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tv   Interview with Kevin Merida The Fierce 44  CSPAN  April 28, 2020 7:38pm-8:01pm EDT

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you are watching a special edition of book tv now airing during the week while members of congress or their districts due to the coronavirus pandemic. tonight the supreme court, first supreme court associate justice reflects on his 30 year career and offers his thoughts on the judiciary and u.s. constitution and then supreme course justice recounts her life on the high court she spoke at the 19th annual book festival in washington d.c. later, legal analysts and supreme court profiles chief justice john roberts. enjoy book tv now and over the weekend on cspan2. >> host: so kevin merida why are we putting out a young readers book called fierce 44? for the undefeated, our
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platform, which focuses on race, sports and culture, we had done a digital project in 2017 that was kind of an ode to the first african-american president, hence the title of the fierce 44. with that we do in oman to an arguably the greatest achievement for african americans to become president and who else should be on that list? we didn't list it was interactive digital project, it was well received highly debated. and then mifflin, the publisher said could you turn this into a children's book? because there are not a lot of african-american biographies, it said john are the saddest popular the children's biography collections.
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they had beautiful illustrations we edited our digital project and turn it into a book. >> host: what's the format of this book? >> guest: it is basically short of bio sketches with a couple of illustrations. it gives you enough -- it gives kids enough to learn about these tremendous african-american achievers. and just absorb some of the inspiration and greatness that black americans have contributed to this country. >> host: you mentioned your and author of the undefeated was that part of espn? when did it come about and why? >> guest: we launched in may 2016. it was the idea of a former president of espn, john skipper, and it was the idea that here we have a digital product that really could
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serve a really loyal over indexing, black audience on digital. and meanwhile help espn bring our own aesthetic sensibility to espn where race, sports and culture intersect. i think sports now is very much about culture as well. and so that came about and i was at the "washington post" where you and i knew each other. after a lot of debates, i was presented with this opportunity and i decided to go ahead and give it a shot, essentially have a start up within espn. >> host: you were the managing editor of the "washington post" for it how much debate happened in your family? >> guest: a lot of debate, particularly with my wife. but sometimes you just disrupt your own career and want to do
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something different. take a little bit of a leap off of that cliff and try something different. so i decided to do that, and it's been fantastic. >> host: just to be clear why 44 biographical sketches? >> guest: it's a play off of the 44th president. he was exiting the white house and we said we will do 44. was originally called the undefeated 44. these are our selections, our staff selection there's a lot of fierce debate. you can imagine because there are many, many more than 44 great african-americans. we don't say this is the greatest black achievers ever, we don't try to put that -- these are 44 we looked at that fit the sensibility of the first african-american president in the sense that
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here is something, they did something pioneering, something disrupting, in some cases they were noisy geniuses are quite intimate or, they did something extraordinary in their own space. believe me peter, it was knockdown drag out debate among our staff we kind of did it democratically to get on the list, you had to convince the group that this person should be on the list. if you are going to add someone, you had to say while who will be going to take off? it was a lot of back-and-forth. obviously a lot of people were left off, but i think a lot of great people are on this list. >> what you want young readers to know about barack obama besides being the first black president? >> guest: it's interesting i was in the nba all-star weekend in chicago and happen to have be at an event were my
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colleague at espn was hosting and it had barack obama there was a discussion about what athletes do and how they use their influence it's a reminder of how -- what someone like obama does to elevate a discussion he was interacting with the athletes and you could watch the athletes in the sense of thinking more deeply about how they could influence and use their own power for good on social issues. a fascinating discussion. it's hard to become president. i don't care who you are
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watching that now. it's really difficult long journey so to be the first african-american to do that, as a signature achievement many thought they would never see in their lifetime that's always stands at the top of the mountain. >> the majority of the profiles are not athletes. we have six athletes, and even those, there are people who were left out. the athletes we do have in the list, serena williams, simone biles whose arguably the greatest gymnast ever, i think she is the greatest gymnast ever. michael jordan, who kind of not only was he the first black athletes outside of ojeh, who really kind of set a model for how athletes could do in business. and represent big corporate brand. he had a style and a kind of
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swagger in addition to his high flying ability. there are a lot of reasons why various people got picked. we could say there were a lot of great athletes. hank aaron is not on the list and he very easily could have been on that list. but i think the athletes we do have are amazing. >> host: who is not in the book he personally wanted in the book. or did all your choices get picked? no. note they didn't some people argued for, there is not much argument, some people were obvious, ali, marshall was one of my favorites because sometimes it's breaking the back of jim crow through the
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legal system and traveling dark roads going at all white's courtrooms doing it under important while everybody else is out in the streets protesting enduring citizens. he was one of my favorites to be on that list. i think i argued for jesse jackson, as a four runner to rock obama, he kind of first set the idea it was possible while people didn't want to run for president and also as a great orator and someone who has inspired many generations to have hope and faith. so, there was a lot of debate. people getting knocked down and added on. it was very spirited. >> host: here the co-author of
quote
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a book on justice clearing drink clarence johnson, was he considered? >> guest: he was raised to in as a supreme court justice he certainly was someone who was raised. a lot of people were raised i think we were mindful also of not trying to make these choices based on ideology, or based on factors that hey, this person was isolated from the race. we tried to look at achievement and what was done. obviously with 44, you are missing a lot of people. tiger woods is not on here. i think louis armstrong is another that was debated. >> guest: duke ellington is in there. >> guest: part of the process is we thought about we don't
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want to have it overly weighted with civil rights or activist figures. you could fill the entire book there. we were sensitive to what's missing. i probably think we added people, richard allen is in there, in part because certainly religion is such an important, he's the founder of the ame church. religion is so important to black communities and it still is, churches played such a role. he probably could have had more religious figures i may have raised it, we don't have enough religious figures. military, davis is a decorated general. he is in there. >> host: first african-american general. 's fighting and defending his
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country there is a difference they operated during that same time. and came back to the u.s. to the same old world. >> guest: jesse owens and many other olympians from the 1936 olympics work came back and not treated and welcome in the way that we are accustomed to olympic champions being welcomed. >> he said jesse owens returned home to the impression of jim crow working at basically menial jobs like racing horses and pumping gas. >> guest: kinda sideshow. that was a really tragic outcome for somebody who had essentially was regarded in defeating hitler. and really embarrassing hitler and the german games.
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>> host: i wanted to ask who was robert abbott's? >> he was a good newspaper editor. the chicago defender was the most important publication in america for black americans at the time. i was really during a period when chicago, where the migration, chicago and really nationally being kind of a beacon for truth and leading the way. robert abbott definitely deserves it. and he was a journalist. we've got to have some journalism representation. >> host: what was the importance of the defender? >> guest: i think black newspapers at the time were really -- black men were not working at the white papers prayed this is what we got our news. there is like the amsterdam news and of course the afro-american, other papers around the country with black
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papers they were out covering the civil rights movement, and covering injustice, many of those reporters that were going down in the deep south were just like third thurgood marshall they had to figure how to stay in places, and file their stories in dangerous places. they were also under threat they had to do their work under threat. i think they were really important, the black newspaper chicago, the defender standing above all as leaders in the civil rights movement. >> host: what was the toughest part of trance positioning from the "washington post" with politics to sports and politics for you? >> guest: look, i was a sports fan. i followed sports closely, managing editor, i oversaw the
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news and features covered which includes a sports department of written a lot about sports. kind of as a feature writer. i felt comfortable in the sports world. i did not feel too out of place there. think the biggest difficulty, the transition is here to place like the "washington post" that is so news centered. going to a start up essentially that did not have a culture, we had to build everything from the ground floor. when you're starting something new, you are encountering all kinds of challenges that go along with that. it was a great transition. >> host: weiser called the undefeated? >> it's based off of a quote that we may encounter many defeats but we will not be defeated. that sometimes, you need to suffer defeat to know what you can become.
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i think really is from a sports standpoint, and from a race standpoint, really kind of came together as an ideal. was sports our kids lose, we hug them, they're going to lose a game we let them know hey it's not the end of the world, there will be another opportunity. just the resilience of what black americans have done in this country. they are resilience, their triumph over obstacles, as reflected in that quote so the undefeated fellow co- good. >> host: as you mentioned there are athletes featured in the fierce four are they inherently role models? they play in public they interact with fans and people
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come to watch them. kids look up to them. because many kids grow up playing sports and they wish they could become serena williams. look at coco now, she is lighting up tennis. she was inspired by serena williams. naomi, was inspired by serena williams. you see that kind of pipeline from althea gibson to serena williams. i think athletes you look up to them you want to become them. they are role models. >> host: but about colin was he considered for this book? >> there is discussion about him. i think certainly at a point in time, he has become a
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symbol for activism from black athletes now. certainly sacrifice his career in order to make a point about police brutality and oppression, racial injustice. i think somebody is kind of the modern day ali, to sacrifice something definitely considered. >> host: there were two people this book i've never heard of and i'm ashamed to say. >> guest: basque yet he was really kind of an aven guard painter. he really was, and right now since his paintings were up there at the highest resale value and he died young. he was somebody some young
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geniuses they died too young and you never know what they could have become. but even him, the kind of put him in as a disruptor because there were a lot of other artists and i know a couple people on our staff of in a call jesse washington out he thought there should've been other notable painters, roman bearden are more who were more deserving. think in every genre you have you have success, you have a lot of success in your making choices for different reasons you have some zags are people would not expect a person to be on the list. stay max out disruptors was important to be included. >> disruption is good,
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courage, bravery, where you're taking a chance, going into places where others have not gone. i think all of those should be considered. certainly the achievements and success were important. there were a lot of factors wouldn't have a scoresheet, as a field and a debate, we just made some selections. >> the other one i had not heard of, doctor charles drew. >> he is a pioneer in medicine i know in nashville, he represents the importance of a medical discovery. and the sciences and her contributions there. i think the way we thought about that was charles drew
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was somebody that we could have had, a lot of other people george washington carver, many people who were in the realm of scientific discovery but he was a representation. so i hope kids i hope parents read with their children think everybody people brace and ethnicities, his or black americans are shook up the world but it's our history. i hope kids everywhere, can learn something. >> host: beautiful illustrations in here. who did them? >> guest: robert ball. he's an artist artist we contracted with he was fantastic. kevin merida is the editor-in-chief of the undefeated.
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he's also 11 of the authors on this book, "the fierce 44", book black americans to shook up the world. >> thanks peter. : : :

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