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Q&A: Soledad O'Brien

CNN reporter, host of "Black in America"



Black in America, a six-hour documentary produced by CNN, begins airing Thursday, April 3rd, with its first installment revisiting the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The documentary's host, CNN reporter Soledad O'Brien, was in Memphis last month to finish shooting the project. Here's what she had to say about it. — by Chris Davis

Flyer: "Black in America" is such a broad topic. Is there an average black experience?

Soledad O'Brien: The documentary can't just be historically accurate; it has to ring true with everyone's personal experience. Is integration a net positive or a net negative? There are people who will argue both sides of that. Is affirmative action good or bad? Dating outside the race, good or bad? There's a giant range of opinions. That's partly why we've made sure to cast a very wide net.

Does the experience change from region to region?

One theme that unites African Americans — whether they are middle class, impoverished, or well off — is the same wherever you are. It's not in values. It's certainly not in income. [It's in] a sense of shared history, of obstacles that had to be overcome and obstacles that lie ahead.

Is the civil rights movement alive or is it history under glass?

Some of the civil rights leaders we spoke with do talk wistfully about it. Some say, "I don't understand — the things we marched for, the things we sacrificed — and now nobody even bothers to vote." But more than that, there was a recognition that times have changed.

What is the point of looking back into the Martin Luther King assassination investigation?

One of the things that stuck out: Why, 40 years later, are there still credible, intelligent people who think James Earl Ray didn't have anything to do with the assassination? You have every conspiracy — people over here who say they believe aliens came down, blah, blah, blah. But you have not only the King family but King's advisers who say the conspiracy was much greater.

What did you discover?

I did sit down with Jerry Ray, James Earl Ray's brother. He gave me a box of chocolates. And he's the most charming ex-con I've ever met. I'd always heard James Earl Ray wasn't the sharpest tack, and I think Jerry took a lot of umbrage at that: "Not so dumb he didn't pull off a lot of crimes and get away with it," he said.

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