CBS News Sets Live Event Marking Civil Rights Act With Jason Collins, Whoopi Goldberg

Bob Schieffer will host a live panel discussion exploring the Civil Rights Act 50 years later, as well as marriage equality and gay rights.
Bob Schieffer

CBS News is readying its second live event. This time the news division will mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act with a multimedia initiative that will be streamed on and simulcast of the Smithsonian Channel live July 24 at 8 p.m.

CBS News: 50 Years Later, Civil Rights will follow the format of the network's Beatles event in February, which commemorated the band's first American television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The centerpiece of the Civil Rights Act program will be a live panel discussion moderated by Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer, 77, who had a front-row seat for the movement.

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Schieffer was working at a small Texas radio station after being honorably discharged from the Air Force when he was sent to cover the violent riots at the University of Mississippi in 1962 after James Meredith became the first African-American student admitted to Ole Miss.

"They killed two people that night," he recalls. "One was a reporter. I will never forget it. I had never seen the kind of blind hatred and prejudice that we saw in those days down there."

He would not return to the Oxford, Miss., campus until 2008 when he moderated the presidential debate there between Barack Obama and John McCain.

Rep. John Lewis, a pillar of the movement and a "personal hero" of Schieffer's, will participate in the panel discussion. So will Harry Belafonte (who also was very active in the movement), historian Taylor Branch, openly gay NBA player Jason Collins, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie Perez, gay marriage activist and lawyer Evan Wolfson and CBS Sports anchor James Brown. The panel will explore the violent summer of 1964, when three Civil Rights workers were murdered in Mississippi, and also take on current battles including marriage equality and gay rights.

LIST Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films will stream Walter Cronkite's primetime special The Search in Mississippi. As with the Beatles special, the panel will be held at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in Manhattan, which is owned by CBS.

"The idea is to rethink what is a traditional format — a moderated panel — and bring that to life so that it's entertaining and informative and takes advantage of all the distribution outlets that are available today," says David Goodman, president of CBS Live Experiences. "That's the interesting opportunity for us, to really change the vocabulary of what these things can be and to continue to evolve them."

The deep CBS News archives are key in adding heft to the live event itself. Network executives began brainstorming the Civil Rights Act initiative immediately after wrapping the Beatles retrospective in February. They knew they had a repository of compelling footage and reporting at their disposal. When the landing page for 50 Years Later, Civil Rights goes live Monday, there already will be plenty of content for users to explore including essays from pop culture figures as varied as Yoko Ono and Kesha.

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For Schieffer, who was born before the advent of television, the event is "more than a news report. It's a celebration of how far have we come and recognition of how far we still have to go."

Says Schieffer: "I must say of all the things I've done at CBS over the years, I can't think of anything I've felt more honored to be a part of."