tv Tavis Smiley PBS July 11, 2013 12:00am-12:31am PDT
>> good evening from los angeles. uncovering the unknown but fascinating story of alexander dumas. he battled racial animosity and the jealousy of napoleon. only to have his life and legacy buried by decades of prejudice and neglect. thea conversation with whispers as they celebrate 50 years of harmonies that began on the street corners of watts. we're glad you joined us.
>> there is a saying that dr. king had said that there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life pretty by doing the right thing. we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger and we have a lot of work to do. wal-mart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. the line as we work together, we can stamp hong. - hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: many of us have read "the count of monte christo" and
'the three musketeers in high school. live the life of danger and adventure worthy of any fictional character. including 50,000 troops as one of napoleon's most brilliant general. -brilliant generals. reiss joins us from new york. glad to have you on the program i want to start with a quote. "i love been able to go back and pulled the korean fascination that is everywhere in the planet where the stories are buried." tell me more about those words and the context of the work. >> that is willing to do in all
of my work. i feel like history is about going in discovering the great bitn stories that are every as relevant as anything that is going on today. one challenge you have when you're going back into history people -- we think we know what has happened. we think it is history and therefore less interesting. it is my job to show you we do not know what happened in the past and in fact, it is just as exciting as any breaking news story. often more so. when i was a kid one of the people who taught me how to do this was the writer, alexander dumas. it is appropriate that everything let me full circle back to the story of his father. >> this is meticulously researched. tell me how you found all the stuff that you found to bring this to life? >> you know if you read the
story,here is a unique the kind of thing you cannot make up that happened when i found in the middle of france a locked safe i had to get into and i spent several months trying to figure out a way. i had to hire a safecracker and navigate a whole kind of town government to get the safecracker into a building and blow it open. that was a fun story but it was even more exciting, what was in the safe was the original manuscript upon which the count of monte christo was based. it was not a fiction .anuscript it was the subject, alexander dumas. dungeonhrown into this
and have poisoned to death. when he got out he rode down for his family a record of everything he had undergone and injured. incredibly his son years later used this to write this novel that has meant so much to so many people. that was the most dramatic document find. i went all over the world trying to reconstruct the life of general delong -- dumas. fromd been erased history. he was napoleon's great rival. he even -- even though he eventually went to egypt as a cavalry commander of the french forces in egypt, there in the thert, this young man from tropics who had already done and
gravel things on behalf of the french revolution, on behalf of the french army as he conquered the alps for france and had done all these great things. he clashed in the desert with napoleon who was at that time just one rank above him. he saw himself as the future dictator france. abovel dumas tower napoleon and said, you are leading -- leading the revolution to shame and degradation and i am not going to have a part of this. my job is to liberate people. napoleon, the people who were becoming his generals realized for him it was not about spreading freedom and revolution. newas about creating a empire was napoleon as the dictator. tavis: how does a black man and of becoming a general, much less being at one point napoleon's --
one of napoleon's top generals. he ended up being arrival. rival.g a >> it is one of the most unlikely, incredible stories in history. becomes aumas, he general as a young man but we have to go back to his board in what would become heady -- haiti. his father is a french adventurer, a kind of erode figure and his own uncle is one of the main slave dealers in haiti. and actually deals slaves out of a cove and the north of the island called monte crist. cristo. alexander gets into all sorts of adventures.
the year is 7076. alex is 16 years old and his father smuggles him into france. i found the record where he is arriving in the north of france and he is listed in their ship cargo as the slave alexander. year and that slave alexander has a new name and a new title. he is officially a count. given the education of a french nobleman outside of paris. that rove father came into a huge fortune and decides this is his favorite son. he leaves the rest of the family back in haiti. he is not nice guy. he decides he's going to bring this talented black son to france. yes to break a lot of laws to do it. alex is getting this education as a swordsman and remarkably, in paris in the 1780's his
fencing teacher is another black man whose father -- a mother was also a slave. greatest fanshe are not only in france but the world. you have these black man in paris right before the french before the height of slavery. most of the money in france that is coming in to build palaces is coming in from slavery. hear these black men in paris sword fighting with each other. the revolution breaks out. ofy form this group swordsman called the black collegian. alex dumas is there, he rises to the equivalent of a four-star general. no person of color is going to rise to that rank until basically colin powell in our
own time. the fact that that story is unknown, he rises higher than any black man would rise in the celebrated during this amazing period of the french revolution. not having to hide his color but in fact is being celebrated. the french are incredibly proud they have this person of color at the top of their revolution. all of this shutdown and that is the reason he was erased from history. napoleon is the guy who does it. when he comes back into power, france is losing so much money from not being part of the slave trade and having ended slavery and integrating their society and a lot of people are angry. for racism and economic reasons. it is all rolled back. his suppressed for the next 100
years. when they finally create a single statue to him, the nazis tear down because they do not like the statue of a black man. during world war ii is not reconstructed after the war. in france, very tense racial situation. people of color and france do not feel like they have a lot of opportunities. at the same time you have this feeling in france that you have had throughout the 20th-century. even a little before. at the times of darkest racism in the united states, many black artists and cultural figures felt very much at home in paris. that was the city there were drawn to. he was a mess in terms of that. i am looking forward to my book being published in three months in france and i will be fascinated by the reaction. tavis: you will be fascinated
and so well like to see what the response will be. cikubad you mentioned olin powell. it is further fascinating to realize or to know that after all these years there still has not been a rebuilding, a reestablishing of a statue in honor of dumas. the story that was once hidden is now out. the story is "the black count: glory, revolution, betrayal, and the real count of monte cristo." he is the winner of the pulitzer prize for this text. good to have you on this program. >> thanks a million. i appreciate it. tavis: to members of the great r&b group the whispers.
stay with us. isebrating 50 years of music no small feat delivered by way of streetcorners and whain watt. wallace scott and walter scott are the founders of the acclaimed group the whispers. they began singing in 1963 recording chart toppers, "and the beat goes on," and "rock steady." they still tour and record. let's take a look at them it, "rockg their he steady." ♪> ♪ we begin to rock steady
♪rock steady long ♪ rocking all night ♪ rocking ttill the break of dawn ♪ tavis: when they put up walter and wallace on the screen, who is that? anyone called wallace? i can only imagine the trick to play years ago. -- you played years ago. i can only imagine. that long?m like >> if someone would have said 50 years ago you would be singing
50 years later, i would have laughed at them. that is not going to happen. but here it is. it seems like it was yesterday. we have been singing along time. no. tavis: what do you recall about the years of singing? >> those were the fun parts. there was no pressure. we were just dreaming. we would get on the street corner and we would -- the mop was the microphone. it was fun. we wanted to -- we thought we might could do something. .t would draw the girls if anybody would have told us we would have ended up with a record deal we would have thought there was something wrong with them. -- whyhow did rmb and up
r & b? >> we never heard too much of black music. we heard groups like the four freshmen and the hi-los. that is what we heard on the radio. in hawthorne, nevada. we come to los angeles and look ninth grade and we were bombarded with motown. we're hearing the temptations, all these different people. we did what everybody did. we for the young vocal group and started singing rhythm and blues. we brought to rhythm-and-blues lo, four freshman and calais. we sang barbershop harmony. tavis: you started singing. >> i mother was a singer.
-- my mother was a singer. she was shy. she had a great singing voice. tavis: how did you get scobee out of his shyness? to come backk scotty with an illness. he got sick and they removed one of his ribs. lo and behold, i am thrust without him to do what he used to do and i was not that good that. i had been in vietnam. it had to swim or drowned. i ended up making it. was a new back, scott guy. he was not afraid anymore. the microphone did not scare him. for some reason when he got back he was a bonafide lead singer. tavis: true story? >> it was a true story. i wanted to look at the girls.
i did not want nobody looking at me. hit all the notes, i have the chops. the one with the beard was the big guy. i would stand by him and peek. it was the harmonies that we were doing. like wald said, we were impressed, especially the hi- lows. there were doing before and five part harmony in nablus away. we were doing that and i was so into that i did not have to worry about trying to impress somebody about how i should look when i sing, what do do. i was interested in the harmonies and the notes and i could do that fairly easy. later on became a thing to wear we saw the groups like the zero o'jays.
tavis: stage presence is so important. i will not call names although i could. we have a bunch of folks who have the pyrotechnics and electronics but for that, distracting you, they do not have the stage presence. you guys have always had that. >> we came from the generation where we first saw groups like the temptations and the o'jays, the whispers used to sing as though it were acquired. we would sing beautifully but had no show. once we saw those groups we realized we're trying to make it. that is what we had to get a show. >> those groups may lead the o'jays. they should have been called the five stallions. they impressed us. they could sing but they were
performing the then we back then. it is a e us -- harmony but it is boring. that is what he said. excitement, do something. other than just -- stand there and sing. atut two years of looking the temptations and the o'jays, of theew everybody out water including the temptations. them, with ag minute. -- to wait a minute. tavis: you were not the first person who at the height of their success had to stop and go surfing. the most famous person would probably be elvis. how did you process going to vietnam, being gone for a couple of years and coming back?
>> i had never been away for my brother. we have been seen other for every day. i did not know how to act without knowing that i was not going to see him. , what too years i left do my basic training and went off to vietnam and spent 14 months there. it was a lifetime experience. i learned things about human beings -- this was on the 1960's. i guess what i tell the guys, i learned in vietnam, we were we were two wars, fighting the vietcong and among ourselves. the prejudice i found was -- that existed, it was in vietnam between gis who never thought that black people took showers. here we come, people -- guys from chicago and detroit extent with guys from west virginia. they had different views of each other. that blew me away. i came back and i said this is the most exciting thing i had --
i never knew this existed. it brought a bunch of people together who did not know about each other. we were trying to fight an enemy called the vietcong. the most incredible thing i have experienced in my life. tavis: i asked how rhythm-and- -- how you ended up with rhythm-and-blues. whispers kind but the own the lane of romance. explicit, it is in your face. it leaves nothing to the imagination. how did you own this romance lane? >> i will tell you we have to credit it with. nicolas caldwell. the first "lady," song. we always talk about that complement -- the importance of,
amending our ladies. mothers and sisters. that meant a lot to the whispers. he wrote that with that in mind. when you hear songs like that, these were all songs dealing with remands. -- romance. anddeal in romance, in love, the report -- importance of relationships that last over 20 years. nick was doing that for 20 years. we cornered the market on romanticism with the ladies. we have been singing it the whole time we have been together. that is what we were about. quickly,t me ask you how much longer, it has been five decades and you are killing it. >> i said last week was going to quit.
it is a blessing. we understand if anybody had told us we would be added this long who would have believed us? our fans have said just keep coming with it. as long as they did that will be here week after next. >> you kind of know when it is not there anymore. we see vocal groups that it does happen like that. it is up to you to be honest with yourself to know when it is time to college. fortunately got his blessed as to where we can still do a very effective show. you have gone to shows where you come home and do say you love them but it is not quite it no more. that point we will not have a problem being honest enough to know that we have had a great career and it
is time to say it was nice while it lasted. >> you have a long way to go. out wedo not figure that will tell you. you have a long way to go. i am always honored to be in your company. anytime, anywhere. congratulations on 50 years and you're welcome back here any time. >> thank you so much. walter and wallace. the scott brothers, the founders of the whispers. thanks for watching. and as always, keep the faith. more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. join me next time for a conversation with tonio.ond'an
that is next time. see you then. >> we know that we're halfway to completely eliminate hunger and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger and the u.s. as we were together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. eme music ♪) >> be more.