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Civil Rights Legend Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) Dies At 80; Civil Rights Icon Rev. C.T. Vivian Dies At 95; "Dean" Of Civil Rights Movement Joseph Lowery Died At 98 In March; Remembering The Life Of Civil Rights Legend Rep. John Lewis; Fauci Encourages State And Local Leaders To "Be As Forceful" As Possible With Mask Orders; Debate Rages Over Reopening Schools As U.S. Cases Surge. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired July 18, 2020 - 08:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman John Lewis, giant in the history of the civil rights movement, has died at the age of 80.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He always believed in the power of love and not hate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His legacy will grow and grow and grow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't care about himself. He didn't care about politics. He didn't care about fame or fortune. He cared about making a difference and so he lived a purpose driven life.

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


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: A live look here at the center of his district, Georgia 5th District here in Atlanta, a mural of the late Congressman John Lewis. Above him the word "Hero," one we use far too liberally. But Congressman Lewis throughout his decades of work for civil rights, not just for black people, but for people around the globe, certainly earned that moniker.

This morning, we are remembering the contributions, the life of Congressman Lewis. I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Abby Phillip. And at a time when this nation is at a moment of reckoning over race and justice in this country, Congressman Lewis's life is a lesson for us all. He was the last survivor of the big six civil rights activists led by Martin Luther King Jr. He marched with King. He was a freedom writer. He was beaten and jailed, fighting for the rights of black Americans. And he died last night from a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. And even during that battle, he remained a lion, crying out for racial justice in his final weeks of life. Here was his message just a week of weeks ago in June, in the wake of George Floyd's staff.


LEWIS: How many more? How many more young black men will be murdered? The madness must stop. It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds and thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets to speak up, to speak out, to get in what I call "good trouble"...


PHILLIP: We begin this hour with CNN Congressional Reporter Lauren Fox in Washington DC, where Lewis spent his years on Capitol Hill pioneering change. Lauren, what are you hearing on Capitol Hill from his colleagues who really believed him to be a lion among them?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's right, Abby. And you know, people looked to John Lewis, both Republicans and Democrats, when it came to making moral decisions, when it came to needing leadership on the big moments and issues of the day.

He was in Congress for more than 30 years. And I want to start this morning with a statement that we just received from former President Carter, whom he worked for, for several years. He said quote, "Rosalynn and I are saddened by the death of Congressman John Lewis. He made an indelible mark on history through his quest to make our nation more just.

John never shied away from what he called "good trouble" to lead our nation on the path toward human and civil rights. Everything he did, he did in a spirit of love. All Americans, regardless of race, or religion owe John Lewis, a debt of gratitude. We send our condolences and prayers to his family and friends."

And on Capitol Hill, those tributes are pouring out from Republicans and Democrats from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who wrote last night. "John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement, whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation. May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all in the face of injustice." And then again, quoting him saying, "make good trouble."

Kamala Harris, a Senator, a Democrat from California says, "John Lewis was an icon who fought with every ounce of his being to advance the cause of civil rights for all Americans. My friend, thank you for showing the world what good trouble looks like."

You can see a theme there, because John Lewis went to Congress, and he continued his activism. Remember on the House floor, in 2016, when Democrats were pushing and pushing to get gun legislation, to get a vote on it in a Republican controlled House. He led a sit-in that went on for hours and hours.


And as Republicans were trying to regain the floor, they remained sitting on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, really something that looked unprecedented. But just an example of how Democrats really viewed him as a moral leader on Capitol Hill.

And, I just want to end by saying, he was someone who never gave up. Every year, when he got to Congress in 1987, he would introduce a bill for a National Museum of African American History and it would get rejected every year. He would continue to introduce it. And in 2003 it was finally signed into law. And when he spoke at the opening of that museum, he said, "Giving up on dreams is not an option for me." Victor and Abby.

BLACKWELL: Lauren Fox for us there in Washington. Lauren, thank you.

Let's begin now CNN National Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, and she's covered Lewis and his legacy for years. Also, CNN Political Commentator, Bakari Sellers, former South Carolina state lawmaker and author of "My Vanishing Country." Welcome to you both.

Bakari, let me start with you. What did this country lose last night with a death of Congressman Lewis?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, yesterday, this country took a big blow with not just the death of Congressman Lewis, but also the death of Reverend C.T. Vivian.

When you think about these heroes, when you think about the role they played, and just think about John Lewis's efforts in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Edmund Pettus Bridge comes to mind just often top. And we would not have the Voting Rights Act but for, the strength, the courage, the beatings that people like John Lewis took on that bridge.

His commitment to democracy, his commitment to freedom. There's a scripture that says, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." That that just makes me have chills when I think about John Lewis.

Yesterday was a really tough day. Yesterday we took a blow. But Victor is you know, that Atlanta home going service is going to be one for the books. The singing, the joy, just the celebration of life is going to put us in a good place, because what we have to do now, my generation, millennials and Generation Z, is continue to carry that torch of both C.T. and John Lewis.

PHILLIP: Yes, that's exactly right. I think about John Lewis saying that - on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, "Some of us gave a little blood to redeem the soul of this nation." Suzanne, talk to me about the connection between what John Lewis lived through and what he was a living representative of, and what he saw happening in this present day, this new generation of activists on the ground. What is the connection there between this guard that we are now losing day by day, and this new guard coming into their own? SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have to say, I don't know how you're all holding up there. It's very hard not to cry during all of this. And I know Bakari you are an emotional person, and this might happen. Because, the connections run deep.

And you know, since I was a little girl and my parents grew up in the segregated South, and they made sure that we knew those stories about the degradation and humiliation and overcoming that in the segregated South, whether it was having to go to the colored fountains or the colored - the hotels or the schools, and just what it took.

And the special person that John Lewis was, everybody played a role in the civil rights movement, but what he gave for all of us to be where we are today was extraordinary. And that was a lesson that I think for many of us was instilled from very, very early on.

I mean, most recently, seeing him at the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington DC, standing next to the DC Mayor there, I mean, that message was so powerful. Because what he was saying when it comes to the next generation of leaders is, it's OK if we have our differences.

Black Lives Matter taking issue with that particular symbolism, saying we want to go further. It has to be more. But at the same time, one of his favorite stories that he used to tell was, the conversations that he had with A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King before the "I Have a Dream" speech where he had to negotiate with those leaders, those elder statesman of the civil rights movement, to take portions out of his speech. Not to say the things that he wanted to say to push that far because out of respect for his elders.


He knew that, yes, he wanted the Civil Rights Act to go even further, but that there was that respect with those elder statesmen. And that is something that he wants the next generation to know, that it is OK to have that tension, to have that conflict to want for even more greater things at a faster pace, but that we're all in this together. And that's what that trip was really about recently, as we saw him standing there at the Black Lives Matter Plaza in DC.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Bakari, we're showing the pictures from the 1960s and talking about the Bureau de in Washington, but his fight for civil rights extend far beyond African Americans. He fought for voting rights for Native Americans. He was at the LGBTQ Pride parade in Atlanta, fighting for the humane treatment of Mexicans and Central Americans at the border.

I think we would - we would miss a large part of his legacy if we did not talk about the broader fight for dignity for all people.

SELLERS: Because he ascribed to something that I ascribe to and many of us try to live to, that we can't be free until we all are free. And so, our Jewish brothers and sisters, as we talk about pushing back on the rise of anti-Semitism, he would be somebody to speak out against that. Oppression against the LBGTQ community, especially in Atlanta, he was always somebody who talked about making sure that we had the word equality. The children in cages at the border, individuals who are living in the shadows.

I mean, John Lewis, it's amazing. Suzanne talked about this. The emotion that comes in having this conversation. But you bring up a good point, Victor, because John Lewis taught us something that I hope people adhere to. He taught us that heroes walk among us.

For far too long the history of black Americans in this country has been dwindled down to Martin, Malcolm and Rosa, period. But John Lewis was a true hero. John Lewis, Marion Barry, Diane Nash, James Forman, my father, all of these individuals who gave so much to move our country forward.

John Lewis is not a black hero. John Lewis is an American hero, and his life should be treated as such. And the way that we honor John Lewis is not just today, but from this point forward, moving our country forward, to be better than we are. And John Lewis believed in what Abraham Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature." So, today, I think it's good to rethink that and dedicate ourselves to that.

PHILLIP: I couldn't agree more with you Bakari, an American hero. And this is a really heavy morning. Thank you Suzanne and Bakari Sellers for joining us this morning.

SELLERS: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Congressman Lewis is one of three civil rights pioneers we've lost in a little more than 100 days. Today, we remember also, C.T. Vivian - Reverend C.T. Vivian and Reverend Joseph Lowery.

Reverend Vivian passed away yesterday as well. He was 95 years old. Died in Atlanta. He was part of the Freedom Riders, one of the early ones. At age 25, he helped lead the '65 march for voting rights on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where he and Lewis and other marchers were attacked.

Reverend Lowery is remembered as the Dean of the Civil Rights Movement working with Dr. King and Jesse Jackson in the early years of the movement. He died in March at the age of 98.



BLACKWELL: A look here inside Georgia's 5th Congressional District represented for 17 terms by the now late Congressman John Lewis. This is the Sweet Auburn District of Atlanta. Again, he represented this area for decades. CNN Center is right in the heart of the district.

PHILLIP: And that picture says it all, "hero." We are now joined by his pastor. Reverend Raphael Warnock is the senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, joining us now from Atlanta. Thank you for joining us.

Reverend, I know this is a tough morning for you and for everyone who knew John Lewis. But tell us about his final days, about what you were able to say to him, and what kind of state of mind was he in as he left this world.

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK, SENIOR PASTOR OF EBENEZER BAPTIST CHURCH: Thank you so very much for having me. This is a difficult day in Atlanta and all across the country. We lost a lot yesterday, as we witnessed the passing of John Lewis and earlier that morning his friend and colleague, Reverend C.T. Vivian.

I was deeply honored to serve as the pastor of a true American hero. I first met Congressman Lewis as a college student. I was his pastor, but he was my mentor. I received a call several days ago, from the family, asking that I make my way to the home and I was there at his bedside.

I exchanged a few words with him. Told him how much I loved him and he said, I love you, too, brother - somehow mustered up the strength to say that. But I have to say that even in his weakness, there was a deep sense of resolve and strength, courage and dignity, the kind that we have come to associate with the likes of John Lewis. We lost a true hero yesterday. But work is left up to us.


BLACKWELL: A part of President Obama's statement, Reverend, "he loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of themselves to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that follow to try to live up to his example."

And the latter part of that statement is what I want to focus on relevant to at least three generations. There's a comic book, a graphic novel that was released recently about John Lewis. Talk about that, how young people still revere John Lewis.

Yes, there was something about the power of his message, and he embodied the message in such a way that it translated across generations. The things that John Lewis stood for are timeless. Here is a young man who as a kid himself, thought about becoming a preacher. But instead of spending most of his weeks preaching sermons in a real since he became a sermon - a sermon about truth telling and justice making in the world.

And as the decades passed, young people could relate to him, because they saw in him a kind of authenticity, a deep and unconditional love, unlike what we typically see in politics today, and that's because he was not a transactional politician. He was a transformational figure operating in the Congress.

And when you saw him you could not but respect the way in which he embodied the message. He gave up a lot on that bridge in Selma. In a real sense, by his stripes we are healed and that work of healing continues today. PHILLIP: We are losing in some ways a whole generation of these heroes, with the loss of C.T. Vivian yesterday as well. As someone who is in Atlanta, the birthplace of the civil rights movement, where do we go from here? What do you think John Lewis would want the message for this next generation to be? What should they do as they now must take up the mantle of this new civil rights fight that this entire country is living through?

WARNOCK: We know that John Lewis fought until the very end, and so we have to continue to fight the good fight. Over the next several days, there will be those who will sing praises to his name, and that's appropriate. But for John Lewis, it was never about him. It was about the cause that he represented.

The irony of this moment, really, is that John Lewis is the patron saint of voting rights. But his home state of Georgia is ground zero for voter suppression right now. And so we want to honor John Lewis. We ought to strengthen and renew the Voting Rights Act, so that we can push against the acts of voter suppression we're witnessing all across our country.

His colleagues ought to get busy in the coming days passing the HEROES Act, so that Americans in the midst of a global pandemic don't have to choose between losing their vote and losing their life. And so we honor John Lewis, by representing the things that he fought for. We have to continue to fight for.

Well, I heard him say over and over again, we cannot go back. We can't afford to go back. We have to vote, he would say, like we've never voted before. And he would say that cycle after cycle after cycle, because he believed in the power and the strength of democracy. And then a moment like this may his spirit calls all of us to rise up and protect the integrity about democracy which is in peril this very morning as we celebrate his life.

BLACKWELL: Reverend Raphael Warnock, thank you so much for sharing a bit of those last moments of the Congressman and for your time this morning.

WARNOCK: Thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: As we go to break, I want to share this really special moment that happened here on CNN a little more than a decade ago. And let me give you the background here.

In 1961, it was May of that year, Congressman Lewis was a Freedom Rider. They made a stop in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and as they were in many locations across the deep South, they were attacked. And one of the attackers whose name was Elwin Wilson, a member of the KKK then, well, they will reunited several decades later, right here on CNN. And I want you to watch what happened when they were together again.


LEWIS: Well, I said to Mr. Wilson, I met with him earlier during the week when he came to Washington to visit with me. And he said he wanted to apologize and that he was sorry. And I said, I forgive you. And I don't have any bitterness or hatred, because it was in keeping with what we believed in, that we should have a capacity and the ability to forgive--




PHILLIP: The ongoing debate over masks has become a political flashpoint among national state and local leaders, despite the CDC director saying that widespread mask wearing could bring the coronavirus outbreak under control in a matter of weeks.

The governor of Georgia is now suing Atlanta's Mayor over her coronavirus restrictions and her mandate that residents wear masks. Just yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci urged local leaders to "be as forceful as possible" to get people to wear a face covering.


Joining me now to discuss this is Dr. Monica Gandhi. She is the Associate Division Chief of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital. And she's a Professor of Medicine at UC San Francisco. Good morning. Thank you for waking up early for us.

Dr. Gandhi, there is so much consternation in this country about mask wearing. I think there are some people who are legitimately curious or they don't understand how we went from don't wear a mask, because you're taking them away from medical physicians and nurses who need them, to wear a mask, it could save your life and the lives of others. How did we get to this point?

DR. MONICA GANDHI, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, HIV CLINIC AT SAN FRANCISCO GENERAL HOSPITAL: Yes, I mean, I think it's fair to say that at the very beginning, we didn't understand a lot about this virus and we are now way into this pandemic. We know a lot more about this virus and mask wearing and the need for mask wearing to protect you and your family is indisputable.

But in the beginning, there was limitations in this country and we importantly didn't know the extent to which this virus shed crazily from the nose and mouth. That information available later, in February, in early March. As we were starting to understand this virus more, April 3rd, the guidelines got put out by the CDC and we've gotten more and more evidence, including recent evidence, that this absolutely protects you to wear a mask.

PHILLIP: Yes, tell us a little bit more about that. Because one of the things I find really fascinating is the degree to which mask wearing could not just prevent you from spreading the virus if you are asymptomatic or symptomatic, but how does it protect you from perhaps getting the virus or getting very ill if you contract the coronavirus? GANDHI: Right. So I think this is almost information that we're coming to a little bit later in the game about how much it protects you. And we have known for, like 100 years essentially that viruses - the less virus that you get into your party, the less sick you get, that's called the viral inoculum, or the viral dose. And we've known that from animal models since 1938.

And then we've been seeing more and more evidence that this is true, not only of all viruses, but it's true of the particular virus that causes COVID - SARS-CoV-2. And so, basically evidence that sort of come to light over the last month or so is that there's experimental evidence that humans if you give them less virus, they get less sick.

And then with a hamster model, for example, with this particular virus, they simulated masking with this virus. They put them in cages with simulated masking, and the hamsters were less likely to get the virus if they wore the mask and also if they got the virus they were very unlikely to get ill. They were actually got very mild infection.

So put this evidence together and also from other countries and what we've been seeing in this country with outbreaks where people mask or in cruise ships where there's masking, it looks more - it looks almost indisputable, essentially, that at this point, we know mass protect you. It protects you and your family.

And I think that's the message that we need to get out more, because, OK, it's human nature. They're not - people aren't wearing masks as much as they think it's only protecting others. Fine, it's protecting you. And we will get through this pandemic faster if we all wear a mask.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean there's nothing in the world that is without - that is 100 percent foolproof. But masks, I mean, look at this data on how mask prevents these droplets from spreading. All of these different forms of masks, so you could wear a bandana, a folded handkerchief, a cone mask, stitch mask.

It reduces dramatically how far these droplets can travel and get you - get others and get you sick. But take a look at just - we're going to play some of this video from Utah just this past week. Just a picture into how angry some people are about mask wearing.

Some of these people are worried, it seems, that they - that mask wearing is unsafe. What do we know about whether there are any risks to you? Whether it is you touching the mask and taking it off, putting it on and appropriately or some people seem to be worried that maybe they are not breathing properly, getting enough oxygen as a result of wearing the mask? What do you say to those people?

GANDHI: Yes, there is truly no evidence, none, that masks are unsafe to you. I would encourage people to wear a comfortable mask, because it could be that people are very thinking about masks in hospitals or something that's very constrictive. Just wear what works for you. Wear comfortable cotton, simple masks. But there is - absolutely it helps you breathe. You can absolutely breathe through a mask.


Actually, we're just not used to it in this country. We have to get used to it. It will protect you, your family, others. And importantly, let's just admit it, we are going on and on and on with this pandemic. We will get through it quickly. If we stop even thinking about it as any other way, but as simple public health measure, like putting on a seatbelt, and stop thinking about it in any sort of political way.

PHILLIP: Yes, it's a very simple thing that people could do to bring this virus under control. Dr. Monica Gandhi, thank you very, very much for joining us this morning.

GANDHI: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: That's also good advice, as teachers and students look ahead to what this new school year will bring, should they return to the classroom or virtual and distance learning. Well, coming up, we've got the 2019 Teacher of the Year about returning to the classroom.

But also if you've got kids at home and now you are the educator, you've got to do the scheduling for the school day because their distance learning, what you need to know to make sure that your kids are successful.

And W. Kamau Bell's United Shades of America returning Sunday night. The latest episode revisits a subject Kamau has already covered, white supremacy, but this is through a new lens.


W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST: United Shades of America has always been a space for difficult conversations. This season, it's more important than ever.

What would you say to the people in power about your situation and how to fix it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to dismantle the system, work outside of the system,

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slave labor laid the groundwork for the great American economic success and I benefit from that success.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Racism makes you illogical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: we've got to really start being more honest about what white supremacy looks like. You don't have to be wearing a Klan robe to be a white supremacist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: United States Department of Agriculture, the last plantation.

BELL: What does it mean that a zip code can tell you so much more about where a child is going to end up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To me reparations - why should I have to pay you for some - I never owned slaves. You don't have to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This system is not just not built for us--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: --it's built against us and it's not broken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got to build a people's movement that's so powerful you shake the roots of America.

ANNOUNCER: A all new season of the United Shades of America of W. Kamau Bell starts tomorrow night at 10:00 only on CNN




BLACKWELL: Millions of families across the country will soon have to decide if they'll send the kids back to school or continue virtual learning. Joining me now to talk about it, Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year. Rodney, good morning.


BLACKWELL: So let me start here where you are, Virginia. Coronavirus cases up more than 50 percent this week versus last week. Would you be comfortable returning to the classroom? And what's your confidence that you would be safe?

ROBINSON: Well, first of all, I just want to send my condolences out to the family of C.T. Vivian and John Lewis, because we stand on the shoulders of giants and this is time that we give them their flowers while they're still here.

But, I don't think it's safe to return to school right now. We have cases that are spiking. I believe in science and not politics. Unfortunately, this has become a political issue, and they have not talked to teachers. So I'm happy to have this voice to represent teachers who think it's not safe to go back to school.

BLACKWELL: Speaking of--

ROBINSON: But science is important. We have to listen to the scientists.

BLACKWELL: Speaking of - talking to teachers. For those teachers who will continue, as we know, in Los Angeles and parts of Texas, really across the country, teachers who will continue distance learning, virtual teaching. Is there additional instruction or training for teachers who have to teach via the internet?

ROBINSON: Well, yes, districts are showing that teachers are going to get the training that they need to teach virtually. And that's really important, because a lot of teachers are used to face to face interactions. A lot of teachers are saying that it's hard to build relationships with students through the internet. However, students are used to building relationships through the internet. So it's really important for teachers to try to acquire those skills, because those are 21st Century skills that our students already have.

BLACKWELL: My producer tells me that you teach or have taught at an education center at a detention facility, is that right?

ROBINSON: Yes. This was in Richmond juvenile jail. Yes.

BLACKWELL: OK. So we know that part of the argument, the case to return students to classrooms is because vulnerable students get meals, they get a safe place, they get some security. If there's something wrong at home, there's another adult who can report that. Do you see that argument for returning to the classroom?

ROBINSON: I understand that argument. But like all arguments, they're looking at teachers and education to solve societal ills, and that's unfair to the teachers. Because we are the last remaining piece of the social safety net and I don't think that's fair as educators to ask them to be a teacher, a psychologist, a food district distributor, everything that they're asking us to do, while we're putting our lives on the line. This is really unfair for the government taxed teachers to do those things.

BLACKWELL: Let's turn now to the parents who will now have their students at home with them all day. You've sent us a couple of headlines of things that parents should do. One of them stood out to me is to establish a routine. Talk more about that.


ROBINSON: Well, if you can. And I'll say that if you can, because we're all surviving the global pandemic. Parents are working from home, parents are out of work, parents lack the technology and resources. And so it's really important, if you can, to establish a routine to just do so, because you want to keep things as normal as possible for your children.

You want to keep the same breaks, the same food schedule. You want to make sure they have the same expectations as they would have, if they were in the school building. Because this is really important for those in elementary grades, because eventually we'll go back to school. And if a routine is established, then that helps students when they go back.

BLACKWELL: So get up shower, get dressed for school, have the classes and then have playtime afterward. Let me ask you finally, here. The degree of communication parents should demand with the teacher, typically there would be teacher/parent conferences, maybe those aren't happening. What should parents expect?

ROBINSON: Expect some of the same communication, may not be face-to- face, but call the teachers, e-mail the teachers. I know a lot of teachers give their phone numbers to the parents, the students, text to teachers. Maintain that open line of communication, because that's what's really key. It's important for teachers to establish those expectations to parents and to students.

And if there are questions, please, please reach out to the students and - to the teachers, excuse me. And if you have a student with special needs or special circumstances, you need to stay on that phone, stay on that email, stay on that text message and make sure that school districts are providing equitable education for your child.

BLACKWELL: Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year, some good advice. Thank you so much, and good luck to you this new--

ROBINSON: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: --this new school year.

ROBINSON: All right. Arrest the men who killed Breonna Taylor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Abby.

PHILLIP: Such an important conversation, Victor.

Next, more on the life and legacy of Congressman John Lewis from those who knew him best. Ahead, we'll be joined by Martin Luther King III to share his memories of the civil rights icon.



PHILLIP: This morning Martin Luther King III is remembering Congressman John Lewis as an American treasure. Invoking his father, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote on Twitter, "Our hearts feel empty without our friend, but we find comfort in knowing that he is free at last."

Martin Luther King III joins us now. This morning is such a tough morning, I'm sure, for you. At 14 or 15 years old John Lewis wrote to your father, and went to see your father and got engaged in the civil rights movement at that young age. Tell me about who John Lewis was to you and to your family.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, GLOBAL HUMAN RIGHTS LEADER: John Lewis, first of all, represents so much to our nation and world as a change maker. Certainly, dad, as leadership, inspired John Lewis to get engaged and they became friends of course, and of course worked together throughout that movement.

John Lewis, as dad inspired him, inspires me and millions of people around our world, particularly as we approach one of the most important elections in our - in the history, I think of our nation.

And the fact of the matter is, this is the 150th anniversary of black men getting the right to vote, but it really wasn't totally solidified until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is the 55th anniversary of it, as well as the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote. Around voting issues are some of the most critical and crucial issues that John Lewis personified for us as a nation.

PHILLIP: And one of the things that I know you know, very well is about legacy and I think a lot of people will be trying to place John Lewis in this really tremendous legacy of that movement. Doug Brinkley, the historian, said last night, he believes that John Lewis will be spoken of in the same way we talked about Frederick Douglass and your father, Martin Luther King, Jr. Where do you see his place in history, this long, long life of service to this country?

KING III: Well, that is - I certainly agree with Douglas Brinkley that from a historical standpoint, there are a few who are able to become giants. John Lewis, really became a giant through his examples that he set for all of us on whatever issue that he raised.

And again, particularly around the issue of voting every year bringing people together. We live in a nation where we are one of 170 democracies and we vote at 139 out of all of those 170 countries. We should be voting at higher levels.

John Lewis wanted to make sure that access was available to all people and that every election cycle he was encouraging people to vote. That's just the beginning. There's so many other things that he did, but that is one of the most crucial and important things, because the Voting Rights Act was passed because he and Hosea Williams and a group marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were beaten profusely.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, the Edmund Pettus Bridge is such a key part of his legacy and his life. He said he gave blood on that bridge in order to save the soul of this nation. But there's also this conversation happening about whether that bridge ought to be renamed for Congressman Lewis, what do you make of that? Do you think it should be?


KING III: I think that would be a phenomenal tribute, because of the - every year, John Lewis and Congress people and people from all over the nation, and maybe parts of the world, took that Trek, of course, for the anniversary, every year, Bloody Sunday, for many, many years. So naming that bridge would be an extraordinary tribute.

But the greatest tribute that all of us could pay is to be engaged and participate in this upcoming election and elections from now on. That would be what John Lewis would want us to do. To be engaged, to be not just strategic, but just to be engaged, that's what it's about participating in this democracy.

PHILLIP: Yes. And he was engaged all the way up until the very end. Martin Luther King III, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

KING III: Thank you for the opportunity.

BLACKWELL: And thank you for being with us this morning. SMERCONISH is next. We'll see you in an hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)