Born in Baton Rouge, La. on March 1, 1966, Don Lemon anchors CNN Newsroom during weekend prime-time and serves as a CNN correspondent out of the network’s New York bureau, Don joined CNN in September 2006.
He has won an Edward R. Murrow award for his coverage of the capture of the Washington, D.C. snipers, and an Emmy for a special report on real estate in Chicagoland.
In 2009, Ebony Magazine named him one of the 150 most influential Blacks in America. A couple of years later, he came out of the closet, and discussed his homosexuality in an autobiography entitled “Transparent.”
Don recently caught a lot of flak from a number of African-American pundits for agreeing with Bill O’Reilly’s criticisms of the black community, especially since he even suggested that the conservative talk show host hadn’t gone far enough.
Here, he talks about “We Were There,” an oral history of the 1963 March on Washington featuring Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and other participants from the march. The special is set to debut on CNN on Aug. 23 at 10:00 p.m., 1:00 a.m., and 4:00 a.m.
KW: What interested you in doing a special about the March on Washington?
DL: We had been talking about it for awhile as the 50th anniversary approached, and I kept indicating that I would love to be a part of it. Somewhere, somehow, somebody heard that, Kam, and they said, “Don really wants to do this. Let’s have him do it.”
KW: Being an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Award-winner, I don’t think you’d have to beg too much.
DL: Just because I’m here at CNN, I never rest on my laurels and presume I can coast now. I still throw my hat in the ring and push to have a voice. I am the face of this documentary for CNN, and I think that says a lot about how far we’ve come.
KW: Does the documentary have a theme?
DL: There are, for me, a few different themes. People like John Lewis and A. Philip Randolph put their lives on the line to participate. So, the first theme that stands out to me is courage. The second theme was the hope they exhibited in “the teeth of the most terrifying odds,” as James Baldwin said. Thirdly, Bayard Rustin, who many call the Architect of the Civil Rights Movement, finally gets his due. He’s the silent, strong man who made The March happen. But because he was gay and people tried to use that against him is probably why we don’t hear so much about him.
KW: How do you, as probably the most prominent black celebrity to come out, feel about California voters’ support for a ban on gay marriage,?
DL: I don’t consider myself a celebrity. I’m just a journalist. Yeah, I was in the forefront, and took a lot of heat for it. I think the president’s evolution in terms of gay marriage has helped change many people’s minds. I think it’s empowering for a person to live an authentic life. It can only help when prominent and successful people of color come out and live authentically, because younger people, who are being bullied and might be questioning whether they should continue to live, might have second thoughts about taking their own lives.
KW: What about the criticism you received for your recent remarks agreeing with Bill O’Reilly about the black community.
DL: At least I got a conversation started. That was my goal, and I think I accomplished it. And just because I’m African-American does not mean I have to feel a certain way because I’m black. You don’t have true freedom until you allow a diversity of opinion and a diversity of voices.
KW: But do you fear being pigeonholed as a buddy of O’Reilly?
DL: There are many things that Bill O’Reilly and I disagree about. I just happen to agree with some of what he had to say on this issue, but not all of it. Does that mean I co-signed his whole being and existence? No?
To see a trailer for We Were There: The March on Washington, visit: http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2013/07/31/exp-we-were-there-the-march-on-washington.cnn.html