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First of All with Victor Blackwell
Palestinian-American Who Lost 100+ Family Members To Address March For Gaza In DC; NYC Official To City: "Don't Evict Needy Migrant Families"; GOP Candidates Make Final Pitches To Voters In Iowa; Taiwan's Ruling Party Wins Historic Third Presidential Term In Major Blow To China; "Book Of Clarence" Soundtrack Features Jay-Z, D'Angelo; Nation Honors Martin Luther King Jr. With Day Of Service. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired January 13, 2024 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: First of all, when two of the whitest states in America start the Republican nomination process, there's a cost to non-white voters across the country. This year Republican presidential candidates were invited to speak to and hear from black and brown voters in Iowa. The organizer says not one major candidate accepted not even the brown candidates. Today, are they ignoring minority communities or just acknowledging basic electoral math.
Plus, a Palestinian American students said she's lost more than 100 members of our family to Israeli airstrikes. Other relatives, American citizen, she says are still trying to leave Gaza. She's here to share her story before speaking today at what organizers say will be the largest march for Gaza in the U.S. since the start of the war.
And some migrant families in New York will have to move out of their temporary housing this week. I'll speak to the city council's immigration committee chair about why she says the mayor is causing harm to vulnerable people. I'm Victor Blackwell. Let's start the show.
The first voting of 2024 happens on Monday. So we will finally start to learn where Republican voters stand in this consequential election year. But not in a place that's representative of America. Iowa is around 90 percent White according to census data, so fine, it's no surprise that they're the majority of voters participating in the caucuses. But there are also black people in Iowa. There are Latinos in Iowa. I met some of them and talk with them. Here's a clip from when I traveled to Iowa for the last competitive Republican caucus in 2016.
STATE REP. AKO ABDUL-SAMAD (D-IA): We're in my precincts, which is the lowest voting turnout. It's not that we don't have the voters. There's they lack hope. They don't see hope so they don't come out to vote. And when you have individuals don't come out to vote, what happens with candidates? They focus on the areas that do. BLACKWELL (voice-over): They say there is one exception, Republican Senator Rand Paul. He spent more than an hour at platinum cuts barbershop talking about criminal justice reform. Blacks are just 3.4 percent of Iowa's population, but they filled 25.5 percent of the state's prison cells.
BLACKWELL: Have you made it this made a decision.
ROBERT PRESSWOOD, OWNER, PLATINUM KUTZ BARBERSHOP: He made me look at him differently.
BLACKWELL: How so?
PRESSWOOD: Because he was wanting to come into my shop and talk to us. And like I said, a lot of candidates don't do that.
BLACKWELL: Well, that feeling of being overlooked, they still feel it. There was supposed to be tonight a chance for Republican candidates to meet with the voters of color in an event organized by the brown and black forms of America. Well, it's been cancelled because none of the major GOP candidates committed to participating. In a statement on their website, the forum's organizers say that they weren't able to, quote, "create the impactful and comprehensive form that they had envisioned. While we are disappointed to cancel this particular event, our commitment to amplifying the voices of all communities, especially those of color remains stronger than ever."
Wayne Ford, the co-chair of that forum will join us in just a moment. But first organizers of a pro Palestine protest in DC. They say they're expecting the largest demonstration there since the start of the Israel Hamas war. They're calling this the March on Washington for Gaza, obviously invoking the 1963 march on Washington. This is MLK weekend. There's another March planned for Monday in New York.
But there's more to this than the timing. We're seeing a tension and violence reaching other parts of the region now, and we saw South Africa this week, make its case against Israel to the top court of the United Nations with an accusation of genocide. Their demand is that the court order Israel to stop its bombardment of Gaza. Still no sign of any ceasefire soon.
Joining me now is Yasmeen Elagha. She is in D.C. to speak at the March later today. Yasmeen, thank you for being with us when I read this number that you told our producers of how many of your family members had been killed in the airstrikes since the start of the war. Literally, it was a jaw drop. Explain how many family members you've lost. And tell us what you plan to tell the attendees at this March later today.
YASMEEN ELAGHA, FAMILY MEMBERSKILLED IN GAZA: Of course, and thank you for having me. At this point in the past three months, I've lost over 120 members of my family. My family is one of the oldest and a Gaza. We've been there for over 500 years. And at this point, thousands of my family members are sleeping on the street. I have American family members who are trapped in Gaza who have been trying to get out desperately. They are cut off from food, from water from medication, they have airstrikes all around them. And there is no assistance from the U.S. government. And I plan to speak to all of these things at the rally today and to bring awareness of, you know, the present conditions of Palestinians. And also to reiterate that this is not something new that Palestinians are experiencing.
The illegal Israeli occupation has taken place for over 75 years. Gaza has been under siege since 2007. And you know, someone my age, someone in their mid-20s, has survived six Israeli aggressions on Gaza. So, you know, all have been similarly violent. This is nothing new to Gazans. And, you know, it's an opportunity for us to speak now that the media has turned their attention to this. But again, at the March, I hope to reiterate that this is nothing new for Palestinians. But at this point, we have the opportunity to speak up and say something about it.
BLACKWELL: Yasmeen, let me ask you about these family members, you say they're U.S. citizens who are stuck in Gaza. We for the very first, the early weeks of the war, there were the American citizens who were at the Rafah gate waiting to leave. Your family was not able to get out there. What communications are there to get these these American citizens to the U.S.?
ELAGHA: So I have tapped every channel possible to try to get my family out of Gaza and they have been denied every single time. I've spoken with internal State Department officials, I have the you know, U.S. Task Force on Gaza knows my name personally. I pick up the phone to the U.S. embassies in Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. They all know my name personally.
Everybody knows about my family trying to evacuate and yet there has been no movement on their evacuation. They attempted to exit Gaza four times. One time, they experienced an airstrike right near Odessa (ph), another time, there was a shootout at the border. And keep in mind, my family have children as young as seven years old, 10 years old with them. And these kids are just experiencing this extreme level of violence right in front of their eyes.
And the U.S. government is aware and it is on notice. And it continues to exhibit a complete lack of action in terms of evacuating my family and assisting them.
BLACKWELL: So this march today is being promoted as the largest march for Gaza, since the start of the war. Scale up to this point and I understand the organizers are calling for a ceasefire. Scale, up to this point has not convinced this administration, direct confrontation like what we saw at Mother Emanuel, when the President was there to speak earlier this week in Charleston has not convinced this administration. Do you believe that the protests thus far have had any impact on the administration's approach to Israel's war with Hamas?
ELAGHA: I believe that protests have created a really widespread impact, especially not just on the Biden administration, but also just in terms of making international waves. We're hearing voices from Gaza, voices of you know, besides voices of martyrs, Isaiah. They're all saying, you know, protest, and so we have a duty to listen to these voices, these Palestinian voices from the ground, analyze that and continue whether or not it has a tangible impact at this moment.
We just saw that South Africa is, you know, taking Israel to court in the UN's highest court. And for Palestinians, that is huge. We have been overlooked as a community of color for decades. You know, it's almost a century of us being overlooked. And it mirrors the experience of communities of color in the United States being overlooked. And what my cousins are currently experiencing as American citizens of color, totally being overlooked by their government is, you know, it just tells the tale of what the United States government has done, you know, for centuries at this point has overlooked communities of color has overlooked Americans in need as long as they are people of color.
So we're hoping that these protests and continue to do them will place pressure internationally, which will subsequently place pressure on the Biden administration and the U.S. government to act in the interest of its American citizens that it has a legal duty to protect. And also to, you know, all Palestinians that you know, is currently its funding its genocide.
BLACKWELL: Yasmeen Elagha and we heard from the attorneys representing Israel, denying the claim of genocide at the UN's top Court this week as well. Yasmeen, thank you so much for being with me before you speak at this rally later today.
Let's move forward now and 2024 and the race in Iowa. Iowa caucuses as we know on Monday supposed to be a chance for Republican candidates to meet with voters of color as part of the Iowa brown and black forum that event was cancelled. Wayne Ford is now with us, one of the co- chairs of the forum. He's a former Iowa State Representative joins us from Des Moines.
And just in transparency here, you were supposed to be at the top of the show, we had a little bit of a video audio issue, but we now have you. Wayne, let's start here. These candidates did not agree to participate the major candidates. Did they even respond to the invitation?
WAYNE FORD, CO-CHAIR, THE BROWN AND BLACK FORUMS OF AMERICA: No, the only person and Victor, thank you very much for having me. The only one who responded was Ryan Lankly (ph). He responded. Other ones did not respond. We've been doing this since 1984.
BLACKWELL: Now you've been doing it since 1984. Do you typically have Republicans who participate in these forms?
FORD: A great question. In 2016, we had went by the Republicans and Democrats. We have nonpartisan organization so we had to invite both. No problem. So in 2016, we had both parties, Democrats and Republicans. But again, about a couple of days, the Republican Party pulled out the candidates pulled out and 2016. This is the second time.
BLACKWELL: Why -- so they RSVP. They say they would participate and then pulled out. Why do you think this is happening?
FORD: Well, you know, as I tell people, you have to ask them. In the spirit of Martin Luther King, I was very happy that we were very happy that the caucus was going to be doing -- they was going to do the Congress on Martin Luther King's birthday. January 5th. Was -- that's very symbolic. I was the fifth state, you know, the fifth whitest state in America. We were so excited about that.
On both sides, black and white people. But again, when it happened when we did not get into bank to commit besides Ryan, we said wait a minute. So we called again, we did all what we can do. And I guess some people said that. I just don't know. You'd have to ask them why. You just -- you just did a forum at Drake University. And we was you know, I was excited because I thought some of the questions about race would come up -- race, the questions of race never came up.
So we just had fun. We've been doing it since 1984. The whole of Canada is accountable. And talking about race and talking about those issues that America civil rights, all those issues are coming up, but no one's talking about.
BLACKWELL: So let's look at some of the numbers because census numbers show that Hispanics make up about 7 percent of the -- a via was population blacks about 4.4 percent. I checked 2016 CNN entrance polls, which we do before caucuses, 2 percent of Iowans who caucus for Republicans were Hispanic, less than 1 percent. were black. Same in 2012. Same in 2008. Okay, less than 1 percent. Black Caucus for Republicans.
However, when it came to the general election, one in five black voters voted for Donald Trump, a third of Latino voters voted for Donald Trump. So is it anything that clear that explains the disparity between the caucus process and going out and supporting a Republican? And in the general where minorities do support Republicans in Iowa?
FORD: Great question. One of the things that the prominent black forms of America going to begin working on Victor is polling. We see polling every day. We hear all the time that Republicans are increasing the amount of minorities who are supporting them. That's been going up since 2024. I mean 2016.
We are saying we need to do polling, from a minority perspective, but no, it entities needed to do minority polling. So we can know we are in conversations where Howard University in my hometown of Washington, DC, to really make sure that these types of discrepancies that you just talked about, that we can kind of know who's on first, who's on first, but we were the last ship leaving out was going to our forum today. On the 30th of January, we will do our phone. And we was going to ask those questions. And that was a good question that we -- that we could have talked about, about those numbers.
When the first row, we the first thing you see in America, and we wanted to make sure that minorities are well aware of what good candidates are said in Iowa about how they feel about minorities.
BLACKWELL: But Wayne, let me ask you the bigger question here then. If candidates can get away with not speaking to or engaging with black communities and Latino communities, minority communities in nearly homogeneous, racially homogeneous state, should Iowa go first?
FORD: You don't you don't play Victor, but let me get and here's what I'm going to say. Victor, if President Obama would never have been President, if he did not went out, he went out what twice. He came to the state, and let's go back a little bit further than dead. And when Jesse Jackson ran many years ago, I personally told him, Jesse, this is what I've been here for many years. You know, you got to watch what you're doing Jesse. You want to put your office in a (inaudible), rule it out with greenfield. He said Wayne, I represent everybody.
I was going through a farm crisis if I'm going to run I got to go to where are. So in 1984, Jesse Jackson can come in the white, in the fifth white state in America. I don't think any kind of should be worried about that. We have the straight that gave us gave America Obama.
BLACKWELL: All right.
FORD: If he did not when I was no way that he that he would became president of the United States.
BLACKWELL: Wayne Ford, joining us from Iowa after this unfortunately canceled forum. Wayne Ford, I thank you so much for working through some of the technical issues with us and having a conversation with us. Enjoy your Saturday.
Tune in CNN special coverage of the Iowa caucuses starts Monday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Coming up concern for migrants in Chicago facing extreme cold this weekend. And in New York outrage over a housing rule that forces some migrant families to relocate. The mayor promises that don't migrant child will be forced to sleep out on the streets. So why is he forcing families out of that temporary housing?
Plus, what is Jonathan major's keep invoking the late Coretta Scott King, the King family has something to say about it. Martin Luther King of the third is here to talk about that. And what he hopes will do on his father's birthday.
BLACKWELL: The State of Texas is blocking federal access to part of the border with Mexico and that caught Homeland Security officials by surprise. This is happening in Eagle Pass Texas, a former homeland security official call the action mind blowing. Now for more than a year Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been busing migrants out of Texas to cities with Democratic mayors including New York and Chicago. The governor of Illinois is pleading with Abbott to stop migrant drop off during this winter storm. The fear is that migrants could die in this cold.
And New York City is struggling to find housing for more than 33,000 people who've arrived from Texas since August 2022. And now thousands of migrant families have to move again and find potentially new housing. New York's 60 Day shelter rule means that families who have been placed in hotel rooms are being forced out and back into the central intake system to find housing again. The City Comptroller calls the rule one of the coolest things City Hall has done in generations and he's opened an investigation.
Shahana Hanif is a New York City Council member who chairs the immigration committee. Councilman, thank you so much for being with us. First, the mayor says that the reason for this 60 day rule is because so many migrants are coming in. They need to supply new housing to families, although he says no child will sleep on the streets of New York. Is that a reasonable position from the Mayor.
SHAHANA HANIF, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Thank you so much, Victor. Good morning. Let me be clear what the mayor is doing with the 60 day directive for families with children. And let me remind everybody, that the majority of asylum seekers coming into New York City are families with children. And so this is inhumane. It is cruel, it is absolutely unacceptable and it will go down in history. I'm setting a dangerous precedent in a moment when New York City will be a destination city for refugees leaving their homelands because of conscription, political turmoil, climate conditions and so much more. And so, the 60 day directive further destabilizes these families opportunity for a life with dignity, it disrupts their children's education, and so much more.
BLACKWELL: There was a group of more than 100 health care workers who oppose this new rule when it was announced last year. And they say this. "In fiscal year 2022, single adults required on average at least 16 months and shelters before transitioning forward primarily due to a lack of safe affordable housing options or robust infrastructure to support pathways to permanent housing. That single adults one would assume that families would take as long or longer to transition. Can the shelter system the housing system accommodate these families for 16 months?
HANIF: Absolutely. We need to share that. Our mayor Adams has rejected the city council's legislative package that would alleviate the shelter system. We passed a historic package of legislation in order to allow families who've been in our shelter system for years on end to be able to move into permanent stable, safe housing and making space for our newest arrivals. So right now, instead of this band aid emergency solution, creating these shelter facilities that are in floodplains like Floyd Bennett field, which was on the news, in in light of the rainstorm that New York City just experienced.
We're talking about outdoor tents, in floodplains, in transportation deserts, not in community, really far from our public institutions like parks and playgrounds. We have the infrastructure, but the mayor has been cruel and intentionally mismanaging the budget which is why right now the comptroller's investigation and the audit of the 60 day plan is so imperative because this administration has not been forthright in including the city council and other elected partners and understanding why he's enacting the 30 day rules.
BLACKWELL: The mayor has said that the cost to New York City would cause some, especially uncomfortable sacrifices for the people of New York and it would cause in his description, some type of calamity city wide. You say that there is a plan. New York City Council member Shahana Hanif, I thank you so much for spending a few minutes with us to discuss this.
We've got breaking news on the election in Taiwan with major implications for tensions between the US and China. We're going to have to go into go to Taipei for live report next.
BLACKWELL: All right. There's breaking news in Taiwan. Major implications here for the U.S. relationship with China. Taiwan's ruling party just one historic third presidential term and it's a major blow to China.
CNN Senior International Correspondent Will Ripley joins us now from the capital of Taipei. Will, when I spoke with you last the two opposing parties, the opposition parties had conceded, but now it's official.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And as we speak, Victor, and I believe we have live pictures, the new president- elect of Taiwan, Lai Ching-te, and his vice president, Hsiao Bi-khim, the former U.S. envoy, both of them despised and vilified by Beijing have taken the stage and are giving their acceptance speeches.
You see a lot of people in the crowd with those green flags and green shirts. The DPP, the Democratic Progressive Party is considered the Green Party, but this result is almost certainly going to have Beijing seeing red they absolutely hate this party. And for the last eight years, they have sent war planes and ships and spy balloons and drones and bellicose rhetoric and everything but the kitchen sink, they even launched a satellite over Taiwan, that's triggered in a nationwide emergency alert within the last few days leading up to this election, everything they could to let Taiwanese voters know that this is not the result that they want.
The result that they have warned might actually be a choice between peace across the Taiwan Strait and war. Beijing was hoping that the two opposition parties that had a more China friendly platform, a platform that talked about recalibrating this ever deepening alliance with the U.S. and putting billions of dollars in arms sales, military cooperation training between Taiwanese and U.S. troops, visits by high profile U.S. lawmakers, including the most notable Nancy Pelosi's visit that triggered unprecedented military drills around Taiwan. We don't expect to see military drills, at least in the immediate future after this election result, largely because the weather is pretty bad right now on the Taiwan Strait. But coming inauguration day in mid-May, guys, well, we just have to watch and see what China does.
BLACKWELL: Certainly will. Will Ripley there in Taipei for us with the breaking news, thanks so much.
All right, still ahead, it's been, can you believe this, almost 10 years since we've got new music from D'Angelo we've got a new collab with Jay-Z for a movie that asks, what would black Jesus do? Here's part of their new nearly 10-minute track.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need to figure out what inspires him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can just replicate what he does. Magic, money people will give us.
Oh, dead one, open your eyes. Nigel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you trying to prove?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That I'm not a nobody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: So when you think of biblical epic, maybe you think of the 10 Commandments or the Passion of the Christ. Or the Book of Clarence has a black actor playing Jesus. The film out this weekend also has a soundtrack. I said -- you read the list of artists that sounds great. One of the songs that just dropped is from D'Angelo and Jay Z. It is almost 10 minutes long. "I Want You Forever" is the title. Here's a bit of Jay's verse.
BLACKWELL: I had to bring in Joe Wicker to talk about this. She's an entertainment reporter and former interim managing editor of Teen Vogue. It's been almost 10 years since D'Angelo dropped Black Messiah back with nine and a half minutes with Jay. What do you think?
JEWEL WICKER, ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: It's sultry. It's soulful. It's -- I mean, we miss D'Angelo every time we get a break from him so it's always good to hear from him.
BLACKWELL: It filled the room when I played it yesterday.
WICKER: It really did. It is -- it's just such a fun song. It's like I said it's sexy. It's soulful. It's really good.
BLACKWELL: So the larger soundtrack Lil Wayne, Buju Banton, Shaba, Georgia Smith, Kodak Black, Doja Cat, Kid Cudi. This feels like a moment musically though, this collaboration.
WICKER: It does and it's exciting because James Samuel who direct and produce and wrote the film is also the composer for the soundtrack, so really kind of running the gamut here for this soundtrack and for the film. It's exciting.
BLACKWELL: You know, we saw a lot of us on social media saw the trailer or at least the teaser for Regina King as Shirley Chisholm in a biopic coming out. This will be her first role since her son died by suicide two years ago. Let's take a look at a clip here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REGINA KING, ACTRESS: I am the candidate of the people of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Well, she certainly got the voice down.
WICKER: Regina King could play anything and I will watch it. There's not many so it's always excited to see when she has a new project coming out.
BLACKWELL: Yes, I think part of this for Regina King is, one, seeing her back but also a lot of the figures whom we have not seen their stories in this way. This is one that is long overdue.
WICKER: Oh it's historic, right, first black woman to seek a national nomination for president but also first black woman to be a U.S. Congresswoman. It's significant and it's really exciting that Netflix is doing this.
BLACKWELL: Yes. Certainly in this time where we're having the discussion about representation and more diverse candidates for higher office. This one -- this next one confused me a bit. Trailer for the biopic a Grammy winning rapper, 21 Savage, American Dream: The 21 Savage Story is out. Donald Glover is in this. Let's watch a portion of that trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD GLOVER, ACTOR: When I first got in, pain gave me a name, just number 21 to do this like savages.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's it. That's your name Savage 21.
GLOVER: 21 Savage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Should I be surprised by his choice here because I am.
WICKER: I was like, what is this? I didn't know if it was a joke if it was just to promote the new album that came out yesterday, but it is apparently a real film, Donald Glover, Caleb McLaughlin, Jabari Banks. It's a real film. We don't have much details on it, but it is a real project.
BLACKWELL: And 95 percent of the trailer is a music video.
BLACKWELL: So that's -- we showed you the part of the film that we actually see in the trailer. Jewel Wicker, always good to have you. Thank you so much.
WICKER: Thank you so much.
BLACKWELL: All right, Martin Luther King III is with us next. We're going to talk about MLK Day coming up on Monday, but also I need to ask if he's seen those party flyers that we see every MLK weekend with his dad in some different poses here like from this news report 10 years ago.
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WALTER SMITH-RANDOLPH, REPORTER: This poster has a lot of people shaking their heads in disgust. It shows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wearing a gold chain promoting a party called Freedom to Twerk. It was supposed to take place at this club, but it's been canceled. The owner says he's disgusted and there'll be no twerking here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Few weeks ago, we introduced Jonas, he was born in Haiti. He's nonverbal, blind, has autism and cerebral palsy. He came to the U.S. in 2008 on a medical visa and was eventually adopted by a family in Indiana. But his mother, Rebekah Hubley, said that documents they needed to allow him to stay were destroyed in the Haiti earthquake that was in 2010.
It has been a struggle to get the paperwork in order, and he was facing the risk of being deported. But finally this week, just days before his 18th birthday, which is tomorrow, she got word that he would be granted citizenship. And we checked in with Rebecca and she sent us a video update on what this means for Jonas now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REBEKAH BROWN-HUBLEY, ADOPTED JONAS FROM HAITI: For him to be able to access his benefits now, that's his freedom. That's our freedom for him. That's our freedom as a family. I'll probably break open the bottle of champagne when his benefits start coming in, because to us that his citizenship opens this door for us to be able to help him like we should have been able to help -- we should have been helping him since 2010.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: So looking ahead, Rebekah wants to make sure that no one else has to go through this. Now, it's her mission to testify before Congress and find real legislative solutions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN-HUBLEY: For the past few weeks, I'm so glad he has not been able to understand any of this that would have been traumatic. But I wish he could also now understand some of the sweet victory that his life was able to accomplish, that mountains were moved, that our attorney said we're unmovable that the Senate said the Senator said was unmovable. But he has a mom who doesn't take no for an answer. And I said, well, if it's not impossible, let's talk about what we can do and not what we can't do. And so moving forward, that's what I will -- that's my message to Congress and Senate.
Let's not talk about what we can't do. Let's talk about what we can do. What can we agree on? What can we do to make this such -- this horrid process so much easier, so this does not happen again?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Before his birthday tomorrow, Rebekah says that she'll make sure that he has a ton of French fries, favorite food. And she's a photographer, so she plans to give him his first photo shoot as an American citizen. Happy birthday, Jonas. We'll be right back.
BLACKWELL: On Monday, a reminder to serve one another and a reminder of what we've all lost the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 95 years old on Monday. And the national holiday is always observed on the third Monday in January. But this year it falls on Dr. King's birthday.
Joining me now is Martin Luther King III, son of Dr. King and a civil rights advocate and Global Humanitarian in his own right. Sir, it's good to have you especially since you're on the West Coast and it is not even 6:00 a.m. out there. Let me start here by asking this question. If we are observing your father's birthday, honoring his legacy in the way that your family would have us observe and honor, what would that look like on Monday?
MARTIN LUTHER KING III, CIVIL RIGHTS ADVOCATE AND GLOBAL HUMANITARIAN: I think the first thing, thank you so much Victor for the opportunity to share this morning as we approach the holiday. But the fact of the matter is our nation is more divided than we've ever been, certainly probably in my lifetime even back when my doing my father's era. And we're going -- it feels like that we went backward and not forward. So Martin Luther King Jr. holiday gives us the opportunity to turn to each other to support, to work with each other, to volunteer and engage in service. My mom always said it's a day on not a day off. And so if we're doing appropriately what we should be doing, we should be working to lift up our communities across our nation.
BLACKWELL: At the top of the show, we talked about the March on Washington for Gaza, of course, your father's most famous speech, the I Have a Dream speech delivered during the 1963 march on Washington. You have long called for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, the Israel- Hamas War, of course. Do you go a step further and say that aid to Israel should come with conditions as many who say that there should be a ceasefire also call for?
LUTHER KING III: You know, I think we have to do everything that we can to avert this tremendous crisis that is going on when people are losing their lives. War is never the answer. There are those who believe that's the answer. But if we believe in a philosophy of an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth, all of us would be without eyes and teeth.
So clearly humankind has to move to a higher level, how you get there is what is the discussion. I do still believe firmly that we need a humanitarian ceasefire. We need people constantly sitting down probably that's going on. And some negotiation, it does not feel today, that it is headed in the right direction.
It feels like it's escalating. And I believe, you know, I have to be consistent with my father talked about, what my mother talked about throughout her life, what I've talked about a lot, and that is that we, humankind has got to find a way to live together in a brotherhood or we will perish as fools.
BLACKWELL: The voting starts, the Iowa caucuses on Monday on your father's birthday. And I wonder as you look at the environment as it relates to voting rights in this country and the Brennan Center, pointing out that in 2023, since the last election, the midterm, that there have been 14 states that made a pass laws that made voting harder. Compared to when your father was fighting for voting rights, what runs through your mind?
LUTHER KING III: What runs through my mind is that we need the John Lewis Voter Registration Restoration Act legislation passed. And ironically, you know, we go all over the world talking about democracy, and promoting democracy and tragically at home. What you just stated, seems to be suppressing democracy. We -- it's voting needs to be the easiest thing that can be done on the planet.
We -- I mean, we pay our bills through our phones. But yet we can't vote through our phones. Something is wrong, the system is flawed, and it must be changed so that everyone has an opportunity to participate with no encumbrances.
BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about actor, Jonathan Majors, convicted of a misdemeanor assault has invoked your late mother several times comparing his girlfriend actress Meagan Good to the late Coretta Scott King, saying he needs a woman quote, like a Coretta, I want you to listen to some of these references.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Especially in the black community, as you're probably well aware that people were saying, why was he telling this woman to be like Coretta Scott King and Michelle Obama.
JONATHAN MAJORS, ACTOR: It was me trying to give an analogy of what it is I'm aspiring to be, you know, he's great man, Martin and President Obama, in trying to give a reference point to that. One of the things I also say is like, I need her in decades grace to make the same sacrifices that I have making.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Your sister, Reverend Bernice King has said in reaction to this, that your mother is not or was not a prop, what's your reaction to these references?
LUTHER KING III: So I think it's really a both and she was certainly not that but she also was extraordinarily supportive every day of their lives together. And she was far more than just a prop. I think she was sometimes you have to be because you have to support your spouse, which is beyond above and beyond what she did. So I -- I don't see, I think in the context of what was said that plus the personification of all of the many things that mom did, during her life with dad, and after what dad's like King holiday wouldn't exist. We wouldn't be talking about Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday if it had not been for the work that my mom did, and many, many more things.
BLACKWELL: Let me ask you and I have for a long time, every time I see these flyers every King Day weekend, showing images of your father's face over, you know, with a crown, with gold chains. I wonder what does the King family think about these images the use of his image this way? I've sent them to you. What do you think about these?
LUTHER KING III: Well, I think it's certainly grossly -- gross misinterpretation of who dad was. Dad was elegant. Dad was not arrogant but certainly always elegant. I think that people are failing miserably if they are trying to portray him in the way that those images are. That's just not him. And again, finally, we're better than that. I mean, we shouldn't go into the gutter. Um and so, you know, and frankly I just don't even acknowledge it exist.
BLACKWELL: All right, Martin Luther King III, thank you so much for being with me and an early Happy King Day to you. Thanks so much.
KING: Thank you so much, Victor. Thank you.
BLACKWELL: And thank you at home for joining me today. I will see you back here next Saturday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. Smerconish is up next.