Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

"Star Trek" Actress Nichelle Nichols Dies at 89; Tributes Pour in for NBA Legend Bill Russell; Protesters Call Out GOP Senators for Blocking Burn Pits Bill; At Least 28 Dead in Kentucky Floods, Many Still Missing; Confronting Gun Violence Without Criminalizing Minorities; DOJ Trying to Block Oath Keepers from Blaming Trump; Remembering Two American Legends. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired July 31, 2022 - 20:00   ET




PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): We remember two legends.

BILL RUSSELL, NBA LEGEND: I contributed a great deal to the game.

BROWN: Basketball superstar and civil rights champion Bill Russell.

NICHELLE NICHOLS, ACTRESS: Captain, the Enterprise is up there.

BROWN: And television trailblazer Nichelle Nichols of "Star Trek."




SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: These protesters are at the steps right in front of the Senate. Many of them slept overnight on the steps outside here to protest the failure of the burn pit legislation.

JON STEWART, HOST AND ACTIVIST: They've all just got this mumbo jumbo about a budgetary gimmick, but nothing changed.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): This is the oldest trick in Washington. Republicans are not opposed to any of the substance of the PACT Act.

DANIELLE ROBINSON, WIDOW OF SFC HEATH ROBINSON: I think this was a political move, and it's disgusting.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is just an ongoing crisis here at a scale which is almost unimaginable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see some of the garbage that's still over here. And you can actually see how high the water has come.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: This is what we do not want to see, a flood watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With more rain coming, we expect the water to rise up even higher.


BROWN: And I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And we begin this hour with the passing of two legends. Both were game-changers in their fields and challenged the norms in an unjust America. Basketball great Bill Russell died earlier today at age 88. He led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA championships, and his final two titles as the first black head coach in a major American sports league.

And he was also a tireless champion for racial justice and civil rights working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali. In 2011 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Tonight we also salute Nichelle Nichols. She died Saturday at the age of 89. Nichols played Lieutenant Uhura in the original "Star Trek" TV series in the 1960s. Many black actresses were reduced to playing minor, demeaning roles back then but Nichols became one of the first strong African-American leads on TV and became an inspiring symbol of what the future could hold.

Nichols broke barriers and erased stereotypes. That glowing praise came from no less than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself.

CNN's Jason Carroll looks back at her remarkable life.


NICHOLS: Security sweeps of all decks are negative, Mr. Spock.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before Nichelle Nichols broke barriers on board the "USS Enterprise" as Lieutenant Uhura, she was dancing and singing her way across the stages of New York City and Chicago, the city close to where she grew up, Robbins, Illinois. In 1967 she released a cover of the Joe McCoy classic, "Why Don't You Do Right" on Epic Records.


CARROLL: But it was playing "Star Trek's" Lieutenant Uhura where she really found fame. It was a groundbreaking role for an African- American woman in 1966, widely considered one of the first times a woman of color was not portraying a servant on TV. Uhura was the chief communications officer and fourth in command on board the "Enterprise."

NICHOLS: I didn't find out that I was fourth in command until the second season.

(LAUGHTER) NICHOLS: Nobody told me.

CARROLL: Nichols actually thought about leaving after the first season. The show's creator Gene Roddenberry begged her to stay but it was an influential fan that finally convinced her, Martin Luther King.

NICHOLS: He said you can't. Don't you know who you are to our movement, to everyone who's -- you are there in the 23rd century. You've created a role that has such dignity and everything is powerful. You cannot leave.

CARROLL: Another landmark for the show during the turbulent '60s, the first scripted interracial kiss on national TV in 1968.


WILLIAM SHATNER, ACTOR: We had heard rumors that the southern stations -- some southern stations might cut that.

NICHOLS: It changed television forever, and it also changed the way people looked at one another. If they -- two of their favorite actors can battle through it and come through it on top, why can't everybody?

CARROLL: The show ended in 1969, but endured for years in syndication and at conventions attended by devoted Trekkies. In 1994 Nichols published her autobiography, "Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories." Nichols also starred in several Trek movies and even worked with NASA to increase diversity in the space program.

NICHOLS: I had the privilege of recruiting the first women and minority astronauts for the Space Shuttle Program.

CARROLL: Nichols' enduring beauty, her strength of character, her commitment to human rights will always inspire.


BROWN: And as she blazed intergalactic trails on TV, Nichelle Nichols was blazing trails as a black actress with a leading role in the turbulent 1960s.

CNN media analyst Bill Carter told me the series set in the future allowed Nichols to break color barriers during the Civil Rights Movement.


BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: This was a real powerful, intelligent, commanding person. Now they set it in the 23rd century which was kind of a commentary on what was happening in America at the time. This was a civil rights era and, you know, they were fight for the basic right to, you know, ride a bus and things like that and drink in a water fountain, and the show was basically saying, we're going to show what it could be in the future, what it could be for the racial equality in the future, so they found an actress who was so convincing as a person of intelligence, and, you know, authority, that they could -- they pulled it off so well.

I remember as a kid being in high school and watching the show with friends of mine and nobody reacting at all to the fact that it was a black character. Nobody actually reacting at all. That was extraordinary at the time and it's a testament to the show for doing it but especially to the actress for pulling it off.

BROWN: It certainly is. And, you know, another recollection from Whoopi Goldberg who said "Star Trek" was the first time she saw a black woman on screen who wasn't playing a maid, and that it was so inspiring to her. I mean there are so many stories like that.

CARTER: Yes, exactly. I mean, you have to -- this was actually in the mid-'60s. And, you know, everything that we think of now, and there are conflicts now, still, which is extraordinary. But, you know, at the time, it was -- everything was charged, extremely charged. And you had the idea that you would have a character, a black character in this kind of role was groundbreaking. Really truly groundbreaking.

And yet it was done in a way that I think was brilliant because it's set in the future, folks. What are you going to say about it? How is this, you know, raising hackles in 1966 when it's supposed to be in the 23rd century? So they managed to do it. And "Star Trek" was great for that. They explored themes like that because they could, because they were dealing with the future. But this was really an amazing approach.

And I have to say, she was not an actress anyone knew, but boy, was she well cast. She just utterly was convincing. Beautiful woman, no question. But also, she just carried authority. And that was, you know, what was essential to the part.

BROWN: I want to talk about that famous kiss, that kiss between Uhura and Captain Kirk was also groundbreaking. Certainly something the mass audience was expecting. Do you recall the reaction to that at the time?

CARTER: Again, they did it in such a very smart way. They were concerned about the South. The stations in the South would pull television stations for anything they thought was promoting, you know, racial equality in those days, extraordinary as that sounds. But they thought we better film the kiss, and then we'll have another, you know, scene, the same scene shot and reshot where they don't actually kiss because, you know, the aliens were forcing them to kiss.

And the two actors, according to both of their stories, just made it impossible. When they reshot the scenes, they were unusable. So they had to show the scene with the kiss and they expected all this blowback, which they didn't get. The stations in the South ran the show. And it didn't get the kind of blowback anyone expected because again I felt like they were telling people, you know what, you may be prejudiced today. You may think you hate black people today, but you know what? That's going to be passe.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: And we're also remembering the life of NBA great and civil rights activist Bill Russell. The Boston Celtics legend and the first black head coach in major U.S. team sports passed away today at the age of 88.


Tributes are pouring in from the sports world and beyond. Magic Johnson called Russell's death a tremendous loss for the entire basketball world, adding, "Russell was my idol. I looked up to him on the court and off. His success on the court was undeniable. Off the court he paved the way for guys like me."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver called Russell the ultimate winner and said his impact on the NBA will be felt forever. Former President Barack Obama called him the greatest champion in NBA history and a civil rights trailblazer. Earlier on CNN, NBA legend Isiah Thomas recalled idolizing Russell.


ISIAH THOMAS, NBA HALL OF FAMER: I actually remember vividly, and I think it was either in the '73 or '74 when busing was starting to be in. They were integrating the schools in Boston, and I was walking out of the dorm. My mom grabbed me by the collar and said, you've got to stay here and you've got to watch this. I said, mom, I'm going to be late for school. She said, no, you got to stay here and watch this because this is why we root for Bill Russell.

And there was a woman who came on, a white woman who came on television, and she was saying she would never allow her kids to go to school, and she used the N word, with these N's here in Boston, and my mom said, and my dad said, this is why we root for Bill Russell. This is why we root for the Celtics because what Bill Russell stood for and what the Celtics were doing during that period of time inspired all of us, so while Mr. Russell didn't touch me physically, he was able to touch all of America mentally with the way he stood up and the way he boldly spoke out.


BROWN: And last hour I spoke with "Boston Globe" sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy about what Russell meant to the city of Boston.


DAN SHAUGHNESSY, SPORTS COLUMNIST, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, BOSTON GLOBE: Well, in Boston, I mean, he's at the top of our Mount Rushmore. I mean, you know, 11 championships in 13 seasons. His rookie year, they had never won before. They won when he came here as a rookie. They won eight in a row and Red Auerbach was coming off the bench and then he was made player-coach by Red. He was the first black African -- you know, first black coach in American sports history and won twice as a player-coach of the Celtics, so 11 championships in 13 years.

Nobody like him. He's at top of the heap here, and as you referenced earlier, a social justice warrior of the highest order. Never gave any quarter on anything. He stood up for what he believed in, and this is an epic day in Boston to lose Bill Russell.

You've got Tom Brady, you've got Larry Bird, Bobby Orr, Ted Williams, all that stuff. Bill Russell is a cut above that because of the winning, the championships, the greatest winner in the history of North American sports. And it doesn't get any better, and he could beat you multiple ways. He didn't have to have the basketball in his hands or score the ball. He could beat you on defense, rebounding, running the floor and intellectually. He was a great intellect on the basketball court.


BROWN: And still ahead on this Sunday night, I'm going to talk to W. Kamau Bell about Bill Russell and Nichelle Nichols' impact on America, plus veterans and their families have a message for Republicans about a bill that could provide them with life-saving health care. And then later addressing gun violence without inflaming racial tensions. One man is making it his life's mission.



BROWN: On the steps of the U.S. Capitol today, anger and accusations directed at Republican lawmakers.











BROWN: Military veterans are calling out the 25 Republican senators who pulled their support of a bill that would expand medical coverage for millions of troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were exposed to the toxins from the military's so-called burn pits. Those were the infernos of everything from medical waste to plastics to heavy metals and vehicle parts. President Biden Facetimed with the Capitol Hill protesters to show his support and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer says he plans another procedural vote tomorrow to break the filibuster.

I want to bring in CNN's Kevin Liptak at the White House for us on this Sunday evening.

So, Kevin, is there confidence that this bill will pass?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is optimism that this will make it through eventually, but in the meantime, anger and frustration is really mounting among veterans at this delay, and just to lay out for you, Pamela, what is included in this bill. It would really expand the care and benefits that the Department of Veterans Affairs would provide for veterans who have been exposed to these burn pits, and it would really remove the burden of proof on veterans for proving that they had been exposed to these toxins and that their illnesses were caused by them. 3.5 million veterans could be affected.

Now, this bill actually sailed through the Senate when it came up for a vote a few months ago, but since then that vote last week, Republicans pulled their support over what they say are some budgetary provisions that they are opposed to, but we should note, those provisions were in the original bill when it passed overwhelmingly a few months ago.

Now, the timing has led some Democrats to accuse these Republicans of pulling their support because of that surprise climate and tax bill that was agreed to last week. Listen to what Senate Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania said this morning in response to that.


SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): This is the oldest trick in Washington. People take a sympathetic group of Americans and it could be children with an illness, it could be victims of crime, it could be veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals, craft a bill to address their problems and then sneak in something completely unrelated that they know could never pass on its own, and dare Republicans to do anything about it because they know they will unleash their allies in the media and maybe a pseudo celebrity to make up false accusations to try to get us to just swallow what shouldn't be there. That's what's happening here.


LIPTAK: Now that pseudo celebrity is presumably Jon Stewart who joined these protesters at the Capitol last week. They've been camping out on the steps overnight. They did receive a high-profile support from President Biden yesterday. He is isolating here at the White House because he has COVID-19, but he did Facetime them from the Truman balcony.

Pamela, this is a very personal issue for President Biden. He has long said that his son Beau's cancer could have been related to the burn pits that he was exposed to Iraq -- Pamela.

BROWN: Kevin Liptak, thank you so much. And earlier tonight I spoke with two women whose husbands are war

veterans, and they blame their devastating health problems on the toxic burn pit smoke they inhaled. The women are advocating for them and for the estimated 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to the danger. Here's some of that conversation.


AMANDA BARBOSA, WIFE OF BURN PIT VICTIM: I think for all the families it means that you can focus on your healthcare, on healing or fighting the illness or in the case of veterans that haven't been able to -- that have passed away, that their families can focus on grieving and healing, unlike what's happening now where they are so worried about having -- that they have to fight for every benefit that they get or to worry about their kids being able to go to have benefits, to have school benefits or to have basic healthcare when they are going through the worst that you could possibly go through.

BROWN: I know I've heard from some of the families saying that, look, we've been through this fight for 13 years. These delays have cost lives. What would it mean, Rosie, if it is not passed this week?

ROSIE TORRES, CO-FOUNDER, BURN PITS 360: I really don't even -- it's so emotional to even think of that being a possibility. We know and we've heard through other, you know, channels in our veteran community that there have been a couple of suicides already. You know, personally, my husband years ago attempted to take his life. And I hate to even think about, you know, thankfully he had like a strong support.

But for those that don't and they're losing so much, there is so much loss after war, I'd hate to think of how many more people would put, you know, a gun to their head and take their lives because they're losing their jobs, they're losing their homes, there is no compensation, there is no benefits. So I know that we'd have much more of a huge loss in that side of veteran suicide. And I just hate to even think that that would be a possibility. It would be such a devastating heartache for all the families and all of our nation's heroes and the widows and survivors.

BROWN: Final words to you, Amanda.

BARBOSA: Yes. I mean, every delay is costing lives. If they continue with this, more veterans' lives will be lost. And it's not a matter of partisan politics. It's a matter of saving lives and making sure that our veterans are taken care of. It's the bare minimum. We're just asking, they're all proud to have gone to serve, but they're just asking to be taken care of and that their families are taken care of when they come back.


BROWN: And both Amanda and Rosie said they were heading right back to the Capitol steps to spend the night and voice their demands for action tomorrow. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Sunday. Tonight, the governor of

Kentucky is mourning the lives lost to historic flooding, and he fears the death toll will just get higher. A live report up next.



BROWN: More misery tonight for the residents of Eastern Kentucky where 28 people, at least 28, have now been found dead after catastrophic flooding this week. It is raining again, and it shows no sign of slowing. Amid the threat of even more flooding as everyone is living on edge there.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: I'll read you the full list. So these are -- these are 28 Kentuckians. The number keeps growing. Two in Clay, 15 in Knott County. Four of them children. And it says minors. They are children. The oldest one is in second grade. I just passed and got out of the location that their home and that they were swept away in. Two in Letcher. Three in Perry and six in Breathitt. And we will have more. We know.


BROWN: That is the sad reality. We will have more. We know.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is in Knott County, Kentucky.

Evan, some people have been trapped for days. What more can you tell us about the search and rescue efforts there?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is the ongoing active search here because people are spread out all over a mountainous rural region here in this part of Kentucky. As you know very well, people here live in these -- some people live in these places called hollers which are small valleys where maybe an entire family might live in individual houses, only accessible by one road or maybe one bridge, and when the water came through, it swept those roads or those bridges away leaving people trapped in these tight-knit communities, trapped with their families but trapped and completely inaccessible until just a couple of hours -- really just a day ago when the water started to recede.


I spoke to one local resident about the efforts to try and go in there and try to help people out who are in these hollers. His family lives in one of them, and the people only he knows are trapped.


ZACH HALL, KNOTT COUNTY, KENTUCKY RESIDENT: A lot of people are still trapped up in there. Going on three days now, no food, no water. I take what I can in the ATVs. A lot of other people are doing the same thing, and it's just a real tragedy that, you know, there's a lot of older people. The older people here, our population here is mostly elderly people, and I get emotional thinking about it, but it's -- I don't know. I don't know. I don't know what to say. I get choked up.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: So that's how slow and methodical this can be. One guy on an ATV with a few bottles of water driving it up to where his family lives, trying to keep people alive who need help and need supplies. That's the smallest version of the search and rescue going on right now.

The governor's visit today, his first that he was able to do because of weather and the flood damage here to this region, that brings out all the state resources. We're seeing travel trailers come in. We're seeing more supplies come in and the National Guard come in. They are trying their best to get this place stabilized as quickly as possible, but this is a slow going process because it's raining here -- Pam.

BROWN: It's raining. The bridges were washed away but as you said, my fellow Kentuckians, they are stepping up to the plate and they are doing everything they can to pitch in to help one another and rescue those in harm's way right now.

Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you.

And a reminder, if you'd like to help victims of the Kentucky flooding just go to to get more information. There's also info there on the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund set up by the governor.

And coming up for you on this Sunday night, how do we bring down gun violence without criminalizing certain races or communities? New CNN reporting tonight on work to make gun laws effective without racial bias.

CNN's Eva McKend joins me next for that conversation.



BROWN: Well, there is a new effort to prevent gun violence without inflaming racial biases in this country.

CNN's Eva McKend worked on an in-depth look at this problem and its potential unintended consequences.

Hi, Eva. Thanks for being here. So let's talk about this. You know, President Biden signed into law the first major federal gun safety legislation since 1994, and a number of state governments, they are also crafting gun control legislations or laws, I should say, but there are some advocates that are still worried about what could happen to all communities in America. Explain that to us.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, long after these celebratory bill signings, the devil really is in the details. My co-author on this piece Brandon Tinsley, we've been speaking to activists the last several weeks. And they tell us that gun laws in this country, actually pre-dating the federal legislation that was recently passed, have led to mass incarceration and have wreaked havoc in black communities.

Now they were really intentional in advocating for this bipartisan law to make sure that the solutions offered in that law were not aimed at further criminalization and funded violence prevention programs, so this is not such an issue for this federal law, but I think all of our eyes should be open in the wake of this law, further legislation that passes at the state level, for instance, the legislation that recently passed in New York and previous legislation that passed prior to this federal law in places like Chicago.

I spoke to the public defender there, and he says so many of these cases that he gets are young black men in certain communities in Chicago getting a possession charge. Maybe not previously criminally involved, not previously charged, and he is not convinced that it is leading to a reduction in crime in those communities.

BROWN: So then how do we meaningfully confront gun violence without also inadvertently criminalizing black and brown communities?

MCKEND: So what advocates tell us is that the extreme risk protection orders, the red flag laws, as they are known as, funding for or encouraging states to implement those, that that is an effective strategy is what we're told because if implemented properly, the firearm is taken from someone who is at risk and that it is imposed in a civil fashion so it's not further criminalization, but also solutions like intervention programs.

The activists that I speak to say that so much of this is intervening in at-risk communities before someone gets a gun or before a small dispute escalates to further violence.

BROWN: And you talk with a lot of advocates. You talk with someone who is a gun violence survivor. Tell us about him and the work that he's doing.

MCKEND: Yes, Greg Jackson has a remarkable story. I encourage everyone to check it out. He was shot about 10 years ago. He was just walking in D.C. He was not the intended target. He was mistaken for someone else. He gets rushed to the hospital, and he is questioned by police who they assume he is a criminal. At the time he was actually working for a nonprofit associated with former President Barack Obama.

He's still heavily engaged in this work, and what is remarkable is that he holds no grudge towards the person that shot him. He says that he doesn't necessarily, didn't necessarily want to see that person go to jail or prison. What he says are solutions that work. It's the stuff that he does now. It's getting at young people before there is further escalation and intervening, having federal dollars fund those programs that he says are actually effective at stemming gun violence.

[20:40:06] BROWN: All right. Eva McKend, such important reporting. Thanks for bringing it to us. We appreciate it.

And be sure to check out CNN's "Race Deconstructed" newsletter for more insight and Q&As on the role that race plays and culture, politics and more. Sign up at


BROWN: The Justice Department is trying to prevent some members of the Oath Keepers from blaming Donald Trump for their role in the Capitol riot. This news comes from a court filing involving members of the group charged with seditious conspiracy, and based on the filings prosecutors want to keep juries focused on the defendants and not allow them to say they were following Trump's orders.


CNN's Marshall Cohen has more details -- Marshall.

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Pam. The Justice Department investigation into January 6th is clearly in a new phase. Prosecutors are now increasingly scrutinizing former President Donald Trump as part of their criminal probe, but remember. Trump is just one piece of the puzzle. As the broader investigation heats up, DOJ is still busy prosecuting hundreds of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

So here's a breakdown of where things stand based on CNN's latest reporting and Justice Department records.

So far more than 850 people have been charged with crimes related to the Capitol breach. More than 380 people have pleaded guilty and avoided a trial, and about another dozen rioters went to trial and were convicted.

Now let's take a look at the punishments. More than 220 defendants have already been sentenced, and about half of them were sent to jail or prison. The other half got probation and fines. The total amount of fines that DOJ has collected so far, it's more than $300,000, but that's really just a drop in the bucket when you consider the millions of dollars in damages to the Capitol complex.

These defendants, they represent a cross-section of America and hail from almost all 50 states. More than 90 from Florida. More than 70 from Texas, and more than 60 from Pennsylvania. Next up California and New York, followed by Ohio, Virginia and Illinois. More than a year and a half since the attack, no one has been charged from Vermont, Nebraska and North Dakota, and there's only one defendant each from Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii.

And by the way, Pam, the DOJ says this is the biggest criminal investigation in American history -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Marshall, thanks so much for the latest on that. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. Tonight, mourning two hugely influential

Americans who passed away this weekend. NBA legend Bill Russell and TV legend Nichelle Nichols. W. Kamau Bell will talk about their impact be on the court and the screen, up next.



BROWN: More now on the death of Bill Russell and the huge impact of his life. Just last week on the CNN Original Series "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA," W. Kamau Bell talked to Boston's sports fans about the NBA legend and civil rights champion.




BELL: Thirteen seasons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirteen championships.

BELL: Eleven championships. I don't mean to be Wikipedia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you're right, You're right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like Bill Russell, as I say where I work all the time on my castle.

BELL: I've never heard that before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My dad used to say that all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if you got a statue, you got to be somebody important.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a long time. It was a long time overdue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are lots of people who have statues and don't deserve statues. Don't get me started with that. Don't get me going with that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But this is Boston.

BELL: Bill Russell does have a statue but he should have two. One for winning all those championships and another for being mentally tough enough to deal with the Boston's legendary racism while he did it.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Two back-to-back racist incidence at Fenway Park have now shaken the baseball community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think because it runs so deeply it's so baked into the cake of Boston sports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: NBA Finals with Bill Russell, number six, brilliantly spearheading the Celtics.

BELL: Bill Russell is the single greatest winning player in the history of all of America's professional team sports. He was never known for his scoring or flashy play, he was just the ultimate team player. And he was a team player off the court, too. Because even though he had his own struggles with Boston's racism he was politically outspoken about the rights of black people and he mentored other black athletes.

This is back when it definitely didn't help your brand. We never talk enough about how living with racism affects your mental health. And conversely, we think being a professional athlete means you have no problems. But if you're a black athlete or an athlete of color you have to deal with all the usual pressures of your sport and you have to deal with racism. And plenty of people tell you that you have no right to talk about it.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX HOST: Someone wants said, shut up and dribble.

BELL: Bill Russell is one of the main roots of the tree that black athletes protests grows off of. He is a champion of that, too. And today's players walk in his footsteps.


BROWN: W. Kamau Bell joins us now. He is also the director of the Emmy-nominated series "We Need to Talk About Cosby," and co-author of "The New York Times" bestseller, "Do the Work: An Antiracist Activity Book."

Wow, so you did that, you did those interviews that feature on him before his passing over the weekend. What will you remember most about Bill Russell?

BELL: I mean, you can't talk about modern-day athletes, specifically black athletes who speak out and are political without talking about Bill Russell. I mean, Bill Russell is one of the athletes who went to Muhammad Ali in his early years to say, let us help you do this correctly. Let us show you how to be a politicized athlete. And a time when he could've run away from Ali because the heat was too much, but Bill Russell is the exemplar, we all walk in his footsteps.


BROWN: And the other sad news today, the passing of television trailblazer, Nichelle Nichols. She changed television and the world forever with her role in "Star Trek." You actually did a segment about her on your program just last year. Let's watch. We have that. All right.


BELL: Can we talk about Nichelle Nichols for a second? NICHOLS: Captain, I'm getting a signal from the spacecraft.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seeing her as a black woman on this show, that was -- who was that? Right? The voice --

BELL: I want to say, (INAUDIBLE), who is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But just, I never saw black people in fantasy in this sense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was about to leave "Star Trek" and then she's at a convention in Chicago. And someone tells her, hey, there is a fan who wants to meet you. She's thinking it's going to be this pimply faced kid. It was Martin Luther King. And she was just like what? He said your show is the only show that I will allow my kids to watch.

BELL: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She eventually told him that she was planning on leaving the show, and he gave a command and he said no.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You cannot leave the show, it is too important. And when you get that calling from some of that stature, I guess I'm signing back up for another season. I'm not going to Broadway. This is not the way the story is going to end. And then off the camera she created an initiative which brought in the first nine people of color and women into the NASA space program.

She went around to schools and handpicked engineers saying you, the person who does math, come and do this week to get to the stars. Bring us one step closer to the fiction that is on camera.


BROWN: Wow, also that animation was incredible. So what do you think will be Nichelle Nichols' lasting impact? Not just on people of color but all people?

BELL: I mean, she's proof that representation matters, right? So we say that a lot, it's a buzz phrase that goes around every now and again. But she was proof her being on "Star Trek" as the first black woman in that sort of role on television in a science fiction show actually inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. and allowed him to let his kids watch TV, and she actually did the work off scene, same way that Bill Russell did, to encourage other people to get what they wanted, not just in show business, but black folks in every aspects of their lives. So you know.


BELL: It's just -- I tear up thinking about it.

BROWN: You know, it is so inspiring, I think, as she recruited, you know, and she was so busy being the star and actress, a trail blazer, and then she was going and recruiting women and minorities to work at NASA in different roles. It's just an incredible legacy that she leaves behind.

I want to talk about tonight's episode of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA," where you visit wildfire stricken North California. Let's watch a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the Camp Fire is really a story of stories, and so there's two words that are interchangeable and that's bravery and heroism. But they're different. In bravery in our job is an expectation, right. But you're looking at two people who stayed in the fight that day, even though they lost everything they own. And these two are in that rare of being a hero because of that.

BELL: I would imagine that no one would have blamed both to say I got to go and be with my family. What made you stay and do the work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I saw the house is gone, kind of took a moment, and said, all right, well, I'll go back to work.

BELL: My god.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I just kind of shut that part of it off, like there's nothing I could do about that. But here's what I can do. Yes, and this, you know, and go back to your training.


BROWN: And we know that climate change is making the wildfire situation worse around the world. What else is contributing to this problem?

BELL: I mean, it's also the fact that, you know, California doesn't take care of its land. And I say that but it's also (INAUDIBLE) -- the federal government owns 45 percent of California's land. And then also, a couple of the fires have been traced back to PG&E, our power company known in California, and their faulty equipment. So there's a lot more that corporations and the government can do to protect us from fire season.

BROWN: And you also -- we talk about that old saying fight fire with fire, but you found out that really is actually one of the best ways to prevent wildfires.

BELL: I got taken out by some people who knew what they were doing. And we were with CalFire.

BROWN: That's good.

BELL: And I got to go on some private land and we got to help this person's land by lighting some of the brush on fire. Not the trees, but the brush on fire because the fire won't spread quickly if there's not much brush around. So I got to do it. My mom told me never to do it. I got to set things on fire. BROWN: All right. How about that? All right, W. Kamau Bell, looking

forward to watching this. Great to have you on as always.

His all-new episode of "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" airs tonight at 10:00 only on CNN.

And coming up next on CNN this Sunday, explore the extremes of Patagonia's far south where the land as a wind blasted tundra, but the sea is teaming with life. "PATAGONIA, LIFE ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD" is next.

Well, thank you so much for joining me this evening. I'm Pamela Brown. See you again next weekend.