tv America Tonight Al Jazeera August 14, 2015 10:00pm-10:31pm EDT
>> on "america tonight": echoes of the watts riots still heard 50 years later. >> six days of rioting in a negro section of los angeles. >> the frustrations are really the same. >> just the same. >> "america tonight's" joie chen with an in depth look at race relations in america and what i.t. means today. also tonight, restored relations. the u.s. restored its relations with cuba after more than 50 years but many will never forget the dark days when they had to
leave behind everything they knew for a frsh start in fresh r america. >> it was pretty rushed. i had a glimpse back at my mother and she was waving good-bye. >> i'm lisa fletcher, sitting in for joie chen. two countries highlighted with 5 decades of silence between them. secretary of state john kerry called it a day for pushing aside old barriers and exploring new possibilities. but more than 50 years of bitter memories of exile and bitter relations, more for those who had to leave everything they had in cuba to forgive. lori jane gliha, has the story even it's impossible to forget.
>> i remember wake up thinking, this is my last day here. i may never see my parents again. >> carlos was alone on a flight to the united states it was the height of the revolution. >> when it first came up i was very happy to hear oh great i get to leave. i was scared about leaving my parents but i thought life was so horrible that seemed better for me. >> he packed a few articles of clothing and boarded a flight to the united states, never realizing it would be the last time he would ever see his father. >> i thought yes, i will, i will get osee him. but then he died. >> thousands of cuban children were sent to the u.s. alone by parents who feared the cuban government run by fidel castro would take them away and brain wash them. ultimately 14,000 cuban children would flee country on u.s. commercial flights to florida. part of a program started in 1960 called operation pedro pan. >> i kept looking back to see my
mother. when they finally gave us the go head to go on the plane it was pretty rushed. i had a glance back to my mother and she was waving good-bye. >> luis leon remembered spending a lot of time with his father before he left. >> what i remember that summer leading up to august was a lot of fishing trips. >> what do you think your father was doing spending a lot of time with you? >> he was sick. i knew he wasn't going to be leaving cuba so all this time was sort of his way of you know being while it could happen of being with me. >> do you remember what the last thing you said to him was? judge. >> no, i just remember hugging him. hugging him hard but i don't remember the words. >> he said he was nervous when he boarded the plain to the united states, nervous about leaving his family and his country.
but he won't forget hearing gun fire. >> the rumors were that the children would be sent to russia to be educated in russia. there was a lot of nervousness of that. >> my parents got very worried because they started indoctrination in schools. and a lot of children turned against the parents and it was becoming a real tragedy. >> lissette alvarado wa alvareza teenager. >> i started posting things about my notebooks, down with fidel. my mother was worried. >> as a daughter of two very famous performing family.
>> i traveled with my five-year-old sister, it was very, very painful, she asked my mom, why do i have to leave, how can you explain to a five-year-old child that she had to leave her mother and father, you know. >> reporter: though she didn't know him then, alvarez's future husband, willie cherino, a grammy winning singer in the united states, was also part of operation pedro pan. >> did you know each others? >> no did i not. my experience was not as lissette's was. most children who came with pedro pan had that tough moment when they felt lonely. i was not i was surrounded by 86 kids just like me. ♪ ♪ >> this documentary, the lost
apple was funded and produced by the united states information agency. it provides a glimpse into what the children of operation pedro pan could expect when they arrived in miami. >> when you go away to camp, everything is strange. >> the children were taken in by relatives, goes homes or orphanages. until their husband could come. >> we were taken to on another plane to dubuque, iowa, i don't know why they separated us, i was the only person she flew. >> alvarez who had been performing as a child began to use music as an outlet. >> i remember the first song i ever wrote it was a song for cuba. >> how did it go, can you say it? >> it said, ♪ ♪ that's the
chorus line, oh my home town nobody's doing everything for you? it's like, a question like, a cry. >> for willie, music was a way of making friends. >> it was hey, i talked to the drummer and i asked him to let you sit in and they said yes! and i go, oh, my god. i never in my life sat in front of a drum set, never ever. so i got the sticks and they say going to play wipe out, wipe out was da da da da da da da, ha ha so i started to play it. and for some reason i did it good enough for them to believe that i was a drummer. >> the adjustment was harder for those without an outlet. reverend leonwas in an
orphanage. >> i remember when someone would say something to me my response was, "i'm not an orfan." it's hard to make friends with kids who are orphans, when your identity is threatened by being in an orphanage, when your parents are still alive. it's survival mode. how do you survive in this? >> aferlsz and healvarado and he separated for three years. >> we had to get a home and settle down in puerto rico, there were reunions and separations and reunions and separations. >> finally after a year of separation, willie cherino
reunited with his family. >> it was very, very emotional, we cried we embraced. finally. >> but for luis leon, who was just 15 years old, there was no reuniting. >> there was a telegram. my sister and i got a telegram. they said your father had died. i remember crying and crying the day i got the telegram. probably a release of a lot of pent up stuff. >> it would be four years before reverend leon would see his mother again. >> it was a process eve of readjustment. last time she saw me i was 11 years old. next time she saw me i was 15. you had been away from each other for four years.
>> what would you say of this? >> it's not the same family unit. the hardest part of it all i think was for my mother. she goes through this huge herculean effort to get to the united states and when she sees her children they're very different from the two she had sent. >> reverend leon is now the rector at st. johns church in washington, d.c. carlos ayre is university of history at yale. and the two children who never knew each other as children, came together through their music. >> we took a lot of foster kids to come and take them to disney and stay here for christmas and now i have an animal rescue. and i know it has to come from all that, all the things that i went through as a child.
>> how much would you say your music is inspired by your experiences going through operation pedro pan? >> i would say a lot, a lot. i believe, i know as a matter of fact, that being an artist, you touch people's emotions including your own. >> which of your songs makes you the most emotional and touched? >> well, of course it's a song that i wrote, it's called our day will be arriving. and for some reason that song touched the deepest fiber of emotion of every cuban inside the island, and around the world. >> and with us now, "america tonight's" lori jane gliha.
lori jane, you did that about a year ago. in light of cuba and the opening of the embassies, you went back to them and asked them what did they say? >> i only reached two of them, los ayer, i said, will you watch the american flag going you up? he said i can't watch this. this would be like watching some of my family members being beheaded. it's like a last execution. i feel bad for cuba, i also feel bad for the united states. he thought this is one of the stupidest things a u.s. president could do. i also spoke to lissette, she said, at the same time nothing has happened in the government to change the lives of the people who live there. there's no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press no freedom to elect those who are the leaders. it's difficult to watch. she loved the flag but difficult
to watch. >> do you think either would go back even to visit? >> i asked both of them that question but they both said not until there is freedom of the press freedom of speech freedom to elect, lisette said, it was her home of birth but she wouldn't go back. >> lori jane gliha, thank you. >> next the house of screams, the truth that set the victims free. later, the legacy left behind by the watts riots, 50 years ago. "america tonight's" joie chen examines the kerner commission's findings. and whether anything has changed. and hot on "america tonight's" website, green rush, who will see the profits? find out at aljazeera.com/americatonight.
>> tonight in our fast forward segment we take a look at a dark chapter in chicago's history. from the early '70s to the early '90s more than 100 men were tortured to give false confessions by members of the chicago police department. i recently sat down with one man who spent half of his life behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. >> i'll take the big old nightstick and put it (bleep) as he's telling me you did this we
know you did this. >> this was a highly publicized quintuple murder but when police picked up kitchen they told him it was for auto theft. >> they said stand up nigger. stand up to the wall, handcuffed me to the back and he put his nightstick between my legs. and he put it against the wall and he lifts me off my feet and he grinds. and he grinds an he grinds and he grinds. >> for more than 16 hours, kitchen says, a revolving door of officers beat and interrogated him, until he had no fight left. >> i said okay okay okay, whatever you want me to do i'll do it. >> signed a confession? >> i signed. >> fast forward now for the first time the commission was
formed to review police cases in chicago an illinois court has ruled to reverse a conviction of a man who said he was tortured for givin -- into giving an ele. waiting for justice. this weekend on "america tonight" our three part special on the legacy of the watts riots. a look back 50 years ago and the implications still felt today. get a first hand look with in-depth reports and investigations. start weekday mornings with al jazeera america. open your eyes to a world in motion.
>> what gaffer until watts rights in los angeles 50 years ago ago this summer turned out to be the first volley. it's become a large conversation about race urban unrest and how america monitors these crises. whatever happens in those five dates ago, remains in a unresolved anger. joie chen sat down with fred harris who worked with the white house in afternoon effort to solve these simmering issues. >> six days of royaltying in a section of los angeles. >> days after lbj signed the voting rights act, watts was a reminder that even a bold push for greater equality couldn't stifle the anger not just in
south central los angeles but around the country. the contagion spread. in the summer of 66 it was chicago. the huff riots in cleveland. detroit's 12th street riots legal to clashes with the national guard and the 82nd national guard. and newark new jersey where long standing smoldering tensions between police and minorities. came to a head that summer. >> was it worse than the summer last summer the summer we're into now? >> more widespread. it was everywhere. together with the riot that we had in watts in 65 and then again in 68, baltimore and washington, exploding after the assassination much dr. king. it was far more widespread. you didn't know where this was going to go or how long or what could be done to stop it.
>> in 1965 fred harris was a young senator from rural oklahoma, an unlikely champion for america's urban poor as you can imagine, the last surviving voice of america to confront its race issues. he lives off of a dusty country road in new mexico, an ironic place for his writing about the problems of america's cities. >> now you're out here. >> well, i grew up in this kind of open country, you know. >> a childhood visit with relatives in mississippi helped shape harris's views of racism and fairness. >> i'm a 12-year-old kid, here is a gray haired black man who took off his hat and said you mind shaking hands with a colored? it offended my sense of right
and wrong. >> that chance encounter was one of several that fueled harris's sense of justice even when it put him with in the outs with the leader of his democratic party, then president lyndon johnson. >> i was looking into the problems of poverty and the cities and then we had these terrible explosions where police and national guard used excessive force and a lot of people were killed and injured, most of them black, most of them innocent. a lot of children. a lot of burnings and so forth. and i thought that we ought not to just focus on the riots and the lawlessness and what to do about that or how to handle it. i went to the senate floor and i said we've got to make real the kind of equality and the equality of opportunity that --
for everybody that we say we believed in. >> what did you tell the president? what did you tell lbj? >> that pretty much. i introduced legislation to create a blue ribbon commission to do just that. >> president johnson was persuaded by senator harris. >> first what happened, second why did it happen, and third how can we keep it from happening again and again. that's what we tried to do. >> harris and the rest of the panel led an investigation in the streets of the embattled cities to help america understand what lay behind the
anger. >> i was in chicago in the '60s. i knew we went through periods where my parents were afraid. talk about what it was like then, what the nation saw in its cities. >> i think it made people terribly fearful. i think people who didn't know what the conditions in these black cities were like, or these black sections of the cities were just shocked. and querylous. >> helped to clarify what really happened. >> j. edgar hoover and president johnson and a lot of people bleefbelieved that somehow these riots were organized. >> conspiracy? >> there was conspiracy here, we absolutely determined that was
not true. that hostility was so high, that any random spark could set them off and that is whad happened. so we said what happened, there was no conspiracy here. >> seven months of investigation led to the kerner commission report, a 426 page bold indictment of race relations if of 1960s america best remembered for a single line. >> our nation is moving towards two societies, one white, one black, separate and unequal. >> discrimination and segregation have long permeated american life, now threaten the live of every american. this deepening divide is not inevitable. the movement poord can be aparte
stopped. the response was surprising. while the kerner report became a best seller, the president that commissioned the commission chose to ignore them. >> he refused to even meet with us and he never responded to us at all about what we'd done or that he accepted it. >> 50 years after watts, around the start of those volatile summers, fred harris says he still believes change is possible. but only if the nation is willing to confront the hard truths of race in america. >> we see the same kind of things in the kerner commission study, and we see them again now, in ferguson and baltimore. and that what it is is, very high unemployment, joblessness, people, inferior education system. >> the frustrations are really the same. >> just the same. you got same kind of hostility
towards the police, who very often are the only government really that these people in central cities see. and almost any random spark can set off the violence. >> "america tonight's" joie chen. that's "america tonight." tell us what you think. at aljazeera.com/americatonight. and talk to us on twitter or facebook. and come back. we'll have more of "america tonight," tomorrow. >> there's a line of police advancing toward the crowd here. >> ferguson: city under siege. >> it isn't easy to talk openly on this base. >> and america's war workers. >> it's human trafficking. >> watch these and other episodes online now at aljazeera.com/faultlines.
>> i'm ali velshi. "on target" in philadelphia, tonight, black votes matter. why so many african american men are missing in the polls. plus history in havana, how so many americans could profit from opening of diplomacy. the watts riots in los angeles started when a white highway patrol officer stopped a black motorist suspected of drunk driving. on lookers rushed in. many believed they were witnessing another example of excessive force against african american men. the rage quickly deinvolve devoo