Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren: HUD Secretary Ben Carson

(VOA): Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren interviewed U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson at his office to discuss the legacy of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Greta Van Susteren: “Mr. Secretary, nice to see you sir.” Secretary Ben Carson: “Nice to see you.” Van Susteren: “Well we’re at the 50 anniversary of Martin Luther King dying. I’m old enough to remember that. It’s hard to think 50 years has passed isn’t it?” Carson: “It really is, I remember it very vividly. I remember the day that Dr. King was assassinated and there was a riot in my high school and you know things were very unsettled in the city. But I also remember exactly one week later, when Lyndon Johnson signed the bill and that was very exciting also. Because you know, I was 17 years old, I certainly knew what was going on and had felt the effects of racism, and prejudice and you know it was a time of great hope.” Van Susteren: “When you were growing up, you were in Northern part near Michigan right?” Carson: “Yes.” Van Susteren: “Were you following- there was segregation all over the country, but deep segregation problems in the south?” Carson: “Yes, I had had opportunity to travel to the south because both of my parents were from the south. I remember vividly as a kid seeing the ‘whites only’ signs and all that kind of stuff and thinking wow, but—“ Van Susteren: “What was it like? When you walk into a place that says ‘whites only.’” Carson: “It’s sort of like someone punches you in the gut. And it’s saying to you, you’re not worthy. But growing up in Detroit I heard that all the time also. You know I’ll never forget the time that in the eighth grade when they were giving out the awards for the most outstanding academic performance. I was the only black student and I got the award and one of the teachers got up in front of the assembly and basically chastised the white kids, ‘you can’t let a black kid be number one, what’s wrong with you?’ I mean that kind of craziness, you know I grew up with.”   Van Susteren: “Dr. King was a man, we want change through peace.” Carson: “And he was an amazing person, you know. He studied the various empires of the world, looked at various leaders and he was an eclectic. He took what was good from each one amalgamated that into a very clever, very brilliant strategy for achieving things through peace. I mean if he had been violent I don’t know we ever would’ve solved this particular kind of problem. But he got people to actually see what they were doing he got other people to actually focus on what other people were doing. And, you know, we the American people, when you analyze it we’re not horrible people. We’re actually pretty decent people, but sometimes we allow ourselves to be stirred up and manipulated. A lot of that’s going on now you know to create all the divisiveness and hatred that’s going on in our society. There’s no natural place for that in our society but we allow people to do it. Fear does that also and then you get people who capitalize on that fear and I think that had a lot to do with what is going on at the time of the fair housing act.”   Van Susteren: “What do you think he would think about today? If he were living today.” Carson: “I think he would be disappointed, that there are a lot of identity politics going on. You know he was saying, I long for the day when people are judged by the content of their character, rather than by their external appearance. And yet what do we have today, this group versus this group, and you know, everything is identity politics and some people try to capitalize on that. You know as a neurosurgeon I find that particularly distasteful only because I’ve operate on people from every place in the world and you know, when I take off that bone flap and open that door. That brain is what makes them who they are. I can’t tell by looking at that brain which demographic they’re from. The human brain, that’s really what makes you who you are.”   Van Susteren: “Fair housing act 50 years, it’s certainly hard I think for most people to think there is a time when we didn’t have fair housing. How’s the US government going to celebrate? How is HUD celebrating? How are you celebrating? Why is this so important?” Carson: “Well it is critically important that we don’t lose ground. That we continue to move forward and advance the ball. I think it was one of the most important acts throughout the entire history of our country because, you know, it emphasized that our government simply does not condone, and will never condone unfairness to groups of people that are identified.” Van Susteren: “By their skin color, or religion?” Carson: “Skin color, disability, religion, sex, you know, the whole host of things. In fact, the majority of the cases that are brought to us as complaints now actually deal with disability, and then you have family issues, people who discriminate against families with children. You know we have a number of cases like that that are going on. Sexual harassment, I mean there's a, there's a lot of stuff it covers, a whole gamut of things and we're concerned about every one of them.”   Van Susteren: “Tell me the minute you remember hearing Martin Luther King was assassinated. Where were you?” Carson: “Uh, I was in class at Southwestern High School.” Van Susteren: “Did they make an announcement or was the word passing through everyone?” Carson: “No, it was a public announcement, and everybody—first of all, there was disbelief and then uh a television was brought in, turned on, we see that it was really happening. And within about an hour, you know there were kids running around, rioting, throwing things, breaking windows, and uh, it was a tense time.” Van Susteren: “It’s, I mean you could tell how slowly the information traveled, because he was shot at six, at about six o'clock at night in Memphis but it wasn't, I assume, until the next day in school that word got to school.” Carson: “Things were different those days.” Van Susteren: “Lot slower, lot slower. Didn’t have Twitter, or the internet, we didn’t have that.” Carson: “That might have been a good thing.”   Van Susteren: “Is, do you think that today young people,  African American, whites, all races, that they have an appreciation for who Martin Luther King was?” Carson: “I would like the appreciation to be greater. You know, when I when i think back to the people who made so many sacrifices, people from all races, and put their lives at risk to open things up for everybody, and then particularly open educational opportunities for people. And now you have to push people through that door that was open, and I don't think they really sometimes appreciate the sacrifices that were made for them. And it, it was astonishing what people went through. I remember as a nine year old looking at the television of what was going on in the South with the dogs and the fire hoses, and just thinking ‘How can this be going?’ on as a nine year old.” Van Susteren: “Does it still happen today, obviously not in that way, but is there racism today?”  Carson: “Uh, unfortunately there is. It's all over the place, but I think the place where it probably disturbs me personally the most is the group of people who think that if you're black, you have to think a certain way, and if you don't think that way, you know you're this, you're that, you're a horrible person. They don't recognize that that’s racism.”   Van Susteren: “Do you, I image you’ve seen the speech that Martin Luther King gave at the Lincoln memorial, the ‘I have a dream’, and he talked about not to judge people by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. It’s an incredible speech, isn’t it?” Carson: “It was, it was inspired.” Van Susteren: “Still is, still is.” Carson: “Yes, as were so many of his speeches, and what he said and what he meant to this country and what he meant to the world. I am just delighted that we continue to celebrate his life and this act which really occurred because, I hate to say it, but because of his assassination. There have been attempts to get the fair housing bill through and it kept sputtering, it wouldn't go through. But the emotion in the capital that was associated with the assassination drove it through relatively quickly.” Van Susteren: “You know, it's hard looking back at those times. To think that we that we had to come to the point where people had to march on Washington. You know, we still have marches on Washington, but Martin Luther King though was, was, seems so different that that.” Carson: “Well, I tell you, we could use him today. If he were here today, and I think you know talking about peace and love, and how we're not each other's enemies, and helping people to be able to see the big picture and move toward that together, that it would be beneficial to all of us. I think he could bring that kind of message.” Van Susteren: “After he was assassinated by a white man. It was Bobby Kennedy who gave a speech that we all remember that I remember and then of course two months later Bobby Kennedy himself was assassinated.” Carson: “Exactly which was—I remember—very traumatic to me because I was a big Bobby Kennedy supporter and I lost some hope at that time particularly after King had just been assassinated. But over the course of time, you know, it came back. I began to see that, you know, there was—there were people who were reasonable and one of the people that I thought was very reasonable was Ronald Reagan and as I listened to him, I said, this man doesn't sound like a horrible, bigoted racist and all these things that people say. He sounds like a logical person. And you know I’ve tried to sort of fashion myself that way. We think about things logically not whether you're democrat or republican or conservative or liberal; but what makes sense. I know that that doesn't fit very well in the swamp, but you know that's what has to be done if we're really to make real progress.”   Van Susteren: “Has an African-American republican—we talked about identity politics, I mean it's not thought that the Republican Party is historically a warm place for African-Americans—hard for you?” Carson: “No, it’s been very warm for me. I mean when I was campaigning, and, you know, I’d be in the far reaches of Iowa or Alabama or North Dakota—it didn't matter. People were just overwhelmingly supportive. I never found any discomfort whatsoever. I wish both parties would be like that.” Van Susteren: “What’s wrong with us? Why do we have these problems?” Carson: “Because we listen to the purveyors of hatred and division. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I believe that there are those in the world who do not want to see us succeed.”   Van Susteren: “What role do you think faith had for Martin Luther King?” Carson: “I think it was central to his being. And you know so often he found himself in jail, in horrible situations and that's what gave him the strength and the courage to continue on and you know that's what gives me strength and courage. If I didn't have faith, believe me there's no way I’d be doing what I’m doing now. I would be off enjoying my life, playing golf, and doing all kinds of stuff. No, but, you know, I think sometimes we're called to do things. Doesn't always make you the most popular person but you know you got to get stuff done.”   Van Susteren: “We miss Martin Luther King, don’t we?” Carson: “We miss him tremendously. He was a great American.” Van Susteren: “Indeed he was. Mr. Secretary, nice talking to you. Thank you.” Carson: “Thank you.”

(This story has not been edited by N24 staff and is Voice Of America auto-generated from a RSS feed)

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