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Storm Passes, Ships Return; Who is Shirley Sherrod?
Aired July 24, 2010 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, I'm Don Lemon. Our special who is Shirley Sherrod begins in just a moment.
But first we're working on a number of developing stories for you tonight. The search is on tonight for two American soldiers and reportedly kidnap in Afghanistan. NATO says they left their compound in Kabul yesterday and never came back. And an Afghan intelligence source says militants abducted both of them. Also in Afghanistan today, five other U.S. soldiers were killed in bombings in the southern part of that country.
To the Midwest now where a massive rainfall in Iowa has caused a dam to fail. Rushing waters burst through the Lake Delhi dam just a few hours ago. Nearby residents evacuated and so far there are no reports of injuries. The area is mainly rural and much of the affected area is farmland.
Iowa Governor Chet Culver has issued disaster declarations for two counties. He tells CNN that ten inches of rain fell across the area in about 12 hours.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHET CULVER, IOWA: It is, you know, a very sad situation. You're talking about a catastrophic break in the dam. So that has never happened before, and, you know, once again here in the Midwest and in Iowa, we're dealing with, you know, record flood levels in certain parts of our state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And in Chicago, people have been using boats in the streets following a wave of torrential rainfalls. Parts of the city and suburbs got hit with more than seven inches of rain, flooding streets and interstates, knocking out power to thousands and canceling airline flights. Rescue teams in several suburban towns used boats and even a helicopter to search for people stranded by the rising water.
In the Gulf of Mexico, the storm danger has passed and ships are now back at the site of the BP oil well.
CNN's David Mattingly has the very latest from St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.
David, good evening to you. When will those boats all be back on site, back to work?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are all back on their way right now. In fact, the drilling platform that handles the relief well that needs to be drilled is already on scene. They hope to have that in operation just as soon as possible. But it's not just the ships and the vessels out there in the gulf that they have to put back in place. These barges behind me are part in a lake here in Slidell, Louisiana. There are dozens of them back there. They all have to be moved back into place tomorrow. These were actually part of the defenses for the coastal areas here to keep the oil from getting into Lake Pontchartrain.
So there's a lot of moving parts that have to move back to where they were as they were fighting this oil. But right now all eyes are on that drilling platform.
How soon can they get that back up? They're hoping within a matter of days to be back on track. But so far this storm that actually didn't happen as it fell apart on its way here has actually cost this operation probably, Don, about a week.
LEMON: OK. So that's the time frame. For about a week. Everyone, I ask you every time because we're hoping that there's better news about the relief wells because that's what's really going to stop it, David. What's the news on that?
MATTINGLY: Well, there are two things we need to watch for. Sometime later next week, we're going the see them attempt these static kill. That's when they're going the pump mud, fill that well up full of this heavy liquid and essentially drown that well and render it helpless. That's going to be a big day when they do that. The threat of that well leaking will be over at that time.
And then a time after that, we're looking at seven to ten days when they will be able to finish that relief well and finally just kill this well completely.
So, again, this set us back about a week. If that storm hadn't come through, we would be seeing the end of that well right now.
LEMON: CNN's David Mattingly. David, thank you very much.
And coming up here on CNN, our special report, "Who is Shirley Sherrod." It begins in just a moment. Then a conversation with our guest on race in America.
LEMON: Welcome back, everyone. Shirley Sherrod right now is mulling over a new job offer from the Obama administration. It is a consolation of sorts for the shabby treatment she got this week after a right wing blogger unfairly portrayed her as a racist against whites. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. All the same, she was forced out of her job with the agriculture department, then as the facts came out, an embarrassed White House had to issue an apology to Sherrod. And for the next half hour, you're going to meet a humble and remarkable woman who did everything right but still fell victim to a vicious smear.
I spent the day with her to find out who is Shirley Sherrod. And afterwards, our panel discussion on what her experience reveals about race in America.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Shirley Sherrod was accused of racism.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You reached out to her and say, what is it that you talk about? When did this happen?
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Did you discriminate?
BILL O'REILLY, FOX HOST: Shirley Sherrod caught on tape saying something very disturbing.
SHIRLEY SHERROD, FMR. USDA WORKER: I told them get the whole tape and look at the whole tape.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We begin tonight with the smearing of Shirley Sherrod.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is showing racism at an NAACP event.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: He didn't care who he destroyed.
O'REILLY: Ms. Sherrod must resign immediately.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: No one wanted to hear the truth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what brought up the race issue in this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a good woman. She's been put through hell.
LEMON: At the center of this fury and frenzy.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Please welcome, Shirley Sherrod.
LEMON: Shirley Sherrod, an unassuming woman from rural Georgia, now a household name.
O'REILLY: Shirley Sherrod.
HARRIS: Shirley Sherrod.
LEMON: Shirley Sherrod, burning up the air waves.
HARRIS: Racial controversy.
LEMON: Thrust into a political firestorm.
HARRIS: Was there ever a discrimination claim filed against you.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: Never.
LEMON: Turning up the heat on the White House.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On behalf of the administration, I offer our apology.
LEMON: All this attention couldn't be farther from Sherrod's humble roots. Roots, though, that grounded her in the dangerous, even deadly world of racial tensions.
Newton, Georgia, the Deep South. 180 miles south of Atlanta. A typical southern farming town.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: You had to get up before daylight and get food, and try to be in the field as the sun was coming up.
LEMON: Walking down the streets near her home town, Sherrod remembers working in the cotton fields as a young child.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: You had a sack, you know, that you put on, and the sack went over this shoulder, you know, and the opening was here. So you're bending over picking cotton and putting it in the sack. And when it gets full, then you've got to take it over to a burlap sheet and pour it on there. And you did that all day long.
LEMON: Shirley Sherrod's family has lived in this area since the 1800s, all farmers, sharecroppers who over the years bought more and more of the land they worked. She grew up in a small house with her father, Hosie Miller, her mother, Grace, and her five younger sisters. Sandra, one of them, recalls how her father always wanted a boy.
SANDRA MILLER JONES, SHIRLEY SHERROD'S SISTER: He called us boys' name. Shirley was Bill. My sister next to Shirley was Gus. I was Sam, and they still called me Sam. Then my sister next to me was Blue because she has blue-green eyes and my baby sister was Biddy because she was the runner on the group. In a way, he would talk to us at the dinner table and he would always say find yourself and don't ever forget, help everybody you can.
GRACE MILLER, SHIRLEY SHERROD'S MOTHER: My husband always believe in (inaudible). At home (INAUDIBLE) everybody's time to come in and have joy.
LEMON: But the chores weren't easy.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: We had to pump water early on because we didn't have any electric well, and we had to pump water now, not just for us. The cows had to have water, the hogs had to have water. The chickens had to have water. So, you know, we were pumping water for everyone. We were so happy when we got an electric pump. We no longer had to pump water.
LEMON (on camera): So that was your upbringing.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: Yes, and church. Oh, don't forget church. Every time the church doors opened, we were there.
LEMON: Sherrod's father was a deacon. She believes it was that devotion that got their family through tough times.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: The lord will make a way somehow. My mother used to sing it around the house all the time.
When you hear her singing it, I think I know why now she would sing it because times were so hard. And she would always sing that song "The lord will make a way somehow."
LEMON (voice-over): The farming was hard. Being black, even harder. The 1960s, Jim Crow laws divided the south and the racist.
(on camera): Growing up in the segregated south for people who don't know about it, what was that like?
SHIRLEY SHERROD: We would always, always get the hand-me-downs from the white school. They would get the new buses, we would get the used buses. They would get the new books, we would get their books that had pages torn out of them.
GRACE MILLER: They couldn't even drink water. In the water fountain, we had to go to the colored side and they had to go to the bathroom where it was filthy. If they went to the restaurant to get a sandwich, you had to go to the back window and they would hand you a sandwich out of the back window.
It was rough.
LEMON (voice-over): And dangerous.
GRACE MILLER: We knew where to go, where not to go. And if you did, you knew what would happen to you. It was dangerous even on the highway riding along, because those sheriff deputies would stop people and beat up folk.
LEMON: Sherrod remembers that sheriff.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: He loved being called a gator. And he could do, I don't know -- I never heard an alligator make a sound myself, but the sound that alligator makes is the sound he would make. And it was supposed to scare you to death. During the civil rights movement in Baker County, he had a sign up at his service station saying we want white people business only. Yes. I grew up knowing we were powerless.
LEMON: Yet at an early age Shirley witnessed blacks fighting for power. It was the fall of 1961. She was just 14.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Albany, Georgia, a Negro fight against segregation is led by the Reverend Martin Luther King.
REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING: And if necessary, we must be willing to fill up the jails all over the state of Georgia.
LEMON: Civil rights leaders descended on nearby Albany, Georgia, fighting through the segregation through non-violence protest meetings and marches. It was called the Albany movement and it lasted nearly a year. More than 1,000 protesters ended up in jail. It was unsuccessful, yet it made an impression on young Shirley.
(on camera): You were 14 years old.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: We were supportive of the Albany movement. We were raising money to support the Albany movement.
LEMON: It was a tough time to live, and even tougher time to grow up.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: I didn't want to live in the south. I planned to get out of the south forever.
LEMON: You wanted to leave.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: Yes.
LEMON: But that all changed one spring day in 1965.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: They called me to the principal's office. I was such a good girl. Good student. I couldn't figure out why they were calling me to the office. But I went. And they told me first that he had been shot.
LEMON: The murder that changed Shirley Sherrod's life forever. When we come back.
LEMON (voice-over): As a young girl, Shirley Sherrod, she was Shirley Miller then, dreamed of getting out of the Deep South.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: We had these big plans for me. I was trying to look at going to schools in the north, you know. Back then they said a woman would find a husband or college, you know. I thought, OK. I'm not going to risk even going to a college in the south because I don't want no husband from the south. I want go north.
LEMON: Meanwhile her father was on the verge of fulfilling one of his dreams. With five daughters, his wife was pregnant again and he was sure this would be a boy.
GRACE MILLER: He had a room built. The room back there was blue. He said this is going to be for my boy. And he planned it. He told me. He said, when we go pick the baby up out of the hospital, I'm going to get you a brand new car and bring my baby home in a car. LEMON (on camera): But the family's dreams were about to shatter. In 1965 in this field, Shirley's father and a white neighbor reportedly butted heads, a dispute over who owned which cattle. Shirley says witnesses saw the confrontation.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: According to the others, my father told him we don't have to continue arguing. We can just go to court. And he was walking to his truck to leave. He turned around to say something and the man shot him right up here.
LEMON (voice-over): Shirley at school was called to the principal's office.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: They brought me in to tell me first because I'm the oldest, and then they sent for my four sisters. And we were all there in the office just crying. We didn't know whether he was dead or alive.
MILLER JONES: That was our hero. That was our dad. And we had a teacher that took us to the hospital and to see daddy lying out on a bed like that, it was -- it was horrible. I mean --
LEMON: As for prosecuting the suspect --
SHIRLEY SHERROD: He was never, ever prosecuted. The white grand jury in Baker County refused to indict him.
LEMON (on camera): Did it make you hate white people?
SHIRLEY SHERROD: You know, initially I wanted to hate white people. I wanted to hate -- I wanted to get back at every white person. My initial thought that night was I needed to go pick up a gun and go find him, but I knew I couldn't do that because it just wasn't me.
LEMON (voice-over): Everything had been turned upside down, and Shirley's cherish plans to head north suddenly seemed uncertain.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: It was a full moon, and I sat there praying and asking god to please give me an answer. I have to do something. I need to do something.
LEMON (on camera): When you prayed to that god and that full moon, what happened?
SHIRLEY SHERROD: It was almost like he spoke to me, in my mind. I didn't hear anyone talking. But what came to me was you can give up your dream of living in the north, you can stay in the south and devote your life to working for change. And I remember a calmness came over me because I had a game plan.
LEMON: After graduating from high school, Shirley enrolled in a local college for black students. Her younger sisters integrated the all-white high school and faced a terrifying backlash.
MILLER JONES: I was doing homework, and I heard all these cars coming down the road. We're being -- we're out in the back woods in the country, that's unusual. When I looked out the window, I saw this cross, and it was burning. So I went to wake my mother.
GRACE MILLER: And I was in the bed. And she called me. She said, mother, get up here. There's a cross burning out in the front of the yard. I said, what? She said cross.
MILLER JONES: My mother was not afraid. She had children there, young children, my brother just born. Of course, she went to get a gun.
GRACE MILLER: My second daughter, Lynn, was here. I said get on the telephone and start calling for people.
MILLER JONES: They came immediately and they put their cars in front of our house in a line and they started shooting.
GRACE MILLER: And I went to the door, and there was this loud talking out there and I started shooting.
MILLER JONES: They knew that our family was very active in the movement, so they were trying to scare us.
GRACE MILLER: But I really do believe some of them got sprinkled that night with buck shots because my brother-in-law and his son was out there letting it go through the wood.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: That's how we stuck together. That's the strength we gained from each other in a civil rights movement.
LEMON: The local civil rights organizer was a transplant from Virginia. Where he helped found the student non-violent coordinating committee. A young firebrand name Charles Sherrod.
CHARLES SHERROD, SHIRLEY SHERROD'S HUSBAND: We had no idea of the monster that we were undertaking to fight.
LEMON (on camera): Across the south. White officials were using every trick in the book to keep civil rights activists in check, to keep black voters from turning out. That helped set the stage for a violent confrontation as demonstrators began to gather here at the courthouse in downtown Newton on the day that became known as Bloody Saturday.
CHARLES SHERROD: I saw some whites coming out of the hardware store with axe handles, and they approached us and started beating us with the axe handles. They beat us down to the ground.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: And my aunt Josie, she's a little petite woman. She fell on. You know, she put her body over his and was hollering at them to stop beating Charles Sherrod because they were going to kill him.
LEMON (voice-over): But that didn't stop Sherrod from driving back roads to meet every black family in the area. CHARLES SHERROD: I was canvassing in Baker County, knocking on the door and three or four pretty girls came to the door. They started talking about this girl, their sister, that was prettier than either one of them. I want to see this girl. So they said they got a picture. I said I want to see this picture of your sister. And I pointed at it, and I said, I'm going to marry that girl.
LEMON: He did marry Shirley. It was a love story in a land of hate. Phone threats became part of the household routine.
CHARLES SHERROD: We're going to blow up your head up, you better be at your house. We're going to burn you down. We're going to do this. We're going to do the other. It was just the regular nigga, nigga, nigga.
GRACE MILLER: I would just tell them to be careful because I knew they were determined. And I just tell them to be careful. My heart would just bleed while them going home because I didn't know whether they would make it there or not.
MILLER JONES: She kept telling Shirley, you got to stop. But she kept pushing. She said, mother, it's going to be all right.
LEMON: Just ahead, organizing black farmers to take on the white establishment.
LEMON (voice-over): Here on her family farm in Baker County, Georgia, Shirley Sherrod's experiences as a young girl would shape her professional life. With black owned farms heading toward extinction, Sherrod wanted to help.
GRACE MILLER: That's when she made up her mind that she was going to stay here and try to help make a difference in this community. She's always been determined. A strong person.
LEMON: In 1967, Shirley and Charles set out to change the land literally, 6,000 acres to be exact. They helped create a land trust for black farmers with a long-range plan to build wealth. It was called "New Communities." One acre at a time it grew into one of the largest tracts of black-owned land in the country.
SHERROD: So the whole idea of "New Communities," was this plan, was to go about the country, buying land, holding it in trust, and turning it over to local community development corporations.
LEMON: It embodied everything she hope to achieve when she decided to stay in the south, an achievement that would have made her father proud. But the Sherrods' white neighbors viciously opposed it, often resorting to violence, shooting at their home. KENYATTA SHERROD, SON: I remember the bullet hole over my bunk bed. You know, it was, I guess, a third of my life I had the bullet hole right by where I slept
RUSSIA SHERROD, DAUGHTER: I was actually asleep and I was awakened by him karate chopping my door in and telling me to get down. And you can't imagine what that does to a young child.
LEMON (on camera): In the beginning the farm was successful, but the drought-stricken '70s forced Sherrod's organization to seek an emergency government loan. The money came, but not for three years. By then it was much too late. According to the Sherrod's, white agents were in no hurry to write checks to black farmers. The property was foreclosed on.
CHARLES SHERROD, HUSBAND: The first three years we made attempts to get loans from FHA. This is a government program, which promoted itself as the last help which could get from anywhere. But in our case, when I walked into the office, they told me the only way you get a loan is over my dead body.
LEMON: After losing the farm, life for the Sherrod family became very different. Money was tight, bills mounted.
KENYATTA SHERROD, SON: I'd walk in a couple times late at night, getting up and see my mother crying over bills.
LEMON: In 1984, Shirley Sherrod took a job at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, headquartered in East Point, Georgia. Her boss was Jerry Pennick.
JERRY PENNICK, SHIRLEY's FORMER BOSS: She was able to save a lot of farmers of all races. Hundreds of farmers in Georgia that were impacted by Shirley. Nationwide, they got probably thousands.
LEMON: One of the white farmers she helped, Roger Spooner. But she was hesitant to help out at first, and that initial hesitation would later ignite a media frenzy.
In 1999, Shirley Sherrod and other activists sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination. Ten years later, Pigford versus Glickman would become part of the largest civil rights settlement in history.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: Finally on July 8 of last year our lawyer called me and says Shirley have you heard. It's like 10:30 at night. She said we won. And I'm like, really? She said do you want to guess how much? I said, is it at least a million dollars, Rose? She said almost $13 million. He was awarding $150,000 each to me and my husband from mental anguish.
LEMON: Just weeks after the settlement, Sherrod was offered a job at the very department she had just successfully sued. In August of 2009, Shirley Sherrod became the Georgia director of rural development for the Department of Agriculture. Speculation has surfaced raising questions about whether she got the job as part of the settlement.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: One didn't have anything to do with the other.
LEMON (on camera): Are you surprised this people are bringing this up? I don't know. How do you feel about people bringing it up?
SHIRLEY SHERROD: You know -- you know, it's just another way that they try to twist the facts to make it look and seem like something else.
LEMON (voice-over): During her long career fighting for civil rights, there was one life-changing moment, a story about her personal struggle over race. The story of that white farmer who came to her for help decades earlier.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So I didn't give him the full force of what I could do.
LEMON: When this short edited version of the speech was posted by a right-wing blogger, Shirley Sherrod was labeled a racist and asked to resign. But there was much more to the story.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: That's when it was revealed to me that it's about the poor versus those who have and not so much about. It is about white and black, but it's not, you know, it opened my eyes.
LEMON: The next day, Sherrod appeared on CNN. She said her words had been twisted and taken out of context.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: What was the point?
SHIRLEY SHERROD: The point was to get them to understand we need to look beyond race.
LEMON: Stepping in to back up her story, 87-year-old Roger Spooner and his wife, Eloise.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: I have someone who wants to speak to this whole controversy. Her name is Eloise Spooner.
Eloise, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. What do you think of this whole controversy? First of all, what do you think of Shirley?
ELOISE SPOONER: She's a good friend. They have not treated her right. She's one I give credit to helping us save our farm.
SHIRLEY SHERROD: The woman whose father was allegedly killed by a white farmer would have her reputation rescued by a white farmer. Sherrod hadn't seen or spoken to the Spooners in more than 20 years. But three days after grabbing headlines across the nation -- that would change.
JERRY SPOONER: I want the first hug. This means a lot to us. This means a lot to us.
ELOISE SPOONER: It means so much to me.
RUSSIA SHERROD: It means a lot to me, too. Thank you. Thank you.
LEMON: A long awaited reunion, a picture of racial unity.
LEMON: And we are digging deeper into this controversy. You'll hear from our panel of experts about how this story spun out of control. That's next.
LEMON: It's time to talk about "What Matters." And we have devoted a lot of time tonight to Shirley Sherrod. As you know, she was forced out of her government job this week after being falsely accused of racism toward whites. Well, for the past half hour, we have been revealing who she is. The facts of her life underscore just how outrageous this smear truly was.
So with me now is Cheryl Contee of Jack and Jill politics. And Marc Lamont Hill, professor of English, education, and anthropology at Columbia University.
Thank you both for joining me tonight.
Are you guys doing OK?
MARK LAMONT HILL, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Pleasure. Yes.
CHERYL CONTEE, JACK AND JILL POLITICS: Yes, thank you for having me.
LEMON: So listen, so, Mark, the conundrum for the first black president is that he can't really delve into the issue of race.
HILL: Well, that's exactly right. But part of the reason is because President Obama didn't run as the first black president or first serious black candidate as some would say. Instead he ran as someone who just happened to be black. He would be as some would say incidentally black. And as a result race, you know, race and neutrality, race transcendence was a narrative around him. So whenever he talks about race, he becomes racialized, he becomes the black candidate, and that's the last thing he wants in the public imagination. We wants to stay as far away from race as possible.
And as a consequence, you don't get serious into the racial conversations that we could have. And the other problem is he promised us he had special insight into the dynamic of race in America because he was a black candidate and because he was half black, half white. We've seen none of that over the last two years.
(CROSSTALK) LEMON: But here's the thing. I get that as someone who happens to be African-American, and I use that, but usually it's on people who are involved at least when it comes to racial issues you can say that. But that doesn't, you know, he is black to many people. He's not just a person who happens to be black. Do you understand the distinction?
HILL: Absolutely. And there's no doubt about that. And over the last two years if President Obama has learned nothing else, he's learned that he's also black to a big sector of the American voting public, particularly to tea party movement and others.
HILL: But the problem here is that he wants to stay away from race talk. Whenever he talks about race, he reminds the American public about race in a particular way that's makes them uncomfortable because we're so immature about race.
LEMON: Cheryl, Mark has a point. Is he uniquely qualified to deal with this, but is not doing it. Or in some way, he cannot do it.
CONTEE: I think he believes that he cannot do it, and yet being half-white and having been raised by white people, he is in a unique spot, and he can provide a perspective that would be important, I think, to a lot of people. He has done that in the past, whether it was during the Reverend Wright controversy, during skip gates, you know. When he actually does take the time to reflect, the American people enjoy a mature and grown up conversation from him.
LEMON: OK. I posed a very similar question to Shirley Sherrod when I interviewed her yesterday and the day before. I want you guys to take a listen, and we'll talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIRLEY SHERROD: You know, you heard your mama say this ship shall pass. You know, we need to get into it. You know, it's not going to last forever but it might get us to the place where we need to be. So, yes, he might get some negative press early on, but we get through that, and then get to really trying to deal with the issues. He's got to be willing do that. Is he not doing that simply because he wants a second term, you know? I don't look at it that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: She is saying, Mark, that the truth is the truth, and it doesn't matter if you take flack for it or not. That's her point of view. And that's the point of view of many who fought the civil rights movement.
HILL: Look, that's exactly right. Now some could argue that operating outside the White House, we have the luxury of speaking hard truths, the people in power, even when it's uncomfortable because there's nothing at stake. We don't have a constituency. We don't have a voting base. We don't have poll number. I totally agree that the president has some kind of political calculus that he has to take seriously before he says things in public.
But there are moments when you have to take a tough stance, and I don't think that he's consistently done that. Before he was president, Sean Bell was shot in the streets and instead of speaking to power he said we should respect the jury's verdict. When we saw the Jeremiah Wright controversy, he gave what I call the Philadelphia compromise where instead of really talking about the danger of white supremacy, he made it seem as a black angst about race and white angst about race, we're all the same. We're all in this big community of frustration, where there has equal merit. And that's simply not true.
Now there are moments where -- with the skip gates controversy, I would say he handled it properly, though.
LEMON: I want to move on because I want to talk about the conservative blogger. I want to talk about the NAACP. The administration many feel threw Ms. Sherrod under the bus, and the same thing with the NAACP and the same thing with some African-American commentators who all commented in the beginning before they heard the entire clip, Cheryl.
So there are many people who are not so sure how they even feel about these organizations right now.
CONTEE: Absolutely. The challenge for the NAACP at this point is reaching the new hip-hop generation represented by black bloggers online. When they criticized -- I mean the NAACP. When they criticized the tea party and asked them to cleanse their ranks of racism, they were following the lead of black bloggers who have been calling for this for over a year. They initially were -- received a strong response from black bloggers. Now the hip-hop generation is soured somewhat.
The apology helped. At the same time then, you have Shirley Sherrod who represents the current membership of the NAACP. She's 62. She's in that age. Women like Shirley Sherrod are the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. They are the bridge between the old Jim Crow world and a world they help to create. And so the challenge for the NAACP is how do they keep Shirley Sherrod basically engaged in their struggle.
LEMON: So, Mark, I'm going to give you the last word. So where do we go from here. When we ran earlier a section -- a portion of this, someone said to me, maybe this will open up and we'll start talking more about it, and it will change things. And I said we said that after the election of the first black president and nothing happened. Now we have this moment. We talk about it for a little while and nothing happened. Is that what's going to happen every time, you believe?
HILL: Until we make a substantive change, until we stop allowing right-wing media outlets to determine what our agenda is, until black leadership or black organizations like the NAACP aren't completely reactionary, you know, based on the politics of the right. This is going to happen. And until you have an Obama administration that isn't, quite frankly, just scared of white people, you're going to continue to see this thing happen.
LEMON: Yes. And, you know, you said the last thing, that the Obama administration is scared of white people. I've heard that a lot. I've heard it on radio. I've heard people say it. I've written about it. And so many times perception is reality, Mark. So we'll see what happens with that. Thank you both.
Thank you Cheryl, thank you, Mark. Have a great weekend.
HILL: My pleasure.
CONTEE: Thank you.
LEMON: Amazing and terrifying video from Canada. A pilot eject from his jet seconds before it crashes and explodes into a ball of flames. This incredible story straight ahead.
LEMON: We want to check your top stories right now. The search is on tonight for two American soldiers reportedly kidnapped in Afghanistan. NATO said they left their compound in Kabul yesterday and never came back. An Afghan intelligence source says militants abducted them in Logar Province.
Also in Afghanistan today, five other U.S. soldiers were killed in bombings in the southern part of the country. The U.S. and South Korea have kicked off their joint military drills despite a North Korean threat of nuclear retaliation. But so far there's no report of any troop movements in the north. South Korea accuses North Korea of sinking one of its warships in March killing 46 sailors on board. U.S. defense officials say these drills are a response to that incident.
Police in Germany are now saying at least 18 people died today during a stampede in a tunnel at a techno music festival in Duisburg. Our affiliate NTV reports that it's possible hundreds of others were hurt during Love Parade 2010. Police say they were trying to block others from entering the event when the panic started. Some 800,000 were expected, and about 1.4 million showed up. That's according to NTV again.
A Canadian fighter pilot is recovering after he narrowly escaped a fiery jet crash. The pilot was practicing stunts before the Alberta International air show when his CF-18 hornet suddenly went down. If you look to the left of the flames, you can see the pilot eject and parachute to the ground.
Just ahead here tonight on CNN, we'll take a look at how our CNN hero of the week is saving babies by providing big sisters for pregnant young women.
LEMON: African-American babies are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday as Caucasian babies. This week's CNN Heroes find volunteers to work with pregnant African-American to ensure they get proper prenatal care.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHRYN HALL-TRUJILLO, CNN HERO: African-American babies die two to four times the rate of other babies. As a public health administrator, I use the word infant mortality every day, but until I held a dead baby in my arms, I never realized that that meant counting dead babies.
My name is Kathryn Hall-Trujillo, and I remind women they're really sisters and can help each other have healthier babies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we're saying is you don't have to have this by yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The birthing project takes regular women in the community like me to work closely with the little sisters throughout their pregnancy and after they have the baby.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted a big sister that has accomplished a lot in life already to teach me things I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My job is to just really help you, whether it's figuring out how to pay your rent, do you have food in your house, making sure she is making the prenatal appointments. It's all because I'm trying to make sure that you're not stressed in order for you to have a healthy baby.
HALL-TRUJILLO: Healthy babies are born into healthy communities.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty special, huh? We're going our own.
HALL-TRUJILLO: We've been doing this long enough now that you can hear a child say I was born into the birthing project. That means more to me than anything that I may have given up because in return, I have received a whole community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: There are only a few days left to nominate someone to be a CNN hero of the year. Make a nomination at CNNHeroes.com. You have until August 1st.
He's the man who will oversee the distribution of BP's $20 billion claims fund. That means Kenneth Feinberg is one of the most sought out people on the gulf coast.
LEMON: The people who live along the gulf coast are a resilient bunch. Through the years they've seen hard times and hurricanes come and go, but many say they've never dealt with anything quite like the BP oil disaster. So when the government's point man for making things right comes to town, they will let him know. They want answers, and they only want the help they deserve.
WALT KRAVER, SEAFOOD BUSINESS OWNER: I've been in business since 1967. We process shrimp. We have shrimp boats. We've had Camille in '69. We've had Frederick in '79, Elena in 1985. When a hurricane comes in, we can count our loses. We've dealt it before. It's hard, miserable, but this, we just don't know what to do.
KENNETH FEINBERG, OIL CLAIMS ADMINISTRATOR: I'm here primarily to listen to what you want to tell me about this oil spill.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought BP would pay for lost income and profits for anybody affected by this oil spill. We've been affected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ain't worked since April.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unless we get some type of help, we could close the doors permanently.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think we should be on the back burner.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've already closed one business, OK?
FEINBERG: There are some very tough questions here, I must say, even for me they're tough.
DAN FOX, BUSINESS OWNER: The claim center in Mobile is just down the street from the store so I stop there very frequently, but nobody knows anything.
DEBRUCE NELSON, BUSINESS OWNER: When you get a man from Detroit in that claim office and all he know about is building Chryslers, we're the dumbest people that ever sat before their desks.
FEINBERG: I completely agree. A person from Detroit working down the street, disconnect. It's not going to work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unless you're here on a daily basis, all the things you say that you're going to do fall upon deaf ears with these claims offices.
FEINBERG: I'm one person. I'm determined to make this program work. We don't have a lot of time. People are suffering.
LEMON: I'm Don Lemon at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. I'll see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00, 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Good night.