atlanta mayor had this mask mandate and tried to roll back to phase one, which of course the governor has said is unenforceable because the executive order from the state does not allow local orders to supersede and make anything less or more restrictive than what the state asks for, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Natasha Chen, thank you so much in Atlanta. Appreciate that.
Let's discuss this further. Joining me right now us is the mayor of Athens, Georgia -- Kelly Girtz. Mayor Girtz, Good to see you.
MAYOR KELLY GIRTZ (D), ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY, GEORGIA: Fredricka, thanks for having me this morning. I hope you're doing ok there.
WHITFIELD: I am. And hope you're well also.
WHITFIELD: So any reaction to the governor of the state suing the city of Atlanta, hit hard just like many major cities across the country of coronavirus. The city's mayor putting into place a mandate of wearing masks and the governor suing on those grounds.
What are your thoughts.
GIRTZ: Well, on this day when we're remembering Congressman Lewis and all his great work, I think very much of his hallmark phrase of good trouble. And so my friend Mayor Bottoms is in trouble. Fredricka -- it's good trouble.
And it's trouble intended to preserve the life and the health of everybody in her community, in my community in Athens, Georgia and across the state.
We're simply asking for what is true in 49 other states, either for there to be a statewide norm for mask requirement or for there to be a local allowance for that same requirement.
In dense urban environments, people come into close contact with one another and we need to be able to have the tools in our box to make sure that we prevent and eliminate the spread of coronavirus at this time. That's all we're seeking.
It's simple science, it absolutely makes sense and I'm just very frustrated to see that this has gotten politicized certainly amidst this national environment that we're living in.. WHITFIELD: So Mayor Girtz, you know, how does anyone make sense of a
governor leading a state that is being hit particularly hard by coronavirus who would sue a city mayor, a mayor who is committed to promoting the health of the populace and not suing on the grounds of -- suing the mayor because she's withholding care for the populace, but the opposite. How does anyone make sense of that?
GIRTZ: Well, the political analyst in me would recognize that much of Governor Kemp's support in his election two years ago came from rural components of the state, places that at least early on were less hard hit and certainly bristle a little more at any kind of regulatory requirements.
And if you couple that with the President's admiration for and friendship with President Trump, I think you get the perfect storm for this.
Unfortunately, you know, we are not following the path of many, many other Republican governors in Texas, in Arkansas, in Alabama and elsewhere who are saying, listen, political allegiances aside, we simply need the tools in the box to keep ourselves safe.
WHITFIELD: So Mayor Girtz, you lead the city of Athens. And, you know, at the nucleus of Athens is the University of Georgia. You've got students who are thinking about their fall semester, parents who are, you know, really concerned about the fall semester, whether their kids are in college or beyond.
What are the measures that you want to promote in your city and does it come at the same risk of potentially being sued by the governor?
GIRTZ: We are going to maintain our local mask mandate here in Athens. We've been enforcing this over the last week and a half since it's been in place simply by directing people to put masks on and in fact, if they don't have them, distributing those masks so that that they have that resources right there in their hands.
WHITFIELD: Why aren't you being sued?
Why do you believe you are not being sued?
GIRTZ: That's a great question. That's a great question. I think certainly this brewing political competition between Mayor Bottoms and Governor Kemp is at the heart of this.
You know, there's no secret she's being vetted as a potential vice presidential candidate. I think that has a lot to do with it.
GIRTZ: We are Mayor -- excuse me, we are Governor Kemp's hometown so one would think that if there was any place he was going to begin with this conflict it would be here. But instead he's pointing to Atlanta. Historically speaking, political wisdom in Georgia has been that if the governor wants to gin up the base, they can throw darts at Atlanta and that seems to be something that's returned to form here. WHITFIELD: Promoting a lot more confusion. Mayor Kelly Girtz of
Athens, appreciate you being with us today. Thank you so much.
GIRTZ: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Meanwhile, states are fighting to slow the spread as hospitalization and death rates increase. Florida, Louisiana and Arizona now lead the nation in per capita COVID-19 cases.
In Florida, CNN's Rosa Flores is in Miami where ICU beds are now exceeding capacity and Rosa, the mayor in Miami saying there are no more warnings but real enforcement of mask mandates there.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Fred, you're absolutely right. And the state of Florida just releasing their number numbers yesterday, reported yesterday with more than 10,000 new cases.
Look, here's the reality in Miami-Dade County. The positivity rate is 27 percent. This is according to Miami Dade County data. Their goal is not to exceed 10 percent. Well, they've exceeded that for the past 14 days.
ICU capacity is at 119 percent. Their goal is not to exceed 70 percent. The good news is that the county does have extra beds, more than 400 to convert into ICUs.
Now, despite these metrics, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Jimenez says he's not ready to impose more restrictions. He says he's going to be focusing on and looking at those hospitalization numbers.
City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said yesterday that he has evidence that masks and wearing masks work. That it's helping the case number, that's why the case number in the city of Miami is dropping. He says that even though a few days ago, Fred, he was ready to shut down the city, now he said that he's not there yet, that these masks are helping and so he's ditching the warning and going straight to imposing fines starting on Monday. Fred.
WHITFIELD: What and those fines are $50?
FLORES: Yes, for the first offense, it $50.
WHITFIELD: All right. Rosa Flores, thank you so much in Miami. We'll check back with you.
As the nation, the world for that matter, remembers Congressman John Lewis and his impact on the civil rights, President Trump has just issued a proclamation ordering the flags at the White House and other federal buildings to be flown at half staff for the rest of today in honor of Lewis.
We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: Good trouble, necessary trouble -- that's how the late Congressman John Lewis described his lifetime fight for equality. He is among the civil rights foot soldiers enduring countless indignities, brutal beatings and multiple arrests. For Lewis, something like 44 arrests. Lewis' death comes on the same day as we're also learning that Reverend C.T. Vivian, another civil rights icon, has died.
Joining me right now, civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Reverend, so good to see you.
The last time I saw all three of you together was in Selma in 2015 during that 50th anniversary. You are part of that brotherhood.
Tell me what it is like today, with a heavy heart, you know, we're celebrating the lives of C.T. Vivian and Congressman Lewis.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIEST: Like a hole where my heart used to be. You know, Reverend (INAUDIBLE) a few weeks ago, she's Dr. King (INAUDIBLE), Reverend C.T. Vivian, John Lewis -- it's a lot to take in but they certainly made their mark on time.
WHITFIELD: What are your memories of Congressman Lewis and how at such a very young age, barely 20, he would be, you know, the youngest member of this movement and really become such a leader so soon.
JACKSON: Well, John was so determined. (INAUDIBLE) John suffered his way into prominence. He took the beatings in the head on the body. He was suffering (ph) on the bridge, Reverend C.T. Vivian shipped (ph) him out (INAUDIBLE).
I remember him fighting and never giving up. He got good trouble.
WHITFIELD: And he would say that. Never give up. Never give up.
When was the last time you had a chance to talk with him?
JACKSON: About two weeks ago in his office together, we had determined to have a fall (INAUDIBLE}, the rainbow registration campaign and beyond this coming fall. He's a gift that never stopped giving.
He never stopped. Never stopped. And I remember him as a fierce freedom fighter, always nonviolent, loved redemption, made of mind (ph) and determination.
JACKSON: He was a champion -- (INAUDIBLE) when they ride the people's shoulders. He rose when people ride on their shoulders. They are the heroes.
We were on his shoulders on the bus ride. We're on his shoulders on the right to vote. (INAUDIBLE) Lewis was born in Selma, Alabama. He (INAUDIBLE) all of American
history. It should be the John Lewis Bridge and not Edmund Pettis Bridge because he (INAUDIBLE) it seems to me.
WHITFIELD: C.T. Vivian was about 15 years, you know, the senior of Congressman Lewis. But I wonder, you know, what are your thoughts that the two of them would pass away within the same 24-hour period?
JACKSON: This really is the mystery of death really.
JACKSON: That it happened so close, they were very close in life and now very close in death. I'm sure heaven's rejoicing. You think about President Obama, you see John Lewis. He endorsed (ph) him.
So you see John Lewis, President Obama -- we were all just so proud -- we were all proud on his election. His election was extraordinary. It was our dream. We honor and praise him for his work even today.
WHITFIELD: Both of these men because of President Obama would receive the Medal of Freedom Awards, a different period but they would both be recognized for all of the work that they have done for their lifetimes.
What is it that you hope that people would always remember about the legacy of these two men?
JACKSON: Well, they focused on what mattered. The most important aspect of democracy is the right to vote. The Black Lives Matter Movement is great movement -- it's moving, it's changing the way we see things.
Changed a lot of the (INAUDIBLE) -- police patrol -- you do some voting. You could vote and you also control police, you control banks, they control social services. They focus not just on police; they focus on those who control the police. So I think that the truth of my goals that were important then, this movement will probably be embracing that.
WHITFIELD: Reverend Jesse Jackson, always a pleasure to talk to you. And, of course, wonderful to hear your words, your thoughts, your memories, your experiences with these two amazing men, these icons, whose shoulders we all stand on.
Thank you so much, Reverend.
JACKSON: Thank you so much.
WHITFIELD: And stay with CNN as we remember the lives of two civil rights giants lost in the last 24 hours -- Congressman John Lewis and Reverend C.T. Vivian.
Up next, my exclusive interview with Reverend Vivian after he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REVEREND C.T. VIVIAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Only the things that help you help somebody are really worth the effort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: A frightening new problem emerging in one Texas county. The public health director for Corpus Christi Nueces County says at least 85 babies, children under the age of one, have tested positive for coronavirus.
The county has recently seen a spike in new cases.
Joining me right now, Dr. Carlos del Rio. He is the executive associate dean for the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Doctor -- so good to see you. So I wonder, Doctor, as we hear this, and you know, it shocks a lot of people because now we're talking about a large body of very tiny little ones. Does this potentially reveal that perhaps there have been a lot of children, a lot of, you know, infants that may have been exposed to coronavirus but perhaps the symptoms are different and perhaps they don't necessarily test positive?
Could it be that a number of children have been overlooked for having been exposed to coronavirus but they haven't been treated or connected with the ailment by name?
DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Well, it's possible but I think what's more likely what happened, Fred, is that the kids really stayed home. The parents kept their kids at home, schools closed, parents kept their kids isolated so the kids were not really exposed to the virus.
Now as we're opening, as people are going out, you know, people are going to summer camps, people are going to day care, we will start seeing infection of the newborns and of the young children.
And I think we need more information. We need to learn but we thought at the beginning of this epidemic, you know, under the age of 18 you don't get infected. We know that's wrong, that's probably not correct, and we probably don't know exactly how much they get infected and how much they transmit and what the spectrum of the disease is.
The babies issue is probably related to the mothers getting infected. We know that when a mother is infected, it's very likely that, you know, because she's so close to her infant, it's very likely that the infant will also get infected. So again, bringing down the amount of virus in the community is critical in stopping this.
WHITFIELD: Should we be paying attention to symptoms that our children are exhibiting a little differently?
DR. DEL RIO: Well, yes, we can. But unfortunately what happens is a lot of the children, even when they get infected, a lot of the teenagers, a lot of the children when they get infected they tend to be very asymptomatic or have very, very mild symptoms that you wouldn't even dream about and that they have all time. Like, you know, my tummy hurts or I'm not feeling well today or maybe have no symptoms.
DR. DEL RIO: And that's a challenge that those children, they get infected, we don't expect that they come into the household and they infect the adults, they infect the grandparents and that is when a grandparent ends up in the hospital in the ICU that you realize that it was a child that brought the infection home.
WHITFIELD: That's interesting because, you know, I have a neighbor who said their child, you know, had sore throat. they didn't think it was a big deal. The next thing you know, the dad, you know, the child's father would end up having coronavirus, test positive for it.
The child would test positive later once they figured it all out but the parent would be hit particularly hard, whereas the 15-year-old child only had a sore throat.
DR. DEL RIO: And that's usually the case. And that's what we're seeing over and over. And that's why it is so complicated to control this disease because that teen-ger, that young kid, you know, nobody would suspect it. But when they come home, it's when they transmit to adults and that's when you start seeing the disease.
WHITFIELD: So you wrote in the "Journal of Travel Medicine" about a case on a flight where two people tested positive for COVID-19 but the rest of the passengers did not, likely because of mask use. So does this show how important wearing a mask can be in fighting this disease?
DR. DEL RIO: I think the evidence is overwhelmingly positive that, yes. The answer to that is yes. Not only in a flight that you're making the point. And I didn't write that article actually, just tweeted the paper, but also in, for example, there's a recent study from Missouri of two hair stylists that were infected. They had over 160 clients, everybody was wearing a mask. Nobody got infected.
There's data also from health care, from hospitals, up here at (INAUDIBLE) at Emory in which when we implemented universal masking, infection of health care workers went down.
So yes, universal masking is the way out of this epidemic as far as, you know, stopping the spread. And we need to have a national mandate on universal masking. We cannot wait any longer.
WHITFIELD: I was actually just about to ask you, are we using the terminology universal masking because that sounds a little bit more digestible to those who don't like the idea of a mandated masking but you actually are saying both of those things.
DR. DEL RIO: Well, I think I'm saying both of those things. I think the evidence is clear that if you just recommend masking, masking levels don't go up. If you encourage the masking, masking levels don't go up. What really makes masking levels go up is making, you know, mandates.
And when you make mandates and you can get masking levels up in the order to 70 to 80 percent wearing face masks when they're in publicly, then the transmission dramatically drops and we can bring the infection rate down and we can actually open our economy in a much safer way if we do that.
Going back to the flight, if everybody on the flight is wearing a mask, it's safe to be on a flight even if other people are infected.
WHITFIELD: Dr. Carlos del Rio, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
DR. DEL RIO: It was nice to be with you.
WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back. We'll be right back.
WHITFIELD: Today we remember two fallen civil rights heroes. Both Congressman John Lewis and Reverend C.T. Vivian died in the last 24 hours.
Reverend Vivian had a long history of fighting for civil rights, marching alongside Reverend King multiple times. The minister participated in his first nonviolent protest, a lunch counter sit-in, in Peoria, Illinois in 1947.
President Barack Obama awarded Vivian the highest civilian honor in the nation, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2013. That year was also the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington. And I had the honor of sitting down for a conversation with Reverend C.T. Vivian back in 2013 where he reflected on the significance of that historic march, that medal and momentum.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Could you have believed 50 years ago that the march would be as indelible, have this indelible place in history?
REV. VIVIAN: We knew it would have an imprint but I never thought it would be this deep. Now, think what we're talking about. Really, without that victory, we wouldn't have an African-American president. And I never thought we would have one for this century.
See, remember this. Martin King led a moral and spiritual movement. He did not lead a political movement. And his remarks and his great statements don't back up a political movement. They back up a moral and spiritual understanding of life. WHITFIELD: So now you're on a mission. Or you continue to be on a mission. It's really been your life to be on a mission.
REV. VIVIAN: That's it. That's precisely, precisely.
WHITFIELD: The President made it very clear that the 16 recipients of this Presidential Medal of Freedom, in his words, goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours.
REV. VIVIAN: That's exactly right.
WHITFIELD: So what does it mean to not only be one of the 16 recipients but to share this day, this honor with the names like Ernie Banks, Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Ben Bradlee, Sally Ride, posthumously?
REV. VIVIAN: It sounds good but let me tell you, if it doesn't allow you to help other people, it doesn't matter who you got them with and it doesn't matter what the honor looks like or where it comes from.
You see what I mean? Is that only the things that help you help somebody are really worth the effort?
WHITFIELD: So this in your view is not an honor to represent all that you have done but instead you say this is incentive to continue to do more.
REV. VIVIAN: Of course. Of course. And you got it exactly right. We have proven that we can solve social problems without violence if we choose and that means at every level.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Reverend Vivian's pledge to fight and keep fighting was as constant as the smile that you would see on his face there. Always jovial, always hopeful and optimistic about the day when we are all treated with equal dignity and respect.
And as we head to break, a live look at a mural in memory of Congressman John Lewis in Atlanta.
And we'll be right back.