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First of All with Victor Blackwell

Today: First Black Trainer In Decades At Kentucky Derby; College Graduation Ceremonies Brace For Protests; Debate Within College Dems On Statement Supporting Protests; L.A. Supreme Court Allows White Community To Split From Baton Rouge; Tribal Communities Rely On Internet Subsidy To Keep Connected; History: First Black Trainer In Decades At 150th Kentucky Derby. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired May 04, 2024 - 08:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you know I love learning new things through this show and I hope you learn something every week that you're not seeing on any other show. Today, it's about the Kentucky Derby and it's the Overlook black history in horse racing. You'll hear from Larry Demerit who is making his own history today as the first black trainer with a horse in this race in decades.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Always something to learn. We'll be watching.

BLACKWELL: Yes. All right.

WALKER: Have a good show.

BLACKWELL: Let's do it right now. Let's start the show.

First of all, it is college commencement season and some campus protesters are turning their focus from occupying the quad to disrupting the pomp and circumstance. Last night, protesters interrupted a commencement ceremony at the University of Michigan police arrived soon after the tactics of the protests. They're polarizing. But one statement of solidarity with the pro-Palestinian student movements caught my eye this week. It's the College Democrats of America.

This is an official branch of the Democratic Party. And it's led by students. And you know, to win reelection, President Biden needs young voters. So when the infrastructure that exists to get him those votes publicly criticizes the president, it's more than just a statement of support. The group also added this.

College Democrats votes are not to be taken for granted by the Democratic Party. We reserve the right to criticize our party when it fails to listen to us. With me now, two leaders of the College Democrats who voted on this solidary solidarity statement, their executive board passed it with a vote of eight to do Deyona Burton voted in favor of it. Joshua Martin voted against it. Good to have both of you with me. And Joshua, let me start here with you. You don't think that the

College Democrats should endorse the protests happening across the country? Why?

JOSHUA MARTIN, POLITICAL AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, COLLEGE DEMOCRATS: Well, I think the answer is simple. I look across the country at the different protests going on. And I reject the notion that we can't be pro- protests without saying that occupying buildings, holding janitors hostage in closets and blocking Jewish students from going to class is not okay. I think that we need to come together to make sure that your students are feeling safe on our campus. So that's why I'm firmly against it.

BLACKWELL: Deyona, the the reason, you know, it's remarkable that the CDA, which is an official part of the Democratic National Committee, says that the President is wrong here. And the job is to try to get Democrats, especially the president reelected. Why did you think it was important, though, to sign on to this statement and offer this support to these protests?

DEYONA BURTON, PROGRAMS DIRECTOR, COLLEGE DEMOCRATS: Yes. So I want to start off by saying, as you mentioned, CDA has a commitment to getting Biden reelected. But we also have a commitment to being a clear and strong voice for our peers, the students within the party. December 13th, we released a statement calling for the release of hostages, the facilitation of a lasting ceasefire, as well as denounced the rising anti-semitism and Islamophobia that's happening on campuses. And CDA has remained firm in our belief that all life is precious, and that any violence that has that has taken the lives of Palestinian Israeli or American lives is wrong. And we stand on that statement.

BLACKWELL: Deyona, are you reading from a sheet of paper. Are you reading from a statement right now? If you are, let's just turn that over and just talk to me.

BURTON: I must be honest, I am very nervous to be here.

BLACKWELL: It's okay. It's okay.

BURTON: However, I --

BLACKWELL: It's fine. You can just flip it over. I'm not asking any trick questions. I do just want an honest answer from your heart, about what you feel about these protests. So let's just talk without the talking points.

Let me play this for you. This is President Biden this week, in reaction to a question about the protests.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The protests, forced you to reconsider any policies with regard to the region?



BLACKWELL: Joshua, what's your reaction to that, that what's happening on these campuses is not changing his mind.

MARTIN: Because firmly I agree with the President. I think about whenever I think about that, I look at the Harvard youth poll that recently came out about the top 16 issues that are facing young people. And the Israeli Palestinian conflict is number 15 on that list, why? Because young people care about the economy affordability, being able to buy a home after they graduate college. They care about their abortion rights that have been taken away from when and plenty of different states. They care about the environment, making sure that we have a clean earth so that we they can raise their children grandchildren on a planet that's more clean than one day they grew up on.

So I think whenever you look at the issues President Biden and vice president Harris have done a great job on those issues which is why ultimately young voters are going to give them another four years and send them back to the White House.


BLACKWELL: Let me read two sentences from the College Democrats of America statement supporting these protests. "The White House has taken the mistaken route of a bear hug strategy for Netanyahu and a cold shoulder strategy for its own base in all Americans who want to see an end to this war. Each day, the Democrats failed to stand united for a permanent ceasefire to state solution and recognition of a Palestinian state more and more youth find themselves disillusioned with the party.

Deyona, what do you say to young people who say you are exactly right. I agree with everything there and that's why I'm not going to vote for him in November.

BURTON: I want to take it back for a second, to address your first point as to why I voted yes, for the statement. To this day, I believe something like 2,300 students have been arrested nationally, for jobs have been ripped from the heads of Muslim students, graduations are being canceled. Students aren't being allowed to walk the stage. They're being interrupted. There are so much happening with our country. And seeing, as we mentioned, with college students, being in the name of our organization, our students, our foundation, our peers aren't being heard. They're not being respected. Their demands, they're not being addressed.

In our statement, we stated and on our Twitter and on our social media, we stated that we stand with peaceful protests. And I'm happy to have Josh here, you know. We were part of this work together. We ran on the same slate. We started our positions at the same time, and we've worked on numerous issues here. And to say that --

BLACKWELL: But to the point and for the the chastising of a portion of the democratic. I mean, of course, its college students across the country can speak out and you can speak out and as an organization. But to chastise the president in that way for the people who agree with everything you've said there. What then does that mean? What an incentive do you give them to vote for him?

What if they say you're right CDA, and I'm not going to vote for him? What do you tell to tell those students to encourage them to vote for him anyway?

BURTON: I don't believe in our statement, we're saying, you know, don't vote for Joe Biden. That's not our narrative as at all. We have a commitment to getting Joe Biden reelected. However, we reserve the right to make room for our peers to make room for ourselves, as the organization has as many organizations have before. Being College Democrats of America meaning means we are the voice of college students. And right now, college students across the country want to be heard.

Right now college students across the country are making -- some campuses even simple demands, like just flying the Palestinians flag disrespecting both groups of people, just loving one another and having peace. That is all we're standing for that that is all we want.

BLACKWELL: All right. Deyona Burton, Joshua Martin, thank you both for the conversation.

So four years ago this month, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer who knelt on his neck and kept feeling even after Floyd said several times that he could not breathe. Next week a family in Ohio will bury a man who died after he told an officer who had a knee on his back for about 30 seconds that he could not breathe. His name was Frank Tyson. He was 53 years old. He crashed his car into a pole and then went to a meeting hall nearby. A Canton police officers found and arrested him. We're going to show you the video but a warning, this is disturbing.


FRANK TYSON: No, no. They're going to kill me. They're killing me. They already are. They're trying to kill me. They're trying to kill me.


BLACKWELL: Well after the office is forced him to the floor and handcuffed him, Tyson said I can't breathe at least seven times within a minute, including after the officer's knee was off his back. Listen now to one officer's response.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the story right there. I'll be glad (inaudible) you.

TYSON: I can't breathe.





BLACKWELL: Five minutes after Tyson stopped speaking, the officers noticed he was unresponsive and they started CPR. Canton Police say two officers involved are on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Ohio Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation.


Joining me now is civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. He is one of the lawyers representing the family. And Frank Tyson's fiance, Sabrina Jones. Sabrina first, my condolences to you and I thank you for being with me. When you watch that video, what do you see? What do you feel?

SABRINA JONES, FRANK TYSON FIANCE: I was hurt, devastated, angry, mad. I couldn't believe what I was saying. It was blown. Then I can't get the video out my mind.

BLACKWELL: Attorney Crump, another man dying under the knee of a police officer's saying I can't breathe. I can't breathe. And then we heard the response from one of the officers. You're fine. Shut the F up. What do you see when you watch that video?

BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY OF FAMILY OF FRANK TYSON: Where the family has said previously Victor. It's like George Floyd 2.0. I can't believe we're reliving Joyce for four years later in America, if ever. Police officers should have learned from the teachable moment from George Floyd that you should never put your knee on a person's neck especially when they're restrained and saying I can't breathe. And then for him to respond shut the F up. It is infuriating. We have to do better by black people who say I can't breathe.

Eric Garner, George Floyd, and now Frank Tyson. How many more black people have to die before the police believe us when we say I can't breathe?

BLACKWELL: Attorney Crump, on this longer video when we see the Canton police walk into this AMVETS center, this meeting hall, the first thing he says is call the sheriff. Call the sheriff. You all not going to kill me in here tonight. Why does he say call the sheriff?

CRUMP: You know Victo, that's very important that America understands. Frank Tyson was wrongfully convicted for 24 years. He actually had petitions with the federal record that had witnesses recant in their statements saying the prosecutors made us lie. He had video evidence where it contradicted what the police said who was the only person that identified him. So all his life, he had been fighting the Canton police department to say I'm innocent. So when he got into this accident and saying call the sheriff don't call the camp police department because he was mortified by the camp police department because they stole his liberty. He had only been out of prison Victor Blackwell for 13 days, and then they stole his life. And I don't know what's worse, the wrongful conviction or the wrongful death.

BLACKWELL: Now I have to say that CNN as a news organization, we don't have any record of exoneration, as you say this was a petition that was in the process. Sabrina, let me come to you. What do you want to happen now?

JONES: Justice for Frank. I want to see those police officers in jail. Not only because I don't want them to have another job. I want them to be taken away from their families. Just like they did to Frank away. I know they won't be dead but just as have to be done.

BLACKWELL: Attorney Crump, body cameras were supposed to prevent things like this from happening. And the changes even after 2020. Canton police, they changed their use of force policy. Carotid control holds, chokehold or any other action that restricts blood or oxygen flow through the neck are prohibited unless deadly force is authorized. That was supposed to be a deterrent.

The accountability and charges against other officers were supposed to be a deterrent. But still this happens. What is the effective deterrent or is this just going to keep happening?

CRUMP: As my co-counsel attorney Bobby DiCello said when he ripped the Cnaton Police department policies up at our press conference, it said they're just pretty words on paper. They mean nothing if we're not going to enforce them. And that's why we need the United States Congress to finally pass the George Floyd justice in for releasing that.

Frank Tyson's blood is all of our hands who fail to act after George Floyd. Next month will be four years. How long America? How long? How many more marginalized people have to die at the hands of police brutality before we have systematic police reform in the United States of America?


BLACKWELL: Sabrina, I don't want his story just to be his death. So just take a couple of seconds. And tell us about the man Frank Tyson.

JONES: Frank Tyson was a wonderful man. He was happy. He -- when his -- he wanted to live. So the 24 years that he was in prison, he was fighting for his innocence. So when he got out, he was trying to finish that up. He weren't planning on dying. So he was trying to live his future.

So he was a very, very happy man. And he has not he had a lot of things going for him. So he had a lot of things to do. You know, he was planning on dying, so it was just too much for you know, to do, you know. I'm nervous. I'm really nervous.

BLACKWELL: That's all right. That's all right. Sabrina Jones, I thank you even in this time for taking a few minutes to help share this story and his story. Attorney Ben Crump, always good to have you on as well. Thank you so much, to both of you.

CRUMP: Thank you, Vic.

BLACKWELL: CNN reached out to the Canton Police and received this statement from the Police Chief John Gabbard. "I want to extend my deepest sympathy to those close to Mr. Tyson. Based on experience, I'm confident that BCI will conduct a very thorough review. Out of respect for the independence of that investigation, I am limited in my ability to comment further." End of statement. We of course will continue to follow this case.

There's a city in Louisiana, the residents of a mostly white and wealthy area in East Baton Rouge Parish. They want to fight to create their own city now. The mayor of Baton Rouge is here to tell us why she fought against it and what this means for families outside those new city lines.

Plus Black History happening today at a place you might not expect the Kentucky Derby.



BLACKWELL: Louisiana Supreme Court is allowing a new majority white city to be carved out of East Baton Rouge Parish. It's the city of St. George and it's forming after a court battle that's lasted for more than a decade. This started over concerns with public school system and the crime rates. Their organizers say for me the city will keep tax dollars where they are collected and improve government. And he told the New York Times in his statement, "This is the combination of citizens exercising their constitutional rights. And now we begin the process of delivering on our promises of a better city." But the decision raises concerns about segregation.

Mayor President of the city of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish, Sharon Weston Broome oppose the split. She joins me now. Mayor President is probably the best title of any guest I've had on this show thus far. So thank you for coming on.

First, let me start here with the narrative that's depicted or inferred in the local coverage there is that city of St. George has incorporated now to be a wider wealthier enclave separating themselves from poor black communities. Is that what this is about? Or is it about something else?

MAYOR-PRESIDENT SHARON WESTON BROOME, BATON ROUGE AND EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, LA: Thank you for having me on, Victor, this morning. We're having a little challenge with the technology this morning. But I believe you were asking about the challenge. I will tell you that since I have been mayor for nearly eight years now, we have been dealing with this issue because I believe that communities rise and fall together. And certainly the lawsuit, which was filed by myself and a councilman certainly did not challenge the legitimacy of the 2019 election. But out of concern for a group of citizens saying that they wanted to start a city of now nearly 86,000 people without having a plan of action. As you know, we won on the district court, the appellate court and the decision was turned around at the Supreme Court.

BLACKWELL: Yes. You were a party to this lawsuit several years ago. You were removed since but if you can still hear me. Can you hear me, Mayor President?

BROOME: I can't. I can't.


BLACKWELL: Okay. Control room, can we fix the audio and come back to this? Because I'd like to have this conversation but she's obviously having some difficulty hearing me. So we'll come back to this. All right, so we'll come back. Mayor President, standby, and we'll fix the audio issue.

Let's go now to another conversation, the resource that millions of Americans depend upon, to get access to the internet was just cut off. Why Native American communities fear that they're going to be hit hardest, that conversation is coming up.



BLACKWELL: We're back now with the Mayor President of the city of Baton Rouge at East Baton Rouge Parish, Sharon Weston Broome. I hope we have fixed our audio issue now. Madam Mayor President, I was just going into this 2019 lawsuit of which you were a party, and this is what it claimed that "Not surprising at all, however, considering some of their stated motives, they intentionally eliminated a huge population of minority voters from their proposed city. This constitutes a clear intent to impermissibly dilute minority voting power and as a direct adverse impact on minority representation." I wonder what were those stated motives. What was behind this element for you?

MAYOR-PRESIDENT SHARON WESTON BROOME, BATON ROUGE AND EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, L.A.: Well, of course, originally, the declared motivation was the desire to have their own school district. When they first decided to have a vote and collect a petition, it included a great number of the constituents, African-American constituents, in that area. That did not pass. They couldn't pass the city with inclusivity. And so after that, they carved out a new city that had 70 percent White and approximately 10 percent African-American.

That did pass, however, it was almost a 50-50 vote. So we have half of the citizens of that area who do want the city in half who do not.

BLACKWELL: Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, the technical challenges took a big chunk of our conversation, but I hope -- thank you for spending a few minutes with us to discuss this new city of St. George that's coming that is whiter, wealthier and creating a bit of an enclave in East Baton Rouge Parish. Thank you so much for your time.

Millions of Americans will have to pay more for internet access now that a government program they rely on has run out of funding. This is the Affordable Connectivity Program. It's provided a subsidy of about $30 per month to low income families about $75 per month to households on tribal lands. Well, without that money 60 million Americans could lose access to the internet because they can't afford it. And we're not just talking about shopping online.

These are online classes people take, telemedicine they rely on. The hardest hit will be communities of color. According to the White House, a quarter of the households participating the ACP were African- American, another quarter Latino. And nearly 330,000 households on tribal lands receive subsidies for high speed internet as well. With me now former president of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan Nez, he's also a candidate for Congress there in Arizona.

Mr. Former President, thank you for being with us. Put this in perspective for us, what do these tribal communities lose once they lose the subsidies and potentially lose internet access?

JONATHAN NEZ, FORMER PRESIDENT, NAVAJO NATION: Well, thanks for having us on the show, Victor. For the Navajo Nation, in 2023 40,000 Navajo members were signed up for this program. And this program helped connect their -- the folks that are on the reservations with their family members off the reservation, of course, including the connection they would have to, you know, employment. You know, we're moving towards more online employment, of course, schools. And now with this program ending, our fear is that people are not going to be able to get on the internet, as they used to at their homes, they have to go down to get their free internet maybe at the schools, government buildings or even the restaurants, you know, like maybe --


NEZ: -- fast food areas, but it was also a critical component to economic development where small business entrepreneurs were able to sell their artists and artwork to those all over the world. And so it is disheartening to see this program ending. And, you know, we were asking the U.S. Congress to reauthorize this, but of course, the speaker Mike Johnson has yet to do that. And I appreciate Senator Fetterman for pushing this on the Senate side.

BLACKWELL: Yes. What is then the solution? I mean, is there some backfill? Is there anyone, anything that connects many of these tribal lands to the rest of the country, the rest of the world?


NEZ: Well, I know that during the COVID pandemic it was critical to have internet access to get information to our citizens up to date, health information. And now, this program is ending. The only way we can see this is either getting more funding to expand internet, broadband and telecommunications in tribal community is, and as you said, Victor, and communities of color. I think that could be a support. But of course, we haven't seen much come out of this Congress and because of the gridlock happening there.

And is one of the reasons why I'm running for Congress. You know, one of the things that real really need is an advocate there in Washington, D.C. that has seen this. You know, we've gotten so many e- mails and telephone calls from our citizens saying that they've gotten a message from their cell phone provider saying that this will be going away, and there's going to be an increase in their phone bill when many of our people have a set income in our communities.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Former Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, I thank you for being with us. This is not just about making sure --

NEZ: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: -- that people can be connected to social media or watching videos online, this is about health, it's about education, it's about the economy for some communities that rely on this internet access to progress. Thank you so much for your time.

New law has some Latino communities in Georgia fearful of racial profiling. We'll explain next.



BLACKWELL: After the killing of Laken Riley in Georgia in February allegedly by an undocumented migrant, state lawmakers proposed a new stricter immigration bill. This week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed that bill into law. CNN's Gustavo Valdes learn the new Georgia law and laws like it across the country are creating new fears.


GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Small but vocal group has a message for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. They are protesting House Bill 1105 that requires local authorities to verify the legal status of people in custody or if an officer has probable cause to believe they have committed a crime.

JENIFER LOPEZ, ACTIVIST: Ultimately, increased racial profiling throughout the state.

VALDES (voice-over): Jenifer Lopez is with the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. She argues that the law will stigmatize migrants and erode trust in police.

LOPEZ: More and more community members will feel hopeless when they call the police. That they always have to look behind their backs.

STEVEN SAINZ, (R) GEORGIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I think it's unfortunate that it was necessary.

VALDES (voice-over): State representative Steven Sainz, one of the bill's co-sponsors and an immigrant himself says that cooperation between local law enforcement and immigration agencies is key to fight crime.

SAINZ: Because I believe the Laken Riley's case in Athens is a great example that every community in this state is a border community due to Biden's broken border policies.

VALDES (voice-over): Laken Riley was a nursing student killed in February in Athens, Georgia. The accused killer is a Venezuelan immigrant released from immigration custody in 2022 after entering the country illegally. He was also arrested in New York City in 2023 and charged with acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and a motor vehicle license violation. He was released before immigration authorities filed a detainer. Sainz argues that his bill would prevent Georgia from having another Riley case argument that has been used by Republican leaders nationwide to support their calls for tighter border security, even though there's little evidence indicating a connection between immigration and crime in the country.

KYLE GOMEZ-LEINEWEBER, DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC POLICY AND ADVOCACY, GALEO IMPACT: So it kind of, you know, creates this lopsided, incomplete picture that perpetuate stereotypes about immigrants and Latinos.

VALDES (voice-over): Kyle Gomez-Leineweber is Director of Public Policy and Advocacy of the GALEO Impact Fund, an organization that promotes political participation of the more than 400,000 Latino voters in the state to elect candidates that reflect the interests of their communities.

GOMEZ-LEINEWEBER: Four hundred thousand voting plot, that has the potential to, you know, swing elections.

VALDES (voice-over): He offers Gwinnette County as an example, where the sheriff's office participated in the federal program known as 287(g) in which local authorities would report undocumented migrants in their custody. That cooperation ended in 2020 after voters in Gwinnette were more than 20 percent of the population is Hispanic elected a new sheriff could run on the promise to end that agreement.

The new law is scheduled to go into effect in July unless it's put on hold by legal challenges.

Gustavo Valdes, CNN, Atlanta.


BLACKWELL: It is Kentucky Derby Day. And for the first time in decades a horse train by black men will race. How Larry Demeritte story fits into a rich history of horse racing. There's a good chance you have never heard about.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN, the world's news network.

BLACKWELL: I learned so much preparing for this show. And every week I go down a rabbit hole about a specific thing. And for me, this is it this week, the rich black history of the Kentucky Derby. Today, Larry Demeritte is adding his name to that history. It is the 150th running of the roses, and he's the first black trainer to have a horse in the derby in more than three decades.

I spoke with Mr. Demeritte this week and he told me about the frugal purchase of his horse West Saratoga.


LARRY DEMERITTE, FIRST BLACK TRAINER, KENTUCKY DERBY: Whatever I have to spend that day I tried to get the best cost with sell that bait for that kind of money. And with West Saratoga, by that tell my boys so, you know, I always bought a lot speed oscilloscopes (ph), we want to have the recurring come back quickly. I said but this year I'm going to buy one horse was going to run into the ground, not knowing he was going to develop that good to be a Kentucky Derby contender.

BLACKWELL: And how much you said with the money you have that day. How much did you have to spend that day?

DEMERITTE: You know what, if someone else bid on that who has 12,000, I would have lose it. Because you know, that was the budget for me was 12. So, I was at 11.


BLACKWELL: Yes, he bought West Saratoga for $11,000. Now, look at these numbers for comparison. The priciest horse this year, Sierra Leone, costs 2.3 million. I also asked him, does his horse actually have a chance to win today?



DEMERITTE: Man They got to show me they could beat him on Saturday. I'm not giving chances. I think I'm going to win the race. If the race goes to plan on how we train this horse, I'm looking for him anytime the top of the stretch to take leave. You know, now, they're going to have to show me different but I'm not just satisfied with just seeing a number in the race, I'm preparing my horse to win.


BLACKWELL: No black trainer or jockey has won the Derby since 1902. But black jockeys once dominated the sport. In fact, they were some of the first major sports celebrities in the U.S. Katherine Mooney has been telling some of their overlooked stories. She's a history professor at Florida State and author of books including "Race Horsemen, How Slavery and Freedom were Made at the Racetrack."

Professor, thank you so much for being with me. Thirteen of the first -- of the 15 jockeys in the first Kentucky Derby were black, 15 of the first 28 winners. What happened?

KATHERINE MOONEY, AUTHOR, "RACE HORSE MEN": Well, that's a big question. And I think it's a two part answer. The first part is the reason they were there in the first place is that many of the most successful and famous jockeys in 19th century America, even before the end of slavery were black men. And then, in the 1870s, in the 1880s after the war, since they already had a place in the sport, they rose to the top of the sport of spree men. And then what happens at the end of the 19th century is really related to the larger story about the coming of segregation and Jim Crow.

And they remain in the sport, I think that's very important to emphasize, but they are locked out of sort of the top opportunities like having a man (ph) in the Kentucky Derby.

BLACKWELL: Yes. You know, you also wrote -- your latest book is about Isaac Murphy born enslaved, but became an international star, died at 35. Give us a little of his story, because I think the individual characters are rich here too.

MOONEY: So Murphy is born enslaved. His father died in the service of the Union Army, fighting for freedom. His mother is an extraordinary person. She seems to have immediately embraced the possibility of reconstruction. She got her son into school.

And she looked at that history of the racetrack for black men. And she thought that was the place where he could really have a future. And he turned out to be a prodigy. And he won three Kentucky Derby's himself. He was the jockey -- still the only Derby winner to have been earned and trained by a black man, that's King Men in 1891.

And he really, I think, became a symbol of what black achievement might look like in a world that was truly a biracial democracy. And, ultimately, that's part of his downfall.

BLACKWELL: Yes. You know, there is also a parallel story here about how Hispanics now dominate this sport. I read a part of a research paper that said if horses could speak, they speak Spanish, because of the huge population of Hispanic riders and grooms and assistant trainers. Is it in parallel with why we're seeing Hispanics work in agriculture and construction in many states, the same reason they're dominating this sport?

MOONEY: I think that's to some degree true because you can get a job. But I think it's also true that, at least early on in this sort of revolution of Latino jockeys, it was -- and also other horsemen, it was because a lot of immigrants came from places where they were more likely to have some agricultural background. And so, they had -- you know, they were more sort of experienced working with horses. And I think now we're sort of multi generationally into it. So, it put immigrants and second and third and fourth generation horsemen.

BLACKWELL: Professor Katherine Mooney, thank you so much for sharing some history with us.

MOONEY: Very glad to be here.

BLACKWELL: Nineteen American icons awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Biden Friday. Next, reaction from one of them the grandmother of Juneteenth, Ms. Opal Lee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BLACKWELL: When you heard that from the White House, another holy dance?






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nation thanks Opal Lee, the "Grandmother of Juneteenth."


BLACKWELL: Man what a moment for Ms. Opal Lee. She was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her tireless advocacy that made Juneteenth commemorating the end of slavery a federal holiday. I spoke with her in D.C. yesterday.


LEE: I was so humble. How do you think a little old lady in tennis shoes get that level? And I've not done any more than any other little radio man would do. And if we could just get the young people to understand that we've got so much that we could share with some -- so they don't have to go through the same things with -- I'm just a happy camper.


BLACKWELL: You'll see more of my conversation with Ms. Opal Lee, an special we're putting together for Juneteenth on CNN.

Among other honorees Clarence B. Jones, who helped draft Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Michelle Yeoh also, the first Asian- American to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Thank you so much for joining me today. Smerconish is up next.