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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Good evening. I'm Elizabeth Farnsworth. Jim Lehrer is on jury duty. On the NewsHour tonight the Irish peace talks come down to the wires. We have full coverage and analysis. Tobacco, as seen by the people who grow it; a David Gergen dialogue with Alex Kotlowitz, author of a book about a murder that divided two neighboring towns; and remembering Paul Robeson on the 100th anniversary of his birth. It all follows our summary of the news this Thursday. NEWS SUMMARY
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The death toll stood at 38 today after tornadoes ravaged communities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia last night. Spencer Michels narrates our report.
SPENCER MICHELS: The damage around Birmingham, Alabama today was evidence of the storm's fury. Besides the deaths, about 200 people were injured. Hundreds of homes were crushed, a local high school destroyed. Residents had been warned of an impending tornado, but there wasn't much some of them could do. About 8 last night the storm struck and spawned winds estimated at 200 miles an hour. Many people were at regular Wednesday night church services when it hit.
WOMAN: And there was stuff flyin' and glass breakin' and goin' everywhere. And we all just crowded around each other, and it was gone in a matter of seconds.
SPENCER MICHELS: Uprooted trees blocked roads that had to be cleared for emergency crews. Rescuers searched for the dead and pulled out the injured who were trapped under debris.
WOMAN: [screaming] Help her!
SPENCER MICHELS: This morning, residents assessed the damage and began salvage efforts. Alabama's governor, Fob James, said the loss of life was overwhelming and that without the early warning from the National Weather Service the death toll could have been quadrupled. Near Atlanta, the tornado splintered dozens of homes in this new subdivision. The local public safety director said it was the worst damage he had seen in 15 years. Weather Service statistics show more twisters occur in May and June but that the ones that arrive in April are the deadliest. Today, President Clinton declared several counties in Alabama and Georgia disaster areas, and said that Vice President Gore would tour the devastation tomorrow.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: President Clinton tried to enlist Kentucky tobacco farmers in his anti-smoking campaign today. He assured the farmers they have done nothing wrong, saying it was the tobacco executives who targeted youthful smokers and lied about it. The president said the Congress is trying to write tobacco legislation that will reduce teen smoking and also protect tobacco farmers and their communities from economic hardship. Yesterday, four major tobacco companies denounced the legislation, saying it would force them out of business. Today in Carrollton, Kentucky, the president urged them to come back to the bargaining table.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I hope they will reconsider because I'm determined to get this done this year. I heard today that the people here in this county do not want any more uncertainty. They want us to act. It would be better if we could act with the tobacco companies at the table too, so we're all talking together, so we're all sharing our information, so we all at least agree on the facts, if we don't agree on the solutions. So I hope they'll reconsider and become a part of this, but we're going to do this this year. If I can control the outcome, we will actually act this year.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who sponsored the tobacco legislation, said today it could be modified but not according to the dictates of the tobacco industry. We'll have more on tobacco farmers later on in the program. The Northern Ireland peace talks in Belfast went down to the wire tonight. Negotiators were trying to meet a midnight deadline set by the chairman of the talks, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. The parties are trying to devise a new way to govern Northern Ireland, which has been torn by 30 years of conflict between Catholics and Protestants. We'll have more on this story right after the News Summary. In Russia today thousands of labor union members staged demonstrations to demand billions of rubles in back pay. The turnout fell short of organizer's predictions. And Moscow's Communists denounced Russia's economic policies and called for President Yeltsin to resign. Many people said they continue to work even when pay is delayed because they fear losing their jobs. In Tokyo today Prime Minister Hashimoto pledged to cut taxes as part of Japan's largest ever economic stimulus package. He said the action was necessary to improve the severe state of the economy. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Foley gave his reaction to reporters in Tokyo.
THOMAS FOLEY, U.S. Ambassador to Japan: I think it's bold action, and it is certainly action that represents the very sharp increase in the stimulation efforts on the part of the Japanese. Of course, the earlier it's implemented, the better, I think, from our standpoint.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Japanese authorities also intervened in U.S. foreign exchange markets to boost the value of the yen. The U.S. dollar dropped in response, but Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said he welcomed the move. And that's it for the News Summary tonight. Now it's on to the Northern Ireland peace talks, tobacco in the field, a Gergen dialogue, and remembering Paul Robeson. FOCUS - TALKING PEACE
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: First tonight, deadline day in the Northern Irelandpeace talks. We begin with some background. Some 3200 Protestants and Catholics have been killed in Northern Ireland since 1969; and even now, violence continues, despite peace talks and a cease-fire. On one side of what's called "troubles" are Irish Republicans and Nationalists from a wide array of groups, including the clandestine Irish Republican Army. The IRA fights in the name of Northern Ireland's Catholic minority. Its aim is to end centuries of British rule so that the six counties of Northern Ireland--also known as Ulster--can join the Irish republic. The island was split after the South achieved independence from Britain in 1920. On the other side of the fight are the groups representing the Protestant majority, also including armed guerrillas. Fearful of losing their privileges and identity, these groups--often called "unionists"--are opposed to a united Ireland and are determined to remain part of Great Britain. After a series of failed attempts to negotiate a settlement between the two sides, the prospects of peace for Northern Ireland's 1.6 million people suddenly brightened last May after Tony Blair was elected Britain's prime minister. He faced the Irish troubles on the island head-on.
TONY BLAIR: I am determined to move on. It is essential to make political progress rapidly. The preparation for substantive talks must quicken.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Just a month after Blair's remarks, Sinn Fein, the IRA's above-ground political wing, and the IRA itself, agreed to a cease-fire. Then last September, Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams, for the first time, joined peace talks attended by the Protestant Unionist Party Leader David Trimble and six other political groups representing Catholics and Protestants. Another historic meeting came a month later, when Prime Minister Blair met Gerry Adams behind closed doors during a trip to Belfast. As the momentum towards an agreement increased, extremists on both sides tried to undermine the progress by continuing the violence. In February, Sinn Fein was temporarily expelled from the peace talks after police in Belfast linked two murders to the IRA. But after meeting with Blair in London, last month, Adams was invited to rejoin the talks for what both the British and Irish governments hoped would be a final push towards a definitive peace agreement. Chairing the 22-month-old talks is the former Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Maine Democrat George Mitchell. Two weeks ago, Mitchell set today, April 9th, as the deadline for the conclusion of the peace talks. Then he presented a 65 page outline to the party for a possible agreement. Under the plan, which assumes a permanent cease-fire, Northern Ireland would remain a part of Britain. But a degree of self government would be restored to the province, which has been ruled directly from London since 1972. Trying to bridge the gap between unionists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom and Nationalists and Republicans who want to join the republic to the South. Mitchell reportedly proposed a local assembly for Northern Ireland in which power would be shared by Protestants and Catholics. He also called for a cross border council that would give the republic more of a voice in the North's affairs. Within hours after receiving Mitchell's proposals, the unionists balked.
JEFFREY DONALDSON MP UUP: We have major significant fundamental difficulties with the proposals in this document and people have got to understand that, and if there is to be agreement we have got to agree to it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On Tuesday this wee, Prime Minister Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern flew to Belfast to lend their weight to the final round of negotiations.
TONY BLAIR: I'm here because I believe it is my duty because if we've got any chance at all at bringing a stable and lasting peace to people in Northern Ireland, we've got to take the chance and leaders should lead and they should be up front when leading.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Since then, negotiations have been going on almost non-stop, and they continue tonight.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Two views now. Martin Kettle is United States bureau chief of the British newspaper "The Guardian." Before entering journalism he was a research officer specializing in Northern Ireland for Britain's National Council for Civil Liberties. And Ray O'Hanlon is senior editor of "The Irish Echo," a nationally distributed Irish-American newspaper based in New York. He also writes a weekly column for the "Irish News" in Belfast.Ray O'Hanlon, what are you hearing tonight about the prospects for an agreement?
RAY O'HANLON, The Irish Echo: Elizabeth, the story changes by the minute. All day long we've been hearing that, no, there will be no agreement, followed by yes, there will be some sort of agreement but perhaps a watered-down version. And the one thing that has been consistent all day in talking to journalists and diplomats is simply how absolutely exhausted everybody is. But the latest seems to be that the midnight deadline may well be extended into the early hours of tomorrow, which would at this point probably give us some hope that something will be salvaged.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, Martin Kettle, are you hearing anything any different?
MARTIN KETTLE, The Guardian: Pretty similar. I think that London has always tried to encourage people to think that there will be a deal, so there's always been a kind of atmosphere of confidence that something will come out of it. I think European politicians are used to having late night sessions like this in the European Union and so I think the fact that they stopped the clock and try and get a deal and then allow it to be midnight and said they've met the deadline is not unexpected.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Martin Kettle, what are the main sticking points as far as you've heard?
MARTIN KETTLE: Well, I think the two basic questions are the North/South relationship, what exactly is going to be the body that is set up to have a relationship between Northern Ireland and the republic and crucially what powers will it have and to whom will it be answerable and then secondly--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And let me just interrupt--and that's a crucial sticking point especially for the unionists, right?
MARTIN KETTLE: Well, the unionists in this are trying to give away as little as they possibly can. They are historically fearful that the republic of Ireland will kind of get its hands on the government of the North. That's what they are trying to stop, or at least to minimize. And so they've been playing pretty hard ball about that right from the start. But I think that is a preparation for a kind of agreement that they're prepared to make because, in reality, they wouldn't be in the talks, I think, if they weren't going to sign up to something along these lines at the end of tonight.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Ray O'Hanlon, what are you hearing are the central problems?
RAY O'HANLON: Well, much the same thing. The funny thing about the cross border institutions is that when you look at the areas that they might deal with, they seem relatively apolitical innocuous, things like tourism and fisheries and transportation. But there is an enormous symbolism in the idea of any trans border executive authority, particularly for unionists, at the same time for the republic and for the likes of Sinn Fein any move in any direction towards this would be welcome because Sinn Fein, in particular, feels that it will have to give up some fundamental principles too. So while the actual institutions on paper look quite innocuous and innocent, in the context of Northern Ireland, they are very serious changes, indeed. Northern Ireland is a place where compromise really doesn't settle well on the ground, as we've seen in the last few days.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Martin Kettle, what does David Trimble, who leads the main Unionist Party, need to be able to agree to something?
MARTIN KETTLE: Well, I think David Trimble has to be confident that he can sell a deal to the Protestant people of Northern Ireland. He is not the unique leader of the people. He leads half of that body.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And is that why he's so important?
MARTIN KETTLE: Well, yes, because the other half--the main political representative--the other half isn't in these talks at all and has said that they are part of a sellout. And so he's got to make--he's got to make a deal which he can persuade the rejectionists is acceptable is news--not a kind of betrayal of their birthright, and, you know, this is part of the whole problem of this Northern Ireland situation right from the start, is that everything is conducted in terms of apocalypse. And you have people saying, you know, this is our birthright, and, you know, you're selling us to Dublin or selling us out to Rome, and huge violent, powerful rhetoric comes in. And so Trimble has got to try and say, okay, okay, this is what it actually says, there are advantages to you in this, don't be scared, and he's got to take a leap to some extent into the dark. The big question throughout this whole process has been: Is David Trimble really prepared to do that? I think the signs are just about he is, but he hasn't done it with a kind of conviction or with a kind of rhetoric that I think many people had hoped. That's why there's a lot of criticism of him, not just from the people you'd expect, the Irish Nationalists, Sinn Fein and so on, but also from the British government and from public opinion in Britain, which says, come on, this obviously is an opportunity to bring to an end a period of awful problems in Northern Ireland. And I think people are really in Britain as a whole, are wanting Trimble to sign a document tonight.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Ray O'Hanlon, how important is Gerry Adams to this whole process? Does he have to agree?
RAY O'HANLON: Well, in some respects he seems slightly less important than Mr. Trimble, however, Gerry Adams, himself, as an individual has placed an enormous personal risk, I think, has undertaken enormous personal and political risks. Sinn Feinn at the moment are in a situation where they have to come out with something--behind Sinn Feinn you've got to remember is the IRA--and even within that structure of the IRA there have been signs of splits and sort of breaking apart, certain individuals leaving and other groups forming, so in what many sense is the peace process or the peace part of the process is in Gerry Adams's hands. If he can hold it altogether, Sinn Fein and the IRA come, whatever sort of agreement comes out of Stormin Castle, I think Gerry Adams will emerge as one of the most significant leaders in Ireland in many years.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ray, how are theprime ministers functioning in these negotiations? Are they almost standing in for Adams and the Unionist leader Trimble because they still won't meet face to face?
RAY O'HANLON: Well, the role of the governments has been crucial here. Since the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985, what has been different in Northern Ireland is--no matter even if there are disagreements between Dublin and London--there has been this growing cooperation between the two governments, and the inclusion and the broad agreement between Dublin and London--between Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair--is a backdrop to this situation that does give hope that the governments have an idea. George Mitchell has an idea. And between them--and I throw in the Clinton administration there as well--that we have considerable force arrayed behind the idea of agreement. Now these combined forces, these various governments and Sen. Mitchell, himself, the hope is that together they can twist arms enough to wrest some sort of agreement from the various parties in the actual talks. So that is what is particularly significant about this situation, is the--particularly the close cooperation between the Irish and the British governments.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Martin, how important has George Mitchell, Sen. George Mitchell, been to this?
MARTIN KETTLE: I think he has been important. I think it was important that the Unionists were prepared to accept an American because in the past they've been very fearful that Washington's involvement or even one removed in the former Senator Mitchell was a kind of alliance against them. But Sen. Mitchell, I think, has proved by his example and by what he has said that he doesn't represent just one side in the argument. That's been very, very important. I think that that's all part of a recognition that what's going on here is looking for the right compromise. And what we're going to get here isn't going to be, you know, the final solution of the whole Irish question, but it's going to be a compromise that people can live with hopefully for at least a generation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And do you think that the Clinton administration has been important overall?
MARTIN KETTLE: Yes, it has. And I think it's been helpful in a lot of ways. I think it's given hope to people when the president went to Northern Ireland. I think it's played a practical role because it's said that it won't accept--it isn't just in the business of levering-- leveraging a United Ireland onto an unwilling Northern Ireland. And it's played a responsible role in the talks. It's tried to keep the talks' process at the center of things and not to ally with one side or the other.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ray, what would be the consequences of no agreement?
RAY O'HANLON: I think obviously--I think it'd be very depressing for the majority of people on the entire island of Ireland who want to see some progress here. The immediate consequences obviously I would first focus on Sinn Fein and again on Gerry Adams's position. There's a lot of people in Republican ranks who are quite quick and ready and willing to say I told you so, that it was a mistake to go into this process, you're always going to come out with nothing. So obviously if nothing came out of this, absolutely nothing, there would be some doubt over the future of the IRA cease-fire immediately. I think there would be fears for that; however, at the same time I think that the pressures that we have now, the forces that are at work seem to be moving towards actually pulling some sort of rabbit out of the hat, coming at it with some sort of agreement that would lead The one problem I think with the Mitchell document that came out at the beginning of the week is that there was an enormous compression. There was this quite large document proposing quite fundamental changes in Ireland, in all of Ireland, and such a short deadline it came at the end of a process where in many respects it's the beginning of a process. And there may be some aspects of it that the various parties will agree to, certainly some aspects that they will strongly disagree over. But it may not be the end of the story, rather the beginning of another story. But that really remains in the realm of conjecture at this point. But we could find out in a very short time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you have anything to add on what the consequences would be of no agreement?
MARTIN KETTLE: I think if there's no agreement tonight, they'll have to sit down and try and find an agreement tomorrow. I think the reason they're sitting there talking is because there is a convergence of opinion, that this is an opportunity. And I think that opportunity, if it's let slip, you know, will have to be recreated because there's a whole generation in the Republican movement that wants to get off the track that they've been on for 30 years and there's a British and Irish government, which is desperate to help them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree with Ray, that this is not the--not necessarily the end of something but the beginning of a whole process, or is this really the end of the worst part of the troubles if there is an agreement?
RAY O'HANLON: Well, I think that you're gradually seeing a change in national identities in Europe and particularly in the British Isles. I mean, remember, that what's happening in Britain at the same time is there's been the setting up of a Scottish parliament, of a Welsh assembly, and I think the idea that people can govern themselves and then have different levels of identity within the European Union is becoming something that's much more familiar, not just in Britain and Ireland but throughout Europe generally, and so I think that, you know, that this is a--this is a modern kind of agreement, and the Anglo-Irish question has been bedeviled by history, and people wanting to act out the crimes and the problems of the past in the modern era. Well, now it seems to me that we're moving on from there, and I think that's, on the whole, without wishing to exaggerate it or simplify it, I think that is beginning to be quite a hopeful sign.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you both very much. FOCUS - GROWING DEBATE
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight tobacco farmers join the anti-smoking debate, a David Gergen dialogue, and remembering Paul Robeson. Kwame Holman has the tobacco story.
KWAME HOLMAN: Kentucky's deep roots in tobacco farming are strong here in the century-old towns and communities perched above the Kentucky River. The hill country near the state capital of Frankfort is suited for raising cattle, horses, and tobacco but almost no other crop. Tobacco planting season still is weeks away, but Kentucky Congressman Scotty Baesler was up early last Friday to visit with a group of tobacco farmers who regularly gather at Wright's Grocery in Franklin County. Baesler, a tobacco farmer himself, speaks their language.
REP. SCOTTY BAESLER, [D] Kentucky: Everybody got their tobacco strip around here?
FARMER: I've got my strip.
REP. SCOTTY BAESLER: I got some still in the barn that's not gonna make it I don't reckon.
KWAME HOLMAN: Baesler was here to talk about the big news from Washington. A tobacco settlement bill had just cleared its first hurdle in the Senate committee, but it wasn't the settlement the giant tobacco companies agreed to last June, so even before those companies announced their opposition to the bill, Baesler knew they wouldn't go for it.
REP. SCOTTY BAESLER: The problem we're having in Washington is that they're raisin' the ante to the manufacturers from where they were going to pay about $360 billion; now they're talking about $600 billion , and that's not going to happen.
KWAME HOLMAN: But looking beyond the cost to the tobacco companies, Baesler told the farmers there's good news in the Senate bill for them.
REP. SCOTTY BAESLER: The portion in it that's for the farmer, if we can ever get the costs of the manufacturers down to where they can live with it, to portion in for the farmers pretty good--
KWAME HOLMAN: Baesler explained the blueprint would continue the federal tobacco price support program and provide economic assistance for tobacco farmers and other workers who may lose their jobs as demand for tobacco falls. It also gives farmers the option to take a one-time payment in return for getting out of tobacco farming altogether. But these farmers hope and believe there will continue to be demand for their crop, even if efforts to curb youth smoking succeed.
REP. SCOTTY BAESLER: My biggest complaint, if you're going to raise it, let Kentuckians raise it. I don't want anybody else messing with it. We need to keep our share. And that's--you know, I don't try--it's not good for you--it's not good for young people--we need to keep 'em off of it, but as long as we're going to raise it, I want our folks to have a little bit of it.
KWAME HOLMAN: The farmers urged Congressman Baesler to go back to Washington and protect them as best he can.
REP. SCOTTY BAESLER: --Wendell--it's hard to be another Wendell Ford. You know, he's the best politician we ever had in our life--in Kentucky's history.
KWAME HOLMAN: Wendell Ford is veteran Sen. Wendell Ford, a staunch defender of tobacco interests and especially tobacco farmers. During the creation of the tobacco settlement plan in the Senate Commerce Committee last week Ford succeeded in adding some protections for tobacco farmers and for tobacco growing communities.
SEN. WENDELL FORD, [D] Kentucky: I'm willing to support comprehensive legislation today, which goes much further than I was willing to go a few months ago. But I'm not willing to support a proposal which raises taxes unnecessarily, hurts my farmers, whether it is to punish an industry or fund new programs or offset new tax cuts.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Ford was badly outnumbered on most of his amendments. In the end, members of the Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill that increases costs and penalties for tobacco companies well above last year's agreement. And they did so on a vote of nineteen to one.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN, [D] North Dakota: This committee does not seek or need the consent of the tobacco industry to pass comprehensive tobacco legislation, or, for that matter, any other interest group in this town or this country. We ought to do the right thing. Our job is not to satisfy. It's to do the right thing.
KWAME HOLMAN: Wendell Ford will try to add to the bill more protection for his Kentucky farmers when it goes to the Senate floor, but his work here is almost done. He's retiring after 24 years in the Senate and Congressman Scotty Baesler is campaigning to take is place.
REP. SCOTTY BAESLER: If you took a vote in the Congress, nobody would want to hurt our farmers.
KWAME HOLMAN: Back at Wright's Grocery Baesler tried to reassure his farmers that the Senate bill will allow them to keep their farms and grow tobacco.
REP. SCOTTY BAESLER: The good part about it is the fact that people who want to produce tobacco will be able to produce it, and the most important part is they'll do it under a program. You'll have the same program you have right now. It won't go anyplace, which I think is important.
KWAME HOLMAN: Is there a conflict for everyone who's looking out for tobacco farmers, such as yourself, in terms of the health of Kentuckians in your district, young people especially, and the economic health of farmers, retailers, et cetera?
REP. SCOTTY BAESLER: There's a certain conflict, but I think what you've got to--I strongly support the legislation to keep young people away from it. I filed a bill with that--I think we all--there's no argument that young people shouldn't smoke, shouldn't have access to cigarettes, and so I support that. My argument is, is that Kentucky, if you're going to grow it, and it's going to be sold, which it is, then I want Kentuckians to grow it, you know. And so that's about as far as I go. I don't try to justify because it's healthy; it's not. It's addictive. I understand that, but nobody--nobody in Congress has recommended we ban it.
KWAME HOLMAN: And the other farmers want to keep growing it too.
ALBERT HUTCHERSON, Tobacco Farmer: It helps you pay your taxes and insurance and put some beans on the table. It's--it makes you survive, more or less, you know. That's what it's all about.
KWAME HOLMAN: Albert Hutcherson is 66 years old and runs about eight acres of tobacco at his farm, a plot big enough to supplement his income.
ALBERT HUTCHERSON: We'll have to wait to see what's gonna happen because ain't nobody gonna make no move till they find out what's gonna happen, you know what I mean? Would you?
JOHN CLOVER, Tobacco Farmer: I want to see it on paper, you know, that they're gonna keep the program and the government's not gonna fool with it.
KWAME HOLMAN: At his farm in Franklin County, John Clover grows about 20 acres of tobacco. Clover already has started preparing for this year's planting season, even though he has doubts he can continue making a living growing tobacco.
JOHN CLOVER: I've done committed myself to this year. You know, I'd like to see--I'd like to see the program go on forever, but, you know, I don't see it happening. I talked to a neighbor. He said, they'll always be tobacco; now whether you'll get what you want for it or not, that'll be another story. I mean, I was raised on a farm. I mean, when I was little, I lived with my grandmother and grandfather, and this is what we did; we farmed. You know, I work public work, but I still enjoy being outside.
KWAME HOLMAN: But like Congressman Scotty Baesler, John Clover does feel somewhat conflicted about growing tobacco.
KWAME HOLMAN: To what extent does it bother you that you raise a product that harms people's health?
JOHN CLOVER: It bothers me because I don't smoke. I've got a four-year-old daughter that I don't want to smoke. But it's the demand. You know, I can't raise nothin' and make this kind of money and support my farm. You know, it bothers me. You know, children shouldn't smoke. But when you tell a child somethin', they--you tell 'em no that you can't do it, they're gonna try that much harder.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today President Clinton went to talk to tobacco farmers in nearby Caroll County, Kentucky. He said he wanted to reassure them his campaign to reduce youth smoking does not include an effort to shut down the entire tobacco industry. He repeated that point during a round table discussion inside a tobacco warehouse.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I have no interest whatever in putting the tobacco companies out of business. I just want to get them out of the business of selling tobacco to children. And I think it's important. I think every American recognizes that the tobacco farmers have not done anything wrong. You're growing a legal crop. You're not doing the marketing of the tobacco to children. And you're doing your part as citizens.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the president got an earful from Mattie Mack. She owns a 100-acre tobacco farm with her husband. Mack said they sent their three children to college on the money made from tobacco. She also told the president tobacco farmers shouldn't be penalized because kids smoke.
MATTIE MACK, Tobacco Farmer: Now can take tobacco, I don't care if you put out 200 acres of tobacco and put it out there and just leave it alone. That tobacco ain't gonna grow by itself. We need Almighty God to send the sunshine and the rain if this tobacco is gonna grow. And that's the way it is with raisin' children. If you're gonna raise children, you've got to sit down and you have to talk to those children, and put God in 'em, take 'em to Sunday school and to church, and let them know this is the rules and regulations that God requires and this is what makes children grow, and this is what makes children decent senior citizens of this world. Thank you, Mr. President.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton told the group he would do his dead level best to get tobacco legislation passed this year, but there is great uncertainty in Washington about what shape that legislation eventually will take. So, for now, tobacco farmers in Kentucky plan to go ahead and do what farmers here have done every spring for hundreds of years--plant tobacco. DIALOGUE
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, a Gergen dialogue. David Gergen, editor-at-large of "U.S. News & World Report," engages Alex Kotlowitz, author of "The Other Side of the River," a story of two towns, a death, and America's dilemma.
DAVID GERGEN: Alex, 1991, a young black boy dies mysteriously in Michigan. You investigated this tale for four years, and it's haunted you ever since. Tell us about it.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ, Author, "The Other Side of the River:" Well, you know, in 1992, I was walking at the "Wall Street Journal" and covering race and poverty for the paper and the verdict was rendered in the Rodney King trial and disturbances broke out in Los Angeles, and I knew my editors were going to want me to go to LA, and I didn't want to go. I don't like being in the center of the storm. I said let me go to Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, these two communities in Southwestern Michigan that I was familiar with, and let me see if I can find a way to write about race that might agitate and provoke people a bit, and I--was familiar with these two towns because of the stark contrast between them--St. Joseph, a town of 9,000, 95 percent white, surrounded by water on three sides, Lake Michigan to the West, St. Joseph River to the North and to the East, a very quaint community, and just North of there on the other side of the river is Benton Harbor, in stark contrast predominantly black and desperately poor, and when I went up there, I learned about the death of this boy, Eric McGinnis, a year earlier, a 16-year- old African-American boy with a group of friends would go over to a teenage nightclub in St. Joseph on Friday and Saturday nights to dance, toflirt with the girls. In fact, Eric dated a white girl for a period of months, and on a Friday night Eric was there at the club outside with a group of white friends, apparently broke into a car and got into a tussle with the owner--
DAVID GERGEN: A white owner.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: A white owner, a middle-aged gentleman, and a chase ensued away from the river, and Eric quickly outdistanced this man, ran by--the last person to see him was an off-duty white deputy sheriff, who was reviled in the Benton Harbor community. Eric disappeared, and five days later his body was found floating in the river that separates these two towns. And what so intrigued me was how these two communities came to the death of this boy from such extraordinarily different and divergent perspectives. Everybody in St. Joe was--still is convinced that Eric died accidentally, that he--knowing the police were out looking for him--tried to swim the river to get home and drown, or tried to cross the railroad bridge and fell in.
DAVID GERGEN: Is there any feeling on the part of the white community that because of the break-in to the car, going to a white club, essentially teen- age club, it was mostly white, dating a white girl, that, in effect, he intruded into the white community and probably paid a price for that?
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: Well, I did hear from a few people, a handful of people, that Eric got what he deserved. In fact, one person I ran into told me, well, what do you think, he was on the wrong side of the river.
DAVID GERGEN: That was in the white community.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: In the white community. But virtually everybody in Benton Harbor was--still is convinced that Eric died as a result of foul play, most likely at the hands of whites, because he had been dating a white girl. And so you had this kind of peculiar American "Rashomon," if you will.
DAVID GERGEN: And the people in the black community were very angry, resentful about the investigation that was conducted, the fact that no clear answer emerged in the investigation
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: People were furious, and there were some mistakes made early on. There was not a forensic pathologist involved in the autopsy, and what's more, there was a decision made very early on by the prosecutor in the county not to publicly release the information that Eric apparently had broken into a car because he feared that if he did, that there would be riots in Benton Harbor, these myths that we build up about each other, and so they held onto this information. A year later, when it leaked out, everybody said, what else are you keeping from us?
DAVID GERGEN: And did you feel that had he been a white boy in these circumstances who died mysteriously that there might have been a resolution of the case?
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: Well, I think the authorities generally would have taken it a bit more seriously than they did and would have been a bit more vigorous in their effort to try to figure out what happened to him. At least, that certainly is the feeling in the black community.
DAVID GERGEN: And you went in as a reporter and how did they respond to you?
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: Well, it's interesting. In Benton Harbor, in the black town, there's certainly a wariness towards me as an outsider. Who was I to come into their town, tell their stories? But once it was clear what my intentions were people were not only willing but they were eager to tell their stories, and I think, you know, it's typical, I think, of much of black America that they suffer their slights silently out of fear that if they share them, that they won't be believed, and here is somebody coming in, saying, I want to hear your stories, and I want to be able to tell them, and so they were very quick to accept me once my intentions were clear. It was not the case in St. Joseph. It was--
DAVID GERGEN: In the white community.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: In the white community. It was a very mixed reaction. There were some like Lt. Jim Reeves, who headed the investigation, was very open to me, very open about his own personal history. And then there were others, like the prosecutor in the county, who refused to talk with me. And people would say to me, why are you writing such a negative book, why are you making such an issue of this? And again, fairly typical I think of much of white America, race doesn't impose on our daily routines; it doesn't pose a sense of urgency for us.
DAVID GERGEN: We still don't know the answer of what happened to Eric McGuinness.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: No, we don't. I mean, there's still a lot of ambiguity about what happened to him.
DAVID GERGEN: But what you found primarily was then the disconnectedness between white and black America separated by a river?
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: And by the power of myths that we build up about each other, which just get in the way even further.
DAVID GERGEN: People fall back on their myths very quickly. If they don't know what happened, they fall back on the myth to explain.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: Absolutely. And they--and people are always very quick to choose sides. And, of course, they pull back to the familiar. They circle the wagons, if you will, and that's certainly happened in the aftermath of Eric's death.
DAVID GERGEN: There's much that was discouraging about the book. Did you find anything encouraging?
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: For the most part I found people on both sides of the river who really wanted to do right by each other but didn't know where to begin, this kind of moral middle ground. Alan Wolf writes about it in his recent book about how people are much more open-handed and tolerant of people than we're led to believe, and I saw that in these two towns.
DAVID GERGEN: Alan Wolf was just here on the NewsHour to talk about those findings and they were quite interesting. In that regard, I'm curious about what response you've had from the two communities since the book has been published.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: Well, it's been so much surprise for me. In fact, I found the book's not only been embraced in the black community, which I certainly expected--it gives affirmation to their stories, to their lives--but it's also been embraced in the white community. I mean, people have come up to me in St. Joseph and said, thanks for writing this book; it's made us think about our neighbors a little differently, and a few weeks ago I went to speak at a luncheon sponsored by the local Rotary, a fairly conservative civic organization, and they had nearly 600 people there, and the head of the Rotary, a middle-aged contractor, read the book, and he along with his colleagues across the river have put together a commission on racial diversity and the local newspaper has begun to retool and rethink its coverage of race.
DAVID GERGEN: What do you conclude then about race dialogue in this country and how we'd make it productive?
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: Well, I think, first of all, we have to acknowledge in whatever conversation ensues that initially it's going to feel somewhat contrived because we don't have those obvious connections; we don't worship together; we don't play together; we don't live side by side; we don't go to school together. I don't mean to over-generalize, but Ithink for most of us that's the case. And so initially those efforts are going to be somewhat contrived, the most of those contrived being these town meetings, which I don't think have been terribly effective.
DAVID GERGEN: The president's town meetings.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: The president's town meetings, right. But one example is, in Benton Harbor and Lakeshore, which is a white community just South of St. Joe, a group of students spent the day at each other's high schools, fairly contrived situation. But what struck me is how after one day, one day, these teenagers began to think of their neighbors just a little bit differently, and so we've got to find those meeting places, if you will, to begin that conversation. And I think the tough part is acknowledging that it's going to feel somewhat contrived initially.
DAVID GERGEN: That has to start within the community, itself, though.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: Yes. I think it's got to really operate on sort of the local level, if you will, because it's at that local level that we all share things--if nothing else--the sort of physical proximity to each other.
DAVID GERGEN: Alex Kotlowitz, thank you very much.
ALEX KOTLOWITZ: Well, thanks for having me, David. FINALLY - FREEDOM FIGHTER
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally tonight, looking at the legacy of Paul Robeson. Phil Ponce has that.
PHIL PONCE: Paul Robeson was an actor, a singer with a booming voice, and a highly controversial political activist. He was born 100 years ago today in Princeton, New Jersey. An outstanding athlete and student in high school, Robeson received a scholarship to attend what in 1915 was called Rutgers College. The third African-American ever admitted, he became a starathlete, playing for Rutgers otherwise all white football, baseball, basketball, and track teams. He won 14 varsity letters and was a two time All-American football player. He was also a scholar--Phi Beta Kappa--and valedictorian of his class. In 1921, Robeson married Eslanda Cardozo Goode, and in 1923, he received his degree from Columbia Law School. A few years later they had a son, Paul Robeson, Jr.. But his true love was music and theater, so Robeson turned to the performing arts for his livelihood. In 1924, Eugene O'Neill cast him in the "Emperor Jones" and "All God's Chillun Got Wings" in New York City. A few years later, Robeson went to London to star in the musical "Showboat." His performance was universally acclaimed for his show-stopping rendition of "Ol' Man River." Later, he performed the song on Broadway and the silver screen.
PHIL PONCE: He went on to star in 11 feature films and numerous plays. One of his most controversial and best known roles was as Shakespeare's "Othello." Performing in London in 1930, and later on Broadway, Robeson was the first black man to play the role since 1865. He spoke about the role in a 1959 interview.
PAUL ROBESON: First I would say that here is a part which has dignity for the Negro actor. Often we don't get those opportunities. And I would say that my people will be very proud of my or any other Negro actor appearing in such a part. Shakespeare posed this problem of a say black man in a white society in the role that he's playing. And Shakespeare gave Othello such dignity--he came not from--as he said--not from hate but from honor, from a sense of his own human dignity. And to me, to my mind, there could be no greater character played.
PHIL PONCE: Since the 1930's, Robeson had been voicing his opposition to the stereotypical roles usually offered to black actors. He also had strong beliefs regarding equality in society and spoke on behalf of blacks and working people around the world. Fluent in almost 20 languages,Robeson used his singing talent to travel around the world giving concerts to the working poor.
PHIL PONCE: In 1934, he made a trip that would change his life. Robeson traveled to the Soviet Union. Overwhelmed by the warm welcome, he became taken with a society in which he perceived equality among the ethnic minorities. He became a vocal advocate of the Soviet Union and of socialism, even though he still considered himself an American. Robeson continually spoke out against the U.S. government, accusing it of genocidal policies toward the 15 million blacks in America. A 1949 concert in Peekskill, New York, turned into a riot, when anti-Communist demonstrators stopped the performance. Anti-Communist riots like these led to an industry-wide boycott of Robeson from any American concert hall or recording contract, nor was he allowedto perform overseas. The State Department revoked his passport in 1950. Under surveillance by the FBI and denounced by the NAACP, Robeson had become America's leading dissident. In 1956, Senator Joseph McCarthy called Paul Robeson before his committee to discuss his Communist ties. Robeson spoke to reporters outside a federal court house.
PAUL ROBESON: Most importantly, however, the questions raised by the State Department as to my political opinion, here's a question of whether one who wants to sing and act can have, as a citizen, political opinions. And in attacking me, they suggested that when I was abroad, I spoke out against injustices to the Negro people in the United States; I certainly did.
PHIL PONCE: After a two year court battle, the State Department reinstated his passport. He tried to return to the world stage but never seemed to regain his earlier form. After his wife died in 1965, Robeson retired and lived in seclusion with his sister in Philadelphia. Robeson died in 1976 at the age of 77. More than 5,000 people attended his funeral in Harlem. They listened to"Ol' Man River."
PHIL PONCE: For more we turn to writer, actor, and director Ossie Davis, who knew Robeson. Mr. Davis has been in more than 30 films and also wrote the play, "Paul Robeson, All American," and Martin Duberman, professor of history at Lehman College at the City University of New York, he wrote a biography about Paul Robeson. Gentlemen, welcome both.Mr. Davis, how would you describe Paul Robeson's legacy?
OSSIE DAVIS, Actor/Writer: Well, for me, Paul was a mountain of joy, an explosive personality that always made me feel greater in his presence than I felt before. You notice, he mentions dignity a great deal. That was a key part of who he was and what he meant to us, we, youngsters, following in his path, you know, and looking upon him as a giant and as an example. We blacks need so much to be reminded of something great. We have heroes that we worshiped and they made a great difference, like Joe Lewis, for example, or Marion Anderson, and to top it all, Paul Robeson, just to look at him, to be in love with him was to be alive in a different kind of way.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Duberman, Mr. Robeson's legacy maybe in a bigger context?
MARTIN DUBERMAN, Robeson Biographer: To me, his legacy is his insistence, especially after he became politicized, that there simply need not be as much suffering in the world as there currently is. The few need not have so much and the many need not have so little. He didn't talk a great deal about means, but he was very insistent on ends. And the end that he was insistent on was the good things of life, the opportunities have to be opened up to many more people and the wealth has to be considerably distributed, redistributed.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Davis, before we get into some of Mr. Robeson's political and social beliefs, talk about his talent, the range of his ability as a performer.
OSSIE DAVIS: Well, he was extraordinary, and this was one of the things that was almost shocking about the man. In so many departments he was a super hero--an athlete, you know, beyond all the others, a singer, an actor, and of course a fighter for the cause of freedom. So in so many ways Paul was extraordinary, and in each of these ways, you know, we found that he made a contribution to our lives. For black people, you know, to insist that we had a dignity and that, therefore, that we should fight for what was our right about the Constitution granted us as citizens certain rights which we should not see aggregated, you know. His leadership, his quality to inspire action, activity, you know, even suffering and defense was remarkable. Nobody came close to him in that regard.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Duberman, was there an event, or was there a series of events that "radicalized" Paul Robeson, that made him such a "militant?"
MARTIN DUBERMAN: There was a long evolutionary process, I think. During the 1920's, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, like so many, Robeson believed that art would be the solvent to racism. In other words, a significant number of individuals, the talented tenth, would prove through their distinctive contributions that, of course, blacks had all the gifts and capacities of whites. But by the 1930's, when he was living in London, he came into contact with a number of people who later became leaders of their own nations in Africa. They had a profound influence on him, as did the trade union movement, and then subsequently, with the rise of fascism, Robeson saw socialism and the Soviet Union, which in those years for so many seemed to be the embodiment of socialism. He saw socialism as the one true possible bulwark against the rise of fascism.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Davis, tell us about how well you knew Mr. Robeson and, if you would, talk about these political concerns that he had.
OSSIE DAVIS: Well, Paul visited Ruby and me--Ruby Dee is my wife--on one occasion. And when I was an actor working on a film in London in 1964, he gave me the keys to his apartment, so Ruby and I stayed there for some time. But I knew Paul best as one of those young actors coming into the profession and being in the circle that was around him, you know. He'd led us; he taught us; he encouraged us; and you must remember that in the beginning of World War II, one of the things that agitated us most was the treatment of Haley Celasa in Ethiopia, you know, by Mussolini. And so there was Paul from that area of the world who could sort of explain to us what the deeper meanings of this were, you know, how they fitted into his world view, and his belief that America had a great deal of changing to do before it would be able to treat justly with us as black people.
PHIL PONCE: So he saw his art directly connected with his social beliefs, and what--he passed that on to his colleagues?
OSSIE DAVIS: Yes. He saw--songs, for example, to him were not only songs of joy but there were messages in songs, sometime even revolutionary messages, and he believed that all of the people of the world, the folk music, had a kind of common undertone, a common sub-structure, and he delighted in going from one to the other finding what was golden and good and bringing that and sharing it with us, explaining where it came from, explaining its importance, and pointing--using the songs as a cultural way of reaching out and touching people in their lives where they lived.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Duberman, just how big of an irritant or how big of a threat did he come to be to the status quo?
MARTIN DUBERMAN: Oh, an enormous threat because Paul Robeson had been viewed for a number of decades as the symbolic, good Negro, as proof that the system worked, as proof that there was no significant prejudice in this country. But Paul Robeson not only stepped over the line of being the good representative Negro, but he strode across the line. He insisted on being openly political and insisted on remaining true to his principles, even after the world shifted and changed around him.
OSSIE DAVIS: And, remember, there is in our culture a sort of Messiah expectation. Paul's capacity to excite admiration in large groups of people, black and otherwise, here, in Africa, and over the world, made him constitute a real threat to the powers that be. You know, his leadership posed to them potentially a great danger. He could call on the masses to rise in their opinions and the masses would rise, and God knows what that could lead to. So they feared him as they feared no other leader.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Davis, in the short time we have left, why do you think there's renewed interest in Robeson? Is it just his 100th anniversary of his birth, or is there something else going on?
OSSIE DAVIS: No. I think there is a dearth of information, a hunger. We feel that something important in our lives has been pushed aside or attempted to be erased. It is our need to know the truth, and Paul represents that to us. We want him back. We want him put back into his proper place in the picture of what an American is supposed to be.
PHIL PONCE: Thank you, gentlemen. I'm afraid we're out of time. I appreciate your being with us. RECAP
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Again, the major stories of this Thursday, at least 38 people died after tornadoes ravaged communities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia last night. President Clinton promised to protect Kentucky tobacco farmers from economic hardship as Congress considers tobacco legislation, and the Northern Ireland peace talks in Belfast went down to the wire as negotiators tried to meet a midnight deadline. We'll be with you on-line and again here tomorrow evening with Shields & Gigot, among others. I'm Elizabeth Farnsworth. Thank you and good night.
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
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This episode's headline: Talking Peace; Growing Debate; Freedom Fighter. ANCHOR: ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH; GUESTS: RAY O'HANLON, The Irish Echo; MARTIN KETTLE, The Guardian; ALEX KOTLOWITZ, Author, ""The Other Side of the River""; OSSIE DAVIS, Actor/Writer;MARTIN DUBERMAN, Robeson Biographer; CORRESPONDENTS: KWAME HOLMAN; PHIL PONCE; DAVID GERGEN
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Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
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Duration: 01:00:00;00
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Chicago: “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” 1998-04-09, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2024,
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APA: The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from