The Blackest Questions

Fighting for truth & sharing the real story of Rosa Parks with Soledad O’Brien

Episode 12
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Seasoned journalist Soledad O’Brien joins The Blackest Questions and explains why she refuses to let lies go unchecked in mainstream media. She also shares her newest passion project and documentary, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.”

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Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:05] Hi, and welcome to The Black as Questions. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer, politics editor at theGrio and Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we ask our guest find the Blackest questions. So we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history, past and present. So here’s how this works. You’ve got five rounds of questions about us,  Black history, the entire diaspora, current events, you name it. And with each round, the questions get a little tougher, and the guest has 10 seconds to get it right. If they answer the question correctly, they’ll receive one symbolic Black fist and hear this. And if they get it wrong, they’ll hear this. But we still love them anyway. And after the five questions, there’ll be a Black bonus round at the end, just for fun. I like to call it Black Lightening. Our guest for this episode is Soledad O’Brien. Soledad is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who’s anchored news programs on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, PBS and has hosted several projects with outlets like Fox, A&E, Al-Jazeera and HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. She’s also an author, executive producer, documentarian and the owner of her own media company, Soledad O’Brien Production, which is releasing a highly anticipated documentary about civil rights giant Rosa Parks. We’ll hear a lot more about that project during this conversation. Soledad is also known for sharing her informed opinions with her more than 1 million Twitter followers and an op-eds with The New York Times and Huffington Post. Hello, Soledad. Thank you so much for joining the Blackest Questions.

Soledad O’Brien [00:01:39] My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:41] You have no idea how excited I am. You know, I look to you every morning when I check my Twitter. You know, I read The New York Times. I play my Wordle you know, I do my quick little times crossword puzzle. And then I log on Twitter just to make sure the world isn’t on fire. But I love the way you have been holding journalists accountable for either headlines or just misleading conversations or just straight up lazy journalism. And I love when you’re like, hey, journalism students. You know, as an educator, I so appreciate that. You’re like, Hey, students, here’s what we’re not going to do today, and you just walk us through it as though we’re in, you know, a journalism course with you, this award winning journalist. And I so appreciate you using Twitter as a way in and like sometimes it is a little sister girl. Like, listen, I’m not here for it, but I really, really appreciate you holding the discourse to such a level that is so needed right now.

Soledad O’Brien [00:02:38] I so appreciate that. Every so often, I’ll get a note from someone who says, I’m not a journalism student, but I appreciate understanding how it works again for everyone. But you know, there’s so much as, you know, like inside baseball when it comes to how the sausage is made that I think it’s helpful to for people to understand why things happen, how gatekeepers really allow certain things to go through, why certain points of view kind of are elevated and others sort of disappear. I mean, there’s a real process. It’s not always intentional. Sometimes it’s unintentional, but there’s a real process. And so thinking about what why the media does what the media does is always pretty interesting to me. And then being able to share it, I think, is a kind of a good use of Twitter.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:20] Absolutely. Now, are you feeling. Let me not ask a leading question as I pay attention to Soledad on Twitter. But how are you feeling about the state of journalists in journalism right now?

Soledad O’Brien [00:03:32] Not great. Not great, because I see us make the same mistakes over and over and over again. Right. I think asking candidates, you know, consistently, you know, so you don’t think President Biden is duly elected. Right. But while you’re actually literally giving them a platform and then they go on to the next platform where the reporter asked the same questions, it seems kind of silly to me like a booker could ask that question. Booker could say, before we book you, here’s what we need to know. You know, and so I think that’s a problem. I think platforming people who lie is problematic. I think using unnamed sources, anonymous sources, at a time when it would be important to reveal those sources, sometimes it seems like people get anonymity just for any reason at all, which is not the way it used to be. And also, sometimes it’s like you actually don’t deserve anonymity just so you can bash someone. It seems unfair to the person whom you’re bashing. So there are lots of things that I see repeated over and over and over again, which makes me feel a little bit a little hopeless about the situation at times. But maybe slowly we’re going to learn and maybe we only learn, you know, over time. It’s one of the reasons I try to name people and call them out specifically, because sometimes I think specific people need to understand specifically what they specifically are doing as opposed to, you know, generally speaking, you should do better at this. It’s like, no, you failed in this moment, right? And here it is. You know, let’s talk about that specific thing.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:54] My frustration has been the lack of follow up questions. It seems as though someone says something. Wild. I mean, either it’s a flat out lie or it’s just egregious, histrionic, you name it. And then it seems as though the journalist is like, okay, well, next question. I’m like. I’m sitting at home. I want you to follow up with a question, making them just about where did you get this? You know, I see a lot of Republicans love a statistic, but they’re like empty statistics. You know, it’s like 30% of, you know, Black people kill one another. And I’m like, where? Where is this from? Why are you saying it?

Soledad O’Brien [00:05:28] Example today would be, a good example would be Herschel Walker, right, saying it’s a real badge. When any human being would say it’s not a real badge, it’s physically a tangible physical item. But that is not equivalent to someone who’s been to a police academy. So when you say real, you’re trying to imply that you’re really a cop. You are not. That is a lie.

Herschel Walker [00:05:50] I am with many police officers and at the same time,.

Moderator [00:05:56] Mr. Walker, you have a prop that is not allowed, sir. I ask you to put that prop away.

Herschel Walker [00:06:00] Well it’s not a prop. This is real. And he said, I have a prop and I never went to law enforcement.

Moderator [00:06:06] Mr. Walker

Soledad O’Brien [00:06:06] Like that is how I would have asked that question. I would have just said, when you tell people or you imply that you’re a cop, it’s a lie. Instead, you know, people let him say, well, it’s real. It’s a real badge. I mean, I have one of those too. Anybody who’s.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:18] I can go to Party City and get a real badge.

Soledad O’Brien [00:06:21] I got mine for covering Hurricane Katrina. You know, I’m not allowed to arrest anybody. I certainly, you know, wouldn’t take it out in a traffic stop and hope that I get some leniency. It’s ridiculous. But a lot of again, that’s a conversation that’s elevated as if it’s serious and it goes down a path as if it’s serious. When the person could say, if that were your child, you’d say, let’s stop because that is a lie. And what we’re not going to do on my show is let you lie. We’re not lying on my show.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:47] Soledad, are you ready to play the Blackest questions?

Soledad O’Brien [00:06:50] I am ready. I’m very excited, but I’m bad at questions, you know? Do you ever see me on Jeopardy? I was on Jeopardy once.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:56] Oh, really? Oh, okay. You got we’ve got to leave. They’re like, oh, really?

Soledad O’Brien [00:07:01] Yeah, it was it was sad. But you know where I was very strong. Jennifer Aniston. I was that category.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:07] Okay?

Soledad O’Brien [00:07:08] I was quite good at Jennifer and everything else. Not good. I think I just get in the moment. I get a little panicky.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:14] Same here. And, you know, my my real sibling Panama had me on his Dear Culture podcast and I did not do well. We did like a Jetsons Filntstone reversal. And, you know, I understand now I have a lot more empathy for my guests on the show.

Soledad O’Brien [00:07:32] Good to know you’re empathetic.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:34] I am. So question number one of the Blackest Questions. This Harvard University graduate is known as the father of Black history because he started Negro History Week. The later evolved into Black History Month. Who was he?

Soledad O’Brien [00:07:49] I have no idea.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:51] It’s Carter G. Woodson. Oh, so in 1926, Woodson pioneered Negro History Week, and he selected the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson said his goal was not to emphasize Negro history, but the Negro in history. Kent State University expanded the idea and to a full month later, in 1970 and since 1976, every U.S. president has designated February as Black History Month. Carter G. Woodson was the son of former enslaved people and was born in Virginia. He was a historian, author, journalist and professor. He was only the second Black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1912. And he’s one of the first scholars to study the history of the African diaspora.

Soledad O’Brien [00:08:33] Well. Well, and you said Kent State was the university that expanded it.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:37] That that expanded the idea until full month. Wow. In 1970. And so I know that you’re a Harvard grad.

Soledad O’Brien [00:08:45] I know Harvard grad. Black History Month exploded.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:49] You know, as I.

Soledad O’Brien [00:08:49] Said, I feel like I said going in. Not my strength, but that’s great to know.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:54] Well, and as I remind all of our listeners every week, the point of this podcast is for us, A. get to know our guests, but B. Black History is American history. And so if you didn’t know, I’m sure there are lots of people who are listening to this podcast who didn’t. But we should all know who Carter G. Woodson is. Not just Black folks, but everyone who lives in this country who appreciates the hard work that people have put in to this nation, should know who Carter G. Woodson was.

Soledad O’Brien [00:09:17] And C and C be able to mock your guests for not knowing something that they should know. Carry on, I’m ready. What’s next?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:24] I was only making notes on how do I incorporate Jennifer Aniston.

Soledad O’Brien [00:09:28] And so my strength, it’s my strength.

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Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:48] So in the spirit of Carnage, you would then end creating this this Black History Month, where we learn a lot more about our history. And lots of people want to, you know, write articles about him and not just. Historians, but journalists also. What do you think makes the best type of journalists? Like, is it? You know, I’ve heard different debates. Is it a historian that really makes a great journalist? Is it a political scientist? What kind of foundation do you think we need academically to really, you know, do the hard hitting journalism that you you know, you talk about on Twitter and that we just we talked about a few minutes ago.

Soledad O’Brien [00:10:24] I would say a curious person who is willing to understand, like, this is where I need a historian or this is where I need a political scientist or this is where I need a data scientist or, you know, here’s where I need a psychologist. You know, because to me, really good journalism is about trying to understand people and then really serve your audience. Right. With the goal to say, I want to explain this thing to an audience. One of the things I have found really sorely lacking is, well, maybe two things. One, politics as a game. Like there’s no there’s no people attached to the polls. So the reporters get a very sassy tone. It’s about zingers, who’s about who’s winning? It’s not about, you know, here’s what these people represent. Let’s help you make good decisions as you think about going to the polls one day soon. So that’s part of it. And then I also think they don’t think about serving the audience like who’s your audience and how do you help them understand something complicated? So often history is left out.

Soledad O’Brien [00:11:19] A good example are all the stories about anti-Semitic rhetoric. Right? They’re not just in a vacuum. They they’re part of a history, a really horrific history. So, you know, when someone says something anti-Semitic, it’s not just, well, that person’s a jerk or that person’s wrong or their you mean it’s like, wow, they’re trying to create a narrative that we know is a very scary narrative when combined with other things, because there’s a history that connects to that. And also there’s a present that’s around violence and and hostility, right? So things can’t just live in a vacuum. So I always like reporters who are interested in data so that they’re not just telling stories of the one, but stories that are backed up with some kind of data and then also have a place in history and are willing to explain and understand, help their audience understand what they’re what they’re hearing.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:08] Yeah, I mean, when I talk to my students, I really push them to go beyond this idea of red team and blue team. It seems as though, you know, oftentimes when they watch the news, it’s like reds versus blues. And sometimes we’d get purple like, no, no, these are real people actually behind that data as well. And so it’s not just about moving around fun states to sort of tally up things. It’s it’s policy positions that some people are really invested in. Some people are really invested in anti-Semitic and anti-Black and anti-immigrant policies and anti-woman policies.

Soledad O’Brien [00:12:37] And why and why are they what’s the win? What’s at stake? What are they doing it for historically? What has been the value of that? I mean, that to me is exactly right. It’s not just here’s what happened. It’s the context that helps people understand it, I think.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:52] Absolutely. Okay. We’re going to take a brief break and then come back and play a little bit more of the Blackest Questions with Soledad O’Brien.

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Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:31] And we are back. Soledad thanks so much for joining me on the Blackest Questions.

Soledad O’Brien [00:13:36] You are most welcome. I’m ready.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:38] You’re ready. I love it. Coming in hot. Okay. Question number two. In 1868, this university was the first in the country to open a medical school that welcomed medical students of all races, genders and social classes. What university was it? And here’s a hint. It’s an HBCU.

Soledad O’Brien [00:13:57] I knew that. I’m going to go with Xavier?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:05] That’s a solid guess. But it’s Howard University.

Soledad O’Brien [00:14:08] Oh, interesting. You know Xavier I think has the most graduates who end up having medical degrees. So I thought that might be connected.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:16] They absolutely do. I mean, Xavier is producing more and more Black doctors every year, but it was Howard University that started clinical instruction was offered for free and a full course of classes for one year cost $135. And on the first day of classes, the school had eight students, seven Black students and one white student. They had five faculty members and only one of them was Black. And that man was Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta, who’s believed to be the first Black man to serve on a medical school faculty in the U.S.. And Dr. Augusta was born a free man in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1825 and received his early education in Baltimore, which is, you know, our listeners know Baltimore is my absolute city. And so when you were first enrolled at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, you majored in pre-med. And what initially drew you to medicine and how did you pivot to journalism from medicine?

Soledad O’Brien [00:15:09] The truthful answer would be, as a child of immigrants, I think it was like stamp of approval. Right. It’s a good it’s a good job. It’s a serious, thoughtful job. You know, I think my parents were always into like, what’s a good job to have a nice, secure, good job. And also, I had no I didn’t know anybody in media, so I didn’t know anything about it. I grew up in Long Island where, you know, the people in the community who are doing well were doctors. Doctors and lawyers were well-respected people. I took organic chemistry with my sister and know partly it just wasn’t my thing, but also I just wasn’t passionate about it. I mean, I can memorize a lot or now that I’ve had four kids, I can’t remember anything. But before I had kids, I used to be able to to memorize a lot and I could kind of regurgitate, you know, formulas. But then what would happen was you realized, like, what are you passionate about it? My sister was the one. She’s a surgeon. And she said, You know, I just feel like you’re memorizing stuff and you don’t you know, you should be able to deduce it. You should understand what that formula is. And it was really her comment that made me rethink the whole thing. We were taking organic chemistry together and she would just say, like, why do you you should know the formula of a line is Y equals M, X plus B, because you have an X axis, a y axis of these a variable and spell like you should understand how it all works versus I have memorized a bunch of stuff for this test and I can learn to regurgitate it.

Soledad O’Brien [00:16:33] And it was really interesting. I was like, Yeah, you’re right. I’m not I mean, she was really is really a scientist. Yeah. And so when I left school, I started working, I got a job at a TV station and I loved it, but I was like fetching coffee and removing staples from walls and opening mail and answering, you know? But but it was I enjoyed it because I liked being around the news. I enjoyed sort of all the things that we were doing. And I was I was pretty good at like, I can answer a phone and open the mail and then get you lunch with fries at the same time. But I also liked that at the end of the day, your story was done. And I like the idea of informing an audience and, and being able to be a bit of a gatekeeper of like, okay, well, here’s what I think the spin on this is. Here’s how I would tell this story. So I really enjoyed that. So I kind of start moving up the ladder and left medical school behind. But I had been a candy striper. I’d worked a farm, right, doing my little resume building from the root to medicine. Exactly. Soledad O’Brien, the road to medicine. And, you know, and then you realize, like, it’s not about the road to medicine. You should be passionate about helping people and wanting to be a good scientist. And that wasn’t me. So I much more preferred to be a reporter. Went back to school eventually and finished my degree.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:47] Well. Well, I mean, I think journalism in a lot of ways, you know, help communities in different ways, you know, not the same way surgeons do as well. Now, here’s something going way back in the crates. Do you remember your first story that you ever reported on? Gosh, you decided to, like, make that commitment. Like, I’m going to be a journalist. Do you remember.

Soledad O’Brien [00:18:08] As a reporter or as a because I worked as a long time as a producer, but my first reporting story. Wow, that’s a great question. I don’t remember. I was working in San Francisco for KRON TV. I remember my third story because I was someone grabbed my butt and that story was my first love shot. Not because.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:18:25] You were constantly grabbing you or someone was constanly grabbing you?

Soledad O’Brien [00:18:28] Behind me. I was doing a live shot my third day and they promised that I wouldn’t have to do a live shot for a couple of weeks because I was brand new. I’d never been on camera. I’d been a producer at NBC News. And so so as I was doing a story on this, the San Francisco Giants making it into the playoffs, I’d set up my lights like TV lights. And I didn’t know I didn’t know the rules. Right. You should never, ever, ever let people behind you where you can’t keep an eye on them, you know. And so which, of course, I didn’t realize. So I’m doing my live shot. Soledad O’Brien standing by live. And all of a sudden, a guy behind me reached down. Pinch me on the behind. It was really awful. So it was bad. So I remember that one. That was my third day. So that was my third day. But I don’t remember the first one. Do you remember the first one? No.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:12] No. But we’re going to have to go through the crates and get go there.

Soledad O’Brien [00:19:16] It was not good because my third one was quite terrible. I love reporting. I love San Francisco. San Francisco’s a great market for interesting stories. I really love San Francisco for storytelling, but I do.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:30] But sadly, I think a lot of female journalists have a version of that story at some point in their careers. Yeah, you sort of power through, but at the same time it’s just no one should have to be in a workplace with.

Soledad O’Brien [00:19:43] And you learn the rules, right? I mean, I’d never I had never it it never occurred to me that I should, like, think about protecting myself when I’m sitting in a bar among drunk people or more the story, right? Yeah.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:54] Okay. Well, we’re going to take a brief break and come back with Soledad O’Brien and the Black as question.

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Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:17] And we’re back and we’re playing the Black Keys questions with Soledad O’Brien. Are you ready for question number three? I am.

Soledad O’Brien [00:20:24] So ready. I’ve not been off to a strong start, but I’m feeling very good. I feel like once we move out of the 1800s, I feel like the 1800s is not my strength.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:33] I’m going to add in some Jennifer Aniston questions and then we’re just going to knock it out.

Soledad O’Brien [00:20:37] Or even just 19 anything past 1960 when I was around, you’re.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:40] Like, can we get into that was the late 20th century and then maybe we can use it. Okay, so I’m not sure about this one, but we’ll see. Question number three. Known as the first lady of the Black Press. This female journalist was the first Black woman to be included in the White House press corps, and she was notorious for asking questions about civil rights that angered President Eisenhower. Who was she?

Soledad O’Brien [00:21:06] Who would that have been? You know, this needs to be multiple choice.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:11] And I’m sure have our listeners like I have no idea.

Soledad O’Brien [00:21:15] I don’t know who is it?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:17] Ethel Payne. Ethel Payne was a civil rights journalist, and when CBS hired her in 1972, she became the first Black woman to be hired as a political commentator by a national network. She was born in Chicago in 1911, and her family only had enough money to send one of their six children to college and I think was not one of the lucky ones. So instead, she made her own path. She got hired by a Chicago newspaper, The Chicago Defender. It was made for African-American readers and was instrumental in the Great Migration, which saw more than 6 million African-Americans move from the rural part of the South to urban Northeast, Midwest and western parts of the United States. Ethel also worked in radio and covered events, including the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and historical legal cases like Brown v Board of Education. So had you ever heard of.

Soledad O’Brien [00:22:05] I had not. Well, and what kind of threw me was Eisenhower, right? I was like, oh, I wonder where we’re going. So. No, that’s so interesting. No, I had not.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:16] So tell us a little bit more. You know, we know that there’s the importance of civil rights journalism. Talk to talk to us a little bit more about this documentary you’ve got coming out, the rebellious life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. I am so excited and so appreciative that you have put this together. You know, obviously, I’m an educator, so I always think about what this means for my students, creating more of a foundation for them to understand not just Black history, but American history as well. So what inspired you to work on this documentary?

Soledad O’Brien [00:22:47] Really, our directors, Yoruba Right Origin and Johanna Hamilton are the two directors of this great project. And and it really interestingly started when Johanna would tweet, see, look. Twitter being used for good. Johanna would tweet with a woman named Jeanne Theoharis. She’s a professor. And she had done a biography of Rosa Parks. And I guess she’d get on Twitter and talk about all the things people didn’t know about Rosa Parks. And I think Joanna was like, I didn’t know this. I didn’t know this. Eventually, Jeanne Theoharis wrote a great book by the same name, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks and and Joanna and Yoruba brought the project to us. So they’re the ones who did all of the heavy lifting in this project, along with our producers. But what I thought was so fascinating was I kind of went into the first meeting thinking like, Yeah, I know a lot about Rosa Parks. Like, what else is there to know? First, I didn’t realize that no one had ever done a talk on Rosa Parks like a full I, which was I actually didn’t believe. It’s one of those things you’re like, Aha. But I better fact check that.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:23:50] Right, exactly. It’s like, no, this, this seems a little too convenient, of course, there has to be one, right.

Soledad O’Brien [00:23:59] So that was the first surprise. And then I think what Yoruba and Johanna really brought was what was the dynamic story of a woman who’s whose life story has been kind of whittled down to this moment in time, literally not getting up from her seat on a bus when actually what you learn about Rosa Parks was her long history.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:19] So much more.

Soledad O’Brien [00:24:20] From the time she’s a child, how she thinks about civil rights and justice in America and and how for decades she works. I mean, from what? Well, up to the bus boycott and well after the bus boycott. So there were so many things that that I learned. And I think all of us thought this is going to be a great project because this book really lays out kind of all the things that we thought we knew about Rosa Parks. But in fact, we do not know. And that made it very interesting for me.

The Rebellous Life of Rosa Parks [00:24:46] She was considered a threat, espousing radical views. If they could see her talking about the Republic of New Africa, her out there with the Panthers, then they would understand the real Rosa Parks. But they might have been just a little frightened.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:00] Yeah, I’m so excited for folks to learn that. You know, as you said, we see her as this diminutive sort of older woman who refused to give up her seat. But she was she was a really bold fighter, you know, going to places in the Deep South that I don’t know if you and I, you or I would have the guts to go to in the year 2022, going there as a Black woman by herself investigating rapes, I mean, really standing up for Black women and Black people in these really extraordinary times. And most people only know her as this kind of neat, packaged grandma type figure, you know, and some people know the wrong story of like, oh, she was tired and that’s why she didn’t give up her seat. It was a real coordinated civil rights effort.

Soledad O’Brien [00:25:42] Yeah. And the press very much loved that story. In fact, when she died, The New York Times described her as the accidental matriarch. And you’re like, well, not accidental at all. Not at all. I mean, it’s an interesting way to frame someone’s story when truly, I don’t know that there’s a lot of civil rights legends who you could say, you know, from almost their moment of birth, were working very, very hard and often very in very tough circumstances and sometimes very frustrated in their efforts to. Bring equality to Black Americans. So I thought it was fascinating, you know, and the Rosa Parks at one point, you know, she’s the story of that, the fact that she was tired was repeated over and over and over again. But the reality is, as she said, she was no more tired than she was on any workday. That actually what she was tired of. And she said it was Emmett Till’s story that inspired her. What she was tired of was being treated badly. She was tired of oppression, you know, which of course, that’s a very different kind of tired. Right. And you can see journalists being like, oh, she was tired one day, feet hurt on a bus, doesn’t want to give up her seat. And she’s like, oh, no, no, I am I’m bone tired of the bus and I refuse to take part anymore.

Soledad O’Brien [00:26:52] So that was a really interesting perspective that I hadn’t really understood that story in the number of times that she tried to correct it, like really saying I was no more tired than I was any other workday. This was a different kind of tired and I think it kind of fell on deaf ears. People liked that narrative and I’m always curious, which we tried to explore in the doc, like, why is the narrative of the the gentle kind of weak, almost passive, accidental civil rights hero, you know, why do we love that story? Why is that a better, more palatable take? Then here’s a person who, at the age of eight watched her grandfather basically sleep with his gun because he was worried about the Ku Klux Klan. And she grew up to literally have a massive distaste for white people to the point where she was just so angry about it. She didn’t want to date her husband because he was light skinned and eventually he won her over. But this is a woman who equality and justice were part of her DNA from the get go. There’s nothing accidental about her at all. So we wanted to explore the facts of the case and then also to really dig into why was that something that was so palatable? Why does that make us comfortable when we hear stories that are just absolutely not true?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:07] Hmm. I mean, I love sort of this honesty because we we have yet to have real, honest conversations about so many figures in the civil rights movement. I mean, the strategies that were employed, you know, we know Ms. Colvin was not chosen as sort of the face of the bus boycott.

Soledad O’Brien [00:28:25] Colvin the first young woman she was 15 at the time. Did you know that she was a mentee of Rosa Parks?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:30] Well, I didn’t know she was a mentee. I know that, you know, she just wasn’t the ideal candidate for it to be the poster child for this type of.

Soledad O’Brien [00:28:39] I never knew that the two of them not only knew each other, but they sort of worked and strategized together as mentor mentee. But fascinating, right? It kind of changes for me. It changed my perception of sort of like, oh, so this is how people thought about this. I mean, it’s just absolutely fascinating when you start to understand some of the the stories. And then, of course, there is the misogyny, like why were women written out of the story of civil rights, you know, pretty much as a whole? Why did they not get to appear on the big stage? Why were their stories not considered as important or censored as others? Why did Rosa Parks not make money from the ten zillion speeches that she did and appearances that she did, an honorary awards that she won, and the travel that she did, she literally we have her tax documents. One year she and her husband made seven, a little under $700. I mean, it’s craziness. So those to me were the much more interesting stories about Rosa Parks. And I tell you, I was the first person who’d say, oh, I know that story. She was tired, long day at work, feet hurt, just decided she didn’t want to move. That is just absolutely wrong. This is a woman who was as much a fan of Dr. King as she was of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. And I think for a lot of people, they can’t kind of hold those thoughts.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:29:55] Right.

Soledad O’Brien [00:29:56] But but she could she was about justice for Black people and whatever it took to get there.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:30:02] And I love the this documentary because, again, this is American history. This isn’t just for Black girls to know this, which obviously is great that they’re going to there’s not going to be a whole new generation of Black girls growing up knowing the real power, the real power of Rosa Parks. But I think what’s really important is to have an honest conversation about who some of our freedom fighters were in America. And she is clearly in the pantheon, but not for the reasons that so many people sort of put her on the soft pedestal. It’s like, oh, no, no, no. She was she was a warrior in the fight for racial and economic justice.

Soledad O’Brien [00:30:36] Yeah, absolutely. And I again, I’m always curious. So why why make her out to be this almost passive ex, you know, just happenstance, right? If it had been a different day, if she had been less tired, she wouldn’t have done it. You know, and you just realize that that is it’s an unfair take on her legacy, which was always about standing up. I mean, as you said. Right. She would travel into the Deep South and take notes on the women, particularly who were victims of rapes, because she felt like that the truth of their story mattered even when someone like Recy Taylor, a Black woman, had been raped by three white men. And told if she ever testified, if she told anybody, they’d kill her. You know, both of them sitting there giving her testimony of Rosa Parks, writing it down, traveling into Alabama to write it down. And and yet literally both of them knowing there’s no justice coming for recent. Taylor. Today, tomorrow in the next year. You know, but knowing that the facts of the case matter, it matters. I mean, I just I think it makes them both more heroic and more courageous and more intentional. And also, I like the idea of working toward civil rights is not just one day you just accidentally stumble upon it, but actually it’s a life long, decades long, constant grind of working toward justice. It was never easy. It was never accidental. It was never stumbled upon.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:05] Right. And the real dedication. I am so appreciative of you and your team putting this together for all of us to to view and digest and really appreciate the hard work, but the long journey that we’ve gone through for civil rights. You know, sadly, the journey that we’re still on in an active, very active way. Okay. So we’re going to return with the Blackest Questions, but I’m here with Soledad O’Brien, my guest this week.

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Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:00] We are back. Soledad, are you ready?

Soledad O’Brien [00:33:03] So ready. Born ready.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:05] Oh, I love that. Okay, question number four. Now, this church was located in Saint James, New York and was a stop on the Underground Railroad for fugitive enslaved folks who were in route to freedom to Canada. What was the name? What? What is the name of this church?

Soledad O’Brien [00:33:26] Wow. So this is where I grew up. Saint James, New York. It has to be an Episcopalian church. It’s not a Catholic church, I don’t think, because I think I would’ve heard about it. I’m Catholic. So St Philip St James was my church, but I’m going to guess it’s an Episcopalian church in St James. Am I wrong?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:45] It is St James. Amy Zion Church. So the hope is that in 1833, St James, Amy Zion, which stands for African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, is believed to be the oldest church structure in Africa. St James Amy Zion was visited by both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and the congregation there was so outspoken about anti-slavery that many enslaved persons who had planned to flee to Canada decided to stay and settle in Ithaca.

Soledad O’Brien [00:34:13] Oh, so it’s Ithaca, not St James, New York, where I grew up. I grew up in St James, New York, but that’s St James, Ithaca.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:20] St James, New York. Ithaca. So have you ever visited this particular church?

Soledad O’Brien [00:34:25] No, never. I’d never heard of it.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:27] Okay. And so, you know, when I think about the Underground Railroad and obviously so many of, you know, our ancestors trying to to make it northward, it reminds me of, I think, linking back to the documentary that you were just talking about, how we don’t really have an accurate narrative of what has actually happened in this country. And I think, you know, it’s very neat. And there’s Harriet Tubman and, you know, sort of she’s helped people make it, you know, to freedom. And then we sort of put a little bow on it and then we move on. And that was then and this is now. And so part of what I feel you do, especially on Twitter, but seeing in your other projects, is making sure we have a certain level of accuracy and specificity that that shouldn’t be sort of glossed over or forgotten. How can we really, Soledad, beyond, you know, beyond Twitter, really make sure that we like harnessed in the truth. I guess the truth of what has happened in this country and the truth of what is happening in this country, how do we make it a lot more concrete so we can link what happened, you know, with people trying to escape us chattel slavery and fight for their freedom and then fight through the civil rights movement with the explosion that we’re seeing today of people who actually really want those days to return.

Soledad O’Brien [00:35:47] I saw something on Twitter the other day which was a little graphic, and it basically showed that five years before Rosa Parks sat on the bus, Harriet Tubman was framed as slaves, was like five years, despite years like that graphic. And then it was mess, right? When you realize like that made no sense at all. But if anybody looking at it would really think these were all events that were a bunch of other events too, none of the timelines were accurate. And so I think I like to think of people like to be Will’s right, who even in the face of someone saying, well, we don’t think counting lynchings is important. We don’t think tracking them is important. We don’t think the number matters. We don’t think, you know, really put her life and her work on the line day in and day out to to constantly talk about it and bring attention to it. I think it’s hard to ignore people who say, these are the facts. I’m not going away. You can’t brush me aside. It is because of eye to be wells and all the work that she did on lynching that now you have people who today, I mean, all these years later really track and have memorials around places where people were lynched, where their lives mattered. And not only those individuals lives mattered, but like this was the history of this community here on this day. Let’s not rewrite the narrative. So I do think, you know, the key is to call out just complete ridiculousness. No, there were not five years between Rosa Parks sitting on the bus and Harriet Tubman freeing the slaves. I mean, it’s laughable, but I think some people see the graphic and might think it’s true and that the truth matters.

Soledad O’Brien [00:37:16] I just think it’s a really important, even when I’m sort of tired to just say, like, this is a lie, this is a lie. And I get very frustrated when journalists don’t call out a lie or are used by others to, you know, to propagate lies. A good example would be in the testimony from the young woman, I think Casey Hutchinson was testifying. And basically some reporters were saying that they had sources within the Secret Service who were going to testify that what she was saying was a lie. Well, they didn’t have they had sources who were telling them that the they were not sources that were justified. Right. So at the end of the day, the reporters use their platforms to say this young woman is lying, when, in fact, you know, she was testifying and these other people never materialized. And so you you constantly see consistently maybe is a better way to put it, see reporters being used in a way for their words, being used to frame stories, being used to give credence to things that are just not true, not accurate. And, you know, again, I think anonymous sources is a good example, like why the anonymity, right, where certain people should not be given anonymity, especially when you know that they are lying, certain people should not be allowed on the air when you know that they are lying. So I think Ida B. Wells is a very good model of like sometimes you go. To keep shouting and screaming the truth just because it’s the truth. And and you may not. In the time that you’re alive or the time that you’re working, get the credit that you deserve for telling the truth. And you probably won’t.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:38:41] But we sow the seeds nonetheless.

Soledad O’Brien [00:38:43] Got to do it. Got to do it.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:38:45] Okay. All right. Let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back with our last question.

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Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:07] So I’m back. I’m here with Soledad O’Brien playing the Blackest Questions. And Soledad, are you ready for question number five?

Soledad O’Brien [00:39:13] I am, but I really feel like this should be called very difficult history questions.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:18] Well, I mean, I know our listeners are learning a ton and I know they’re really appreciate hearing how you conceptualized journalism in this particular moment, because it’s it’s more it’s now more important than ever, I would argue, as we sort of fight for the soul of this nation in the 21st century. Okay. Question number five. We’re going to switch gears just a little bit. I know you did some work on a documentary about the murders of Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. Crissy Greer’s, favorite rapper of all time, and Tupac Shakur. So let’s see if you get this one. So as we all know, the two rappers started out as friends. But all that changed when Tupac was shot five times outside a recording studio in New York City while Biggie was upstairs. Both men were there to work on a project together with a third rapper. Who was the third rapper.

Soledad O’Brien [00:40:10] This should be multiple choice. I don’t remember. It was a third rapper.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:40:13] The third wrapper was Little Shawn. Oh, yes. So Little Shawn a native, was a native of East Flatbush, Brooklyn. And the veteran emcee who signed to Uptown Records in 1995, just before the Tupac shooting happened. Little Shawn now goes by the name Shawn Pen, and he recently spoke about the infamous shooting, saying it’s been a plague on his life that followed him for nearly 30 years.

Shawn Pen [00:40:35] When Suge Knight got him out of jail. It’s the first time you heard Biggie and Puff did it. Now, East Coast West Coast was manufactured by Suge. Suge did that.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:40:46] Shawn is adamant that he, Biggie nor Puffy had any knowledge that Tupac would be robbed and shot that night in New York City. But Tupac always believed Big and Puffy had something to do with it. And so both men released songs about the incident and the deadly East Coast West Coast rap rivalry was born. And some music journalists have called their beef the biggest rivalry in music history. So what were you surprised to learn when you worked on the documentary Who Shot Biggie and Tupac?

Soledad O’Brien [00:41:14] You know, I think it was so interesting when we were shooting that documentary.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:41:19] How did that come about?

Soledad O’Brien [00:41:20] It came about because that’s a good question. I don’t remember how that came about, but someone asked me if I wanted to do it and I was very interested, partly because I like diving into history, especially things that I don’t necessarily know. I mean, I could have told you anything about East Coast versus West Coast rivalry, but a friend, a very good friend of mine in college was the guy who created The Source magazine. And so we had a chance to interview him in that documentary, really are on a journey to learn information from the people who were there.

Who Shot Biggie and Tupac [00:41:50] The music made them big, but what made them bigger is the war between those two. Me being somebody who’s in the hip hop culture, friends with both of the people, you would think I would know. I didn’t know a lot of stuff that I’ve heard.

Soledad O’Brien [00:42:08] But I think the degree to which so much was based right on this rumor and innuendo and who thought they saw who doing what and the number of people who had, I think, kind of credible versions of what happened both the night the Tupac was killed was killed and also, you know, certainly Biggie. So, you know, I just I thought it was just so interesting. I a lot of times people’s stories hadn’t really been pulled together on in a documentary. So I was interested in that. And then, of course, I got to work with Ice-T, who’s amazing. I mean, that guy.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:41] Right.

Soledad O’Brien [00:42:42] And also smart. So interesting. And super like hard working and just total professional. Only thing that slowed us down, there would be so many fans at every corner like we got to stop shooting. So he could say hi to the fans, but it was just such.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:57] He’s had such a career for so many decades. In quite a few genres.

Soledad O’Brien [00:43:02] Right. But not a lot of people do that successfully. And yeah, he’s a really interesting guy. So I really enjoyed working with him and I liked, you know, sometimes I would go in and talk to gang members or cops, you know, and just ask them, like, I’ll just be the person. I don’t I don’t know what the code word is for gun. I don’t know what the code word is for drugs. I don’t know what the code word is for prison. I’ll just ask the dumb question. And I really I thought it was a very, very good doc. It was a really it was a really fun experience.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:43:32] Well, I think it was a great doc because it’s about two individuals that so many people, especially in the African-American community, loved deeply and should have.

Soledad O’Brien [00:43:41] They should’ve worked it out, should’ve worked it out. Like there was no reason, I think in a lot of ways for the rivalry was so over the top and you almost get the sense that it just could have been brought down and it didn’t happen.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:43:55] And we lost two brilliant minds to say nothing of lyricists but just brilliant minds in such a short span of time. Okay. So we’re going to take our last brief break and we’re going to come back and play Black Lightning.

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Dr. Christina Greer [00:44:27] Okay, I’m back. We’re here with Soledad O’Brien. And Soledad, before we let you out of here, we’ve got time for the Black Lightning Round. Are you ready now? This is the time for our listeners and they know I’m just going to ask you questions. You tell me the first thing that comes to mind and we go from there. There’s no right or wrong answer. This is just about the today. Yeah. If you had to choose New York City pizza or hot dog.

Soledad O’Brien [00:44:49] No. Pizza. Hot dogs, no. What’s in a hot dog?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:44:55] What is it, hot dog? There’s a great Simpsons episode about that. So which would you rather watch? Morning news or primetime news?

Soledad O’Brien [00:45:04] I love morning news. I like to get my day started with morning news.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:45:07] Okay. Are you cold weather or warm weather?

Soledad O’Brien [00:45:11] I hate cold weather. I live in Florida in the winter. Warm weather 100%.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:45:15] Would you rather ride horses or watch your kids ride horses?

Soledad O’Brien [00:45:21] That’s a tough one. Probably ride horses.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:45:24] Okay. Movie night. Are you watching a romcom or drama?

Soledad O’Brien [00:45:28] Always a rom com. Nothing serious. Please, I’m begging.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:45:32] Are you jamming to Tupac or Biggie?

Soledad O’Brien [00:45:35] Neither Luther Vandross. Sorry.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:45:39] When you sleep ceiling fan on or off?

Soledad O’Brien [00:45:42] Depends if it’s really hot, on. I get very cold. So if it’s not that hot on, but with three comforters.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:45:50] Okay. Last question. Do you watch any trash TV?

Soledad O’Brien [00:45:55] Yes. You know what I like Below Deck, is that terrible? Because my daughter likes it. Have you seen Below Deck?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:46:01] I haven’t checked it out, but I know the show.

Soledad O’Brien [00:46:03] You’ll lose all respect for me. When you watch, you’re going to be like, Wow, you know what? We should kill this interview because I’ve lost all respect for Soledad. It is takes place on a boat.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:46:13] Okay. Well, you know, I have the TV habits of a four year old where I just watch the same show over and over again. And I’m totally fine.

Soledad O’Brien [00:46:19] I do like Criminal Minds. That’s a good show, too.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:46:22] Oh, that’s a great show. Okay. So quick reminder before I let you out here about the Rosa Parks documentary. Give us the proper name again. Where can people watch it? And what do you hope the audience takes away and learns from this documentary?

Soledad O’Brien [00:46:34] The doc is called The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. I hope the audience takes away the true story of Rosa Parks, the story that everybody thinks they know they actually don’t know at all. And it starts streaming on Peacock on October 19. So I hope you check it out.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:46:50] Oh, I cannot wait. I want to thank Soledad O’Brien being amazing guest on the Blackest Question. And I want to thank you all for listening to the Blackest Question. This show is produced by Sasha Armstrong, Geoffrey Trudeau and Regina Griffin is our managing editor podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode and please download theGrio app and listen and watch many more great shows. Thanks so much.

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