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Debbye Turner Bell

Broadcast journalist and veterinarian Debrah Lynn Turner Bell was born on September 19, 1965 in Honolulu, Hawaii to Gussie Turner and Frederick C. Turner, Jr. Raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Turner Bell graduated from Jonesboro High School in 1983. She went on to attend Arkansas State University, where she received her B.S. degree in agriculture in 1986. In 1991, Turner Bell obtained her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

In 1989, Turner Bell won the Miss Missouri pageant title. Later the same year, she became the first delegate from the State of Missouri to win the Miss America crown. After winning the title of Miss America, Turner Bell became the national spokesperson for Ralston Purina’s Caring for Pets Program. In 1995, she was hired as a host of the Public Broadcasting Service animal show, “The Gentle Doctor”, and as co-host of KSDK’s entertainment magazine show, “Show Me St. Louis”, where she was nominated for multiple Emmy Awards. From 2001 to 2003, Turner Bell worked as an on-air contributor to CBS networks’ “The Early Show”, and from 2003 until 2012, she served as a staff correspondent for CBS News. In 2013, she was hired as an anchor for Arise News.

Turner Bell has hosted “48 Hours on WE” and appeared on Animal Planet's “Cats 101” and “Dogs 101” series. She has also hosted the Miss Missouri, Miss Florida, and Miss Georgia pageants, and was a Miss America Pageant judge in 1997 and 2011. Turner Bell has appeared as a guest on numerous television programs including “The Late Show with David Letterman”, “Oprah”, and the “Today” show. In addition, she has served as a motivational speaker for over twenty years.

Turner Bell’s honors include the University of Missouri - Columbia, Black Alumni Organization's Distinguished Alumni Award; the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from the College of Agriculture, Arkansas State University; Outstanding Alumnus Award from the University of Missouri-Columbia; and the First Place award for Outstanding Reporting from the New York Association of Black Journalists. In 1998, she was named a Distinguished Alumna of Arkansas State University, where she established the Debbye Turner Scholarship and the Gussie Turner Memorial Scholarship. Turner Bell received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in October of 1994.

She has served on local, state and national boards, including the Children’s Miracle Network, the National Council on Youth Leadership, the Missouri Division of Youth Services, the Mathews-Dickey Boys Club, and the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council as part of the National Institutes of Health. She served as director of the Consortium of Doctors from 1994 to 1995.

Turner Bell lives in the New York City area with her husband and daughter.

Debbye Turner Bell was interviewed by “The HistoryMakers” on August 12, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.229

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/12/2014

Last Name

Turner Bell

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Lynn

Schools

University of Missouri

Arkansas State University

Jonesboro High School

Douglas MacArthur Junior High School

East Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Debrah

Birth City, State, Country

Honolulu

HM ID

BEL07

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Hawaii

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

9/19/1965

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pepperoni pizza and thanksgiving dinner

Short Description

Broadcast journalist and veterinarian Debbye Turner Bell (1965 - ) is a motivational speaker and anchor for Arise News. In 1989, she became the first delegate from the State of Missouri to win the title of Miss America.

Employment

Arise News

CBS News

Self Employed

DOGS 101/CATS 101 Television Shows

48 Hours on WE

CBS Networks' "The Early Show"

"ShowMe St. Louis"

PBS "The Gentle Doctor"

Ralston Purina's Caring for Pets Program

Miss America 1990

Dillard's Department Store

Safeway Food Store

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Debbye Turner Bell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Debbye Turner Bell lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about her mother's effort to find her biological father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about her great aunt, Gussie Lee Jones Turner's, domestic work in Kennett, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her paternal family ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about her paternal great-grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Debbye Turner Bell describes spending time at her paternal great-grandparents' farm in South Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about the history of Juneteenth and her great-great grandparents' freedom

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Debbye Turner Bell talks briefly about the farmland her uncle inherited from her great-grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her father

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Debbye Turner Bell describes how her parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Debbye Turner Bell describes growing up with a parent in the military and her father's teaching appointment at Arkansas State University

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Debbye Turner Bell remembers staying with her aunt while her father was serving in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about her father's experience in the Vietnam War

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about her parents' divorce and co-parenting

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Debbye Turner Bell describes home life, including her mother's taking in of mental health patients and Thursday night Bible study group

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about competing for her mother's attention as a girl

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Debbye Turner Bell describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood neighborhood in Jonesboro, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about developing a relationship with her older sister after the death of their mother in 1990

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her childhood personality

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Debbye Turner Bell explains the unconventional spelling of her name

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Debbye Turner Bell describes wanting to be a veterinarian and volunteering in a veterinary clinic

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her houseful of pets

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her grade school years in Jonesboro, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Debbye Turner Bell describes growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Jonesboro, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Debbye Turner Bell remembers discussing race and current events at home

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about her racially integrated friend group

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her experiences in both St. Paul A.M.E. Church and Carter Temple CME Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about her acceptance of Christianity and learning to read the Bible

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Debbye Turner Bell describes how she first got involved in pageants

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her experience in the Southern pageant circuit

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Debbye Turner Bell describes entering the Miss Arkansas pageant three times and placing first runner-up twice

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about Vanessa Williams winning the Miss America title in 1984

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Debbye Turner Bell remembers the statement she made about her racial identity at her first press conference as Miss America

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Debbye Turner Bell remembers an article written about her by HistoryMaker Lynn Norment for Ebony magazine

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about being the first brown-skinned African American winner of the Miss America pageant

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Debbye Turner Bell describes attempting to address a controversial statement she made at the Miss America press conference

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about differences between Miss America and Miss USA and describes how she financed pageant competitions

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about body type and typecasting in beauty pageants

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Debbye Turner Bell describes the Miss America pageant scholarship prizes

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Debbye Turner Bell describes differences in the contemporary Miss America pageant

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about controversy in the Miss America and Miss USA pageants

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Debbye Turner Bell describes winning the Miss America title in 1990, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Debbye Turner Bell describes winning the Miss America title in 1990, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Debbye Turner Bell describes Miss America's yearlong responsibilities

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Debbye Turner Bell remembers appearing on the David Letterman Show

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about her platform as Miss America and finishing her degree in veterinary medicine after giving up the title

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about her first job out of veterinary school as the spokesperson for Ralston Purina's Caring for Pets program

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Debbye Turner Bell explains how she got started in broadcast television anchoring 'Show Me St. Louis,' an entertainment show in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Debbye Turner Bell describes meeting her husband and getting married, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Debbye Turner Bell describes meeting her husband and getting married, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Debbye Turner Bell explains how she got to CBS Networks' 'The Early Show' as an on-air contributor and resident veterinarian

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Debbye Turner Bell explains why she left the CBS network in 2012

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Debbye Turner Bell explains how she was hired as an anchor for the global cable network, Arise News

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Debbye Turner Bell describes the mission of global cable network, Arise News

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Debbye Turner Bell considers her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about parenting

Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Debbye Turner Bell considers her regrets

Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Debbye Turner Bell shares her advice for the up-and-coming generation

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her experience as an anchor-reporter on 'Show Me St. Louis'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Debbye Turner Bell describes learning to be a broadcast journalist at 'Show Me St. Louis'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Debbye Turner Bell describes her experience on CBS', 'The Early Show' and talks about the advantages and disadvantage of its number three time slot

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Debbye Turner Bell talks about traveling as a reporter for Arise News

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Debbye Turner Bell describes lessons from her career in broadcast journalism

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Debbye Turner Bell narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

9$2

DATitle
Debbye Turner Bell describes her experience in the Southern pageant circuit
Debbye Turner Bell remembers the statement she made about her racial identity at her first press conference as Miss America
Transcript
So the journey of being in these pageants as a smart young women who didn't necessarily buy into the pageantry of it, what was your journey? How did you experience going from contest to contest?$$What you first have to understand is not only was I in a pageant, The Miss America System, I was in the Miss America System in the South. And pageants to this day are a big, you know, bouffant business. And there were girls who were born, bred, and burped to be Miss Somebody, so I entered the system with, you know, no preconceived notions of a it would be like and no investment really in whether or not it affected my life. It was just something fun to do, win some scholarship money. And I entered with these girls who had been raised for this. And so first it served as a challenge because now in some ways, I'm in a foreign land. So now, I've got to learn a new language and a new way of being. You know, I didn't wear makeup, I barely wore dresses and I wasn't really a tom girl, just wasn't bothered with those things. So it was a challenge for me just to sort of figure out the game and to beat the others who had been playing it for a long time. So at first that's sort of what it was, it was just a game to me. And it took I believe three tries for me to win a local. I went to the Miss Arkansas pageant for the first time, again, this is a big hairy deal. And most girls on their first time don't do anything. I made the top ten and that got people's attention. And I remember one of the pageant people saying, "You really have potential. If you would actually apply yourself, you could do very well." So that was the first time it ever entered my mind that maybe I could excel at this, maybe I could be Miss America. So I set about to win another local to take me back to Miss Arkansas. It took a couple tries, went back to Miss Arkansas the second time and I got first runner-up, which again, big deal for a second try. And then I was told, if you can just win a state pageant, you will be Miss America. And that was when I set as my sight to be Miss America, it was no longer just about the scholarship. I'd learned more about the system; who this organization is; who Miss America is, what she does. I was like, oh that would be kind of cool.$I will tell you though, my aspiration to be Miss America was not connected to Vanessa [Williams] in any way, I was already involved in pageants by the time she won and I already had my own reasons for wanting to be there and wanting to win. So much so, that when I won, the first thing that Miss America does as Miss America, is goes into her first official press conference. There were dozens if not more than a hundred members of the press from around the world in the pressroom. And I remember after I walked the runway and waved and, you know, all the girls surround the winner and, you know, was congratulated and hugged by all my fellow contestants. The head of the Miss America Pageant at that time, Leonard Horn said, "I'm gonna walk you to your press conference. They're gonna ask you all kinds of things. We don't limit what you can talk about. You can say whatever you want to say; you can talk about whatever you want to talk about, but as an attorney"--because he was---"let me just caution you, what you say can and will be held against you." And I was so high on just winning Miss America, "Okay." And I, you know, I walk in, the flashbulbs go off. And it's important to understand, a part of competing for Miss America is preparing for a private, job-style interview. The most rigorous questioning I've ever endured. And so I knew how to answer questions. That's a part of what helped me win the pageant. So I didn't feel any intimidation, I felt like I was fully prepared for this because that's part of the competition. They want to know can you handle this. I was not prepared for the very first question. Second question, the first one was how did--what were you thinking when you walked down the runway? Second question. "How does it feel to be a representative for little black girls out there as the new Miss America?" I'd never thought of myself in that way. I was just this veterinary kid who wanted to pay for her education, from Arkansas. And while I was very aware of my ethnicity growing up, it didn't define me and I was caught of guard and I gave a poor answer. I said, "Being black is not everything that I am, it's just a part of who I am." And I went down, "I'm a veterinarian--or I'm a veterinary student, I play the drums, I was raised by a single--"I mean I went down this list of the things that define me and again I said it, "It's just part of who I am." And the next question came. As you might imagine, that didn't go over well with many members of the African American community, because what I didn't get in my youth at that time, was the significance of the achievement coming after Vanessa. We had a shot, didn't go so well, I was the next shot. And I only saw it as it related to me, not as the significance in society. And I spent a lot of my year explaining that statement.

Scott Edwards

Biologist Scott Edwards was born on July 7, 1963 in Honolulu, Hawaii, but he grew up in Riverdale in the Bronx, New York City. From an early age, Edwards was interested in natural history. Before graduating from Harvard University in 1986 with his B.A. degree in biology, he worked at the environmental institute Wave Hill. While earning his undergraduate degree, Edwards took a year off to volunteer at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History where he was first exposed to the world of museum research on birds. Upon graduation, Edwards was accepted into the University of California, Berkeley where he worked with bird evolution and graduated with his Ph.D. degree in zoology in 1992. His dissertation focused on songbirds from Australia and New Guinea – using DNA to track their movements and population differences.

Edwards then moved to the University of Florida where he completed an Alfred P. Sloan postdoctoral fellowship in molecular evolution studying avian genetics. In 1994, Edwards joined the faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle where he became an Assistant Professor of Zoology and Curator of Genetic Resources at the University’s Burke Museum. He left in 2003 to assume a professorial position at Harvard University in organismic and evolutionary biology as well as Curator of Ornithology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Edwards’ work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. He has also served on panels for both of the organizations as well as on the advisory board of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in North Carolina. Edwards served on the editorial boards for the journals Molecular Biology and Evolution , Evolution, Systematic Biology and Conservation Genetics. He has published over 100 papers since the beginning of his undergraduate career. In 2010, Edwards was invited to co-host the six-part SyFy series Beast Legends, reconstructing what mythological creatures may have looked like based on first-person accounts, archaeological evidence, and scientific data.

Edwards was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on …

Accession Number

A2012.171

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/12/2012 |and| 11/17/2018

Last Name

Edwards

Maker Category
Middle Name

V.

Occupation
Schools

Harvard University

University of California, Berkeley

University of Florida

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Scott

Birth City, State, Country

Honolulu

HM ID

EDW04

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

Hawaii

Favorite Vacation Destination

Western United States

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

7/7/1963

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pasta

Short Description

Biologist Scott Edwards (1963 - ) is a well known lead researcher in the field of Ornithology at Harvard.

Employment

University of Washington

Harvard University

Best Legends

Favorite Color

Brown, Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Scott Edwards' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Scott Edwards lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Scott Edwards describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Scott Edwards talks about his mother's schooling and career

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Scott Edwards describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Scott Edwards talks about his father's schooling and career

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Scott Edwards talks about Hawaii

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Scott Edwards talks about his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Scott Edwards describes his father's medical practice in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Scott Edwards describes the neighborhoods where he was raised in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Scott Edwards describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Scott Edwards describes the sights and sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Scott Edwards describes his grade school in Manhattan

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Scott Edwards describes his earliest experiences with science

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Scott Edwards talks about his favorite teachers in grade school

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Scott Edwards discusses sports, religion, and the outdoors

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Scott Edwards describes his interest in bird-watching

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Scott Edwards describes his performance in school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Scott Edwards talks about his siblings

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Scott Edwards describes his experience in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Scott Edwards talks about his decision to major in biology in college

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Scott Edwards describes his experience at Phillips Exeter Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Scott Edwards describes his experience at Wave Hill, an environmental center

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Scott Edwards explains the history of evolutionary biology

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Scott Edwards describes his time in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Scott Edwards describes his volunteer experience at the Smithsonian Institute

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Scott Edwards describes his ornithology-based study in Hawaii

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Scott Edwards talks about his senior thesis

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Scott Edwards describes his experience in New Guinea

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Scott Edwards describes the African American community's perception of evolution

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Scott Edwards notes the importance of evolution

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Scott Edwards describes the focus of his doctoral dissertation

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Scott Edwards provides an overview of evolutionary biology

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Scott Edwards describes what it takes to become an evolutionary biologist

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Scott Edwards discusses the racial implications of specific publications

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Scott Edwards describes the concept of race in biological terms

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Scott Edwards describes living in Florida

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Scott Edwards describes his post-doctoral research at the University of Florida

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Scott Edwards briefly describes his post-doctoral experience at the University of Florida

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Scott Edwards describes the rich wildlife of northern Florida

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Scott Edwards describes his experience at the University of Washington

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Scott Edwards describes his professional responsibilities at Harvard University

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Scott Edwards describes the collections at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Scott Edwards describes the evolutionary basis of skin color

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

1$3

DATitle
Scott Edwards describes his volunteer experience at the Smithsonian Institute
Scott Edwards discusses the racial implications of specific publications
Transcript
Well, now, tell us what you did at the Smithsonian? This would have been in, what, the summer of--$$It was fall of '82 [1982], I think, and is that right? Yeah, it was after sophomore year, and so it was, I believe fall of '82 [1982] or '83 [1983]. Anyway--$$Okay.$$--yeah, so I was literally numbering bones of specimens. You know, museums have to put catalog numbers on all the bones which required a very steady hand and small writing and just helping out with odd jobs. I got a chance to help do some research for a exhibit that went on, it was an exhibit on the U.S. exploring expedition, which was a, a famous expedition that went out between 1838 and 1843. It was sort of America's first foray into the age of discovery. And that had been dominated by Europe. And it was fascinating. You know, we, I, I had to dig through old archives and, you know, I found this sheaf of papers with all these amazing drawings of fish that had been drawn by naturalists on that expedition. And apparently, this collection of papers had been lost or it hadn't been really seen for decades. And so my mentor there, a guy named George Watson was, was very impressed, and, you know, said, this, wow, this is--I can't believe we found these, these papers. So it was a mix of different things. And George, I remember, spent a lot of time with me. You know, it's, you get these green college students sort of wanting to do something, and, you know, you have to think of stuff for them to do. And George, I remember, was just very generous with his time. And, yeah, we went over to the, the rare book division outside the Natural History Museum, and I just was so impressed with these extraordinary, beautiful volumes, you know, Audubon's [National Audubon Society] drawings, drawings from this U.S. exploring expedition. You know, these are just priceless, and it was just, the quality of the way in which they were cared for was just very, really impressive to me.$$Okay, now, now, the connection you made with the Smithsonian, and did you know George Watson before or did someone at Howard [University] recommend, I mean at Harvard [University] recommend--?$$I, you know, I don't, I know I wrote to George probably as a, in the spring of my sophomore year. And I don't know whether I got his name from someone here, possibly, or whether I wrote to just the ornithology department in general. But he was the one that answered, yeah, and it was, you know, it was very impressive, to get a typewritten letter on Smithsonian [Institution] letterhead. And so, yeah, that was, that was great. I had a, definitely a very healthy habit of writing letters. I think even in my freshman year, I was just bombarding the community with letters, asking about, what do you need to study going in this particular area of study? I was writing to people at the American Museum [of Natural History, in New York], just curious about different sightings, and different questions and so I wish I had some of those letters. I'm sure they were, you know, naive and humorous, and by, different turns. But, you know, and, of course, maybe one out of twenty people would actually respond. But that's, that's the whole point, right, you know, just sort of cast the net wide and (laughter) see who responds.$$Now, does the Smithsonian have the largest collection of bird specimens in the country or--$$It's, you know, I think it's not the largest in the country. No, it's--or the world. I mean it's a very impressive collection. It's, I believe it's got the second largest, after the American Museum [of Natural History] in New York. So, but it's, you know, even then it was just a global resource, and you can just walk the aisles there and just see any species you'd want. And it was really impressive to me to, you know, there were serious people working on specimens, skeletons. It wasn't some sort of dilettantish thing. I mean these were really, there were pressing questions that people wanted to answer. And that, that was really impressive to me.$All right. I asked, we mentioned before the book, 'The Mismeasure of Man,' and I was asked to ask you about that, in specific, because of its implications, its racial implications.$$Right, right. Yeah, I mean it's, you know, you'd like to think we were beyond that, that period, although remarkably, it, it still raises its ugly head in various forms. I mean what was this book, called the, 'The Bell Curve'--$$Right, right.$$--you know, published by a Harvard psychologist. So everyone's always trying to focus on the, the--and interpret the differences between humans. But evolutionary biology is, I think, exciting because a lot of it is focused on the similarities. I mean what makes us similar. And so, you know, a lot of people would be surprised to learn that humans as a species are genetically very similar to each other, even Africans versus Asians, versus Caucasians from Europe. I mean we have so few genetic differences. I can go into the backyard, and any backyard snake or rat will have far more genetic diversity than humans would. And so I think evolutionary biology for me is exciting in that way, and we tend, we often focus on the similarities between individuals and species rather than the differences. Of course, the differences are, are what makes it exciting, but it's, you know, and it's very challenging to--you know, I would say defining the characteristics of an organism that you wanna study. That's in some ways the most challenging part. How do you define intelligence? I mean I would say it's, it's a very difficult thing to do. And so--$$Yeah, I even hear with, well, animal intelligence, I know they're constantly redefining where that is because, you know, they, at one time I heard that a pig was smarter than another animal--$$Right.$$--and then, you know, and a dog was way down on the list-- Right (laughter).$$--and, you know, but when humans interact with animals, it's usually a dog. Right, exactly (laughter).$$And the chimp is closer to us, but, and yet, chimps don't respond well to human beings--$$(Laughter) That's right.$$--you know, I--$$Yeah, I mean, well, I don't know if intelligence is necessarily a, it shouldn't necessarily be a human-centric trait, right? I mean there's all sorts of intelligence out there, and, you know, the fact is most species on the planet have been here a lot longer than the human species has, and so maybe just persistence time is the best measure of intelligence (laughter), you know. If we're lucky enough not to extinguish ourselves, then maybe we can be considered intelligent (laughter).$$So it's a subjective measurement, I don't know--$$Yeah, so, I mean I'm not a psychologist, but you can't, I'm very skeptical of certain universal measures of intelligence, I would say.$$Yeah, it would have to be, you'd have establish a standard based on something that, you know--I mean that's the only way to qualify it, I guess--$$That's right.$$--you'd have to say, well, intelligence based on this--$$That's right.$$--factor or that factor.$$Exactly.$$And, you know, so, yeah.$$I mean it's, it's, yeah, it's just, it's just very difficult to characterize mental and, you know, to sort of (unclear) of behavioral traits. I mean it's not, not impossible. I mean you can measure how much an animal moves or how deep a burrow it can dig or how, whether it migrates or not. Those are things that you can quantify, but I think one of the things about evolutionary biology and, and sort of science in general that I like is that, you know, you have to, you can't speculate based on a little bit of data. You have to interpret the facts that you collect in a way that's commensurate with those facts. You can't just begin to speculate. And so what you can talk about in terms of a conclusion of a study is dependent on what you measure and, and, and what you can confidently measure. And so, in that sense, you know, there's some characteristic of animals which I would say are much easier to talk about and discuss than others.

The Honorable Barack Obama

Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He attended Occidental College for two years before transferring to Columbia University in New York, where he became interested in a career as a social activist.

After graduation, Obama found work as a community organizer, which led him to Chicago. Obama was hired to head the Developing Communities Project and served in this capacity for over three years. However, realizing the limitations of working at such a localized level, Obama enrolled at Harvard Law School. At Harvard, Obama excelled, eventually becoming the President of the Harvard Law Review, the first African American ever to hold this position. After he graduated from Harvard, Obama wrote a book, Dreams from My Father, based on his family’s experiences. He went to work at the Chicago law firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland.

On advice from friends, Obama ran for a vacant state Senate seat in 1996, and was successfully elected to represent the 13th Legislative District. In 2000, Obama ran for a seat in Congress but lost to incumbent Bobby Rush. In 2004, Obama successfully ran for a seat in the United States Senate representing Illinois, becoming only the fifth African American senator in United States history. On February 10, 2007, Obama announced that he would run for President of the United States. On June 3, 2008, Obama became the presumptive democratic nominee for the U.S. presidency. He is the first African American to ever win a major political party’s nomination for president. On November 4, 2008, Obama became the president-elect when he won the election for President of the United States. He is the first African American president in the history of the United States. Obama was sworn-in as U.S. president on January 20, 2009.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, are the parents of two daughters, Sasha and Malia.

Accession Number

A2001.082

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/16/2001

Last Name

Obama

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Punahou School

Occidental College

Columbia University

Harvard Law School

First Name

Barack

Birth City, State, Country

Honolulu

HM ID

PITS017

Favorite Season

Fall, Summer

State

Hawaii

Favorite Vacation Destination

Bali, Indonesia

Favorite Quote

I'm tired.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

8/4/1961

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Beans (Red), Rice

Short Description

State senator, president, and U.S. senator The Honorable Barack Obama (1961 - ) ran for a vacant State Senate seat in 1996, and was successfully elected to represent the 13th Legislative District. In 2004, Obama successfully ran for a seat in the United States Senate representing Illinois, becoming only the fifth African American Senator in United States history. On November 4, 2008, Obama became the first African American president-elect when he won the election for President of the United States. Obama was sworn-in as U.S. president on January 20, 2009.

Employment

Delete

Project Vote

Miner, Barnhill & Galland

Illinois State Senate

University of Chicago Law School

United States Senate

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Barack Obama interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Barack Obama names his favorite food

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Barack Obama lists his other favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Barack Obama describes his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Barack Obama describes his mother and her background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Barack Obama shares his experience defining a racial identity, part I

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Barack Obama shares his earliest memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Barack Obama explains his mother's investment in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Barack Obama describes his adolescent behavior

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Barack Obama reflects on his years in Indonesia as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Barack Obama shares his experience defining a racial identity, part II

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Barack Obama recounts his college years

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Barack Obama recalls his experience as a community organizer

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Barack Obama recalls law school and the beginning of his political career

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Barack Obama evaluates his success as a law student

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Barack Obama assesses his law school education

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Barack Obama discusses his early exposure to electoral politics

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Barack Obama details his entrance into politics

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Barack Obama recounts his 1996 campaign for Illinois state senate

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Barack Obama reacts to proceedings in the Illinois state legislature

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Barack Obama reflects on the histories of local Chicago politics and Illinois state politics

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Barack Obama classifies a generation of young, black elected officials

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Barack Obama evaluates the role of government in improving black lives

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Barack Obama considers his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Barack Obama credits influential figures in his life

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

4$4

DATitle
Barack Obama recalls his experience as a community organizer
Barack Obama recounts his 1996 campaign for Illinois state senate
Transcript
I decided, upon graduation [from Columbia University, New York, New York], that I wanted to continue in that kind of work [political activism]. So I--for a year I worked as a financial journalist to pay off my student loans and as soon as I had those paid off, I started looking for work as a community organizer or political activist or something that was going to lead me into that area of work. And it turned out that it was actually harder to find work doing good than I had expected. It's an irony of this country that it's actually easier to find a paying job, you know, just to make money than it is to try to find a job that involves social change in some fashion. But there were a small group of churches on the far South Side of Chicago [Illinois] that were experiencing tremendous pressure because the steel mills in the area had closed, people were losing jobs, there was a lot of racial turnover. This would be in places like Roseland and West Pullman [Chicago, Illinois]. And these churches had decided to get together, form an organization, raise a small budget and try to hire somebody who could staff a community organization that would help them with these problems. And they only had a small budget, so they could only afford to pay somebody thirteen thousand dollars a--thirteen thousand dollars a year. And it just so happened that I saw an advertisement that they had placed in a community newspaper and wrote to them and they agreed to hire me. So I drove out to Chicago not knowing a single person in Chicago. I was--this would have been 1985 and so I was twenty-four years old, and ended up serving as the director of this community organization for three and a half years, and it was the best education of my life because it allowed me to not only learn some of the skills of organizing and politics that I still apply today in my career, but, more importantly, it gave me a home--it gave me a base. It sort of rooted me in a specific community of African Americans whose, you know, values and stories I soaked up and found an affinity with. And we did some good in this organizing work. You know, we were able to set up job training programs and college counseling and education programs for youth, cleaned up vacant lots, brought more money into neighborhood parks, worked on school reform issues, trained a cadre of neighborhood leaders that are still active in that area and so, overall, it was a wonderful experience and, you know, difficult. When I think back to me being twenty-four and working mostly with women and men and pastors who were my parents' age or grandparents' age, not really knowing anything about Chicago, not knowing that much about the church, I was pretty green behind the ears. But they, I think the community appreciated my efforts even if sometimes they weren't always as effective or as efficient as if I had had a little more experience, and it ended up being a wonderful training ground for me. After about three and a half years of doing that work, I became more keenly aware of the fact that it was--it was going to be difficult though to bring about the kind of change that I was concerned about by working at such a local level. The problems of joblessness or drug violence or the failures of the public education system, all those decisions weren't just being made locally and they didn't just track particular neighborhood boundaries. They were citywide issues, statewide issues, national issues. So I became more aware of the need for me to step back and be able to evaluate and analyze these issues at a larger level and a larger scale, and potentially have more power to shape the decisions that were affecting those issues. And, in addition, you know, the years during which I was organizing, those were the years that [Mayor] Harold Washington was in office and [city] 'Council Wars' was going on here in Chicago. And part of the reason, I think, I had been attracted to Chicago was reading about Harold Washington, and I think the inspiration that African Americans across the country had taken from his election as the first African American mayor in Chicago. And Harold died in '87 [1987] after I had been organizing for about three years, and, you know, you just got a sense that the city was going to be going through a transition. That the kinds of organizing work that I was doing wasn't going to be the focal point of people's attention because, you know, there were all these transitions and struggles and tumult that was going on in terms of the African American community figuring where to go next. And so I decided it was a good time for me to pull back and I went to law school at Harvard [Harvard Law School, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts].$What about the election? Was there anything surprising about that? You won your first time out so--,$$Well, I did, but, you know, it was an interesting introduction to politics in Chicago [Illinois] because what had happened was that the incumbent, [Illinois state senator] Alice Palmer, had decided to run for [U.S.] Congress against Mel Reynolds. Mel Reynolds, at the time, was still the congressman. She had made the decision early to run against him and had asked me for help on the campaign, and I said that I would because she had a good reputation in progressive circles and had struck me as a capable woman and had a good voting record in the senate. So I assisted her with her campaign. About halfway through the campaign, it became apparent that Mel Reynolds was going to be indicted for a variety of charges and that there would probably be a special election, which would take place about three weeks to a month before the deadline for filing petitions for the [Illinois] state senate race. And the significance of that was is that up until Mel Reynolds's indictment and conviction and the scheduling of a special election, Alice Palmer had to vacate her seat to run for Congress. She couldn't run for both at the same time. Because the special election occurred early, it left the possibility that Alice could run for Congress and, if she lost, retain her state senate seat. So, at that point, I approached her--at this point, people--mutual supporters had already talked to me about running. I had already started the process of opening an office and raising money and doing all these things, but I went to her and I said, "Look. It's a new scenario now. I haven't announced publicly that I'm running. If you want to hedge your bets and wait and see if you win, then I'm comfortable with that and I can sort of keep my campaign on a holding pattern until we see what happens." She said, "No, Barack. I'm telling you I'm not interested in being in the state senate anymore. I'm going to win this congressional race and so, you know, you have my blessing and my go ahead." And she had endorsed me formally at the announcement. Of course then what happened was that when Mel Reynolds was indicted and convicted, a lot of people decided they were interested in that race. So Emil Jones ran, Monique Davis ran and Jesse [Jackson] Jr. ran, and Alice probably was not in the best position at that point to win the race. And I continued to ask her whether she was still sure that she wanted to give up her senate seat and she insisted that she did. So we went ahead with our campaign. Well, Alice, you know--as we know today, lost to Jesse, Jr.. And the next day, I hear back from her supporters that I should step down and let her stay in her senate seat. And, at that point, I had, you know, raised money and gathered petitions and had this entire campaign apparatus and I said, you know, "I can't do that. I've been having these conversations with her for quite some time now and, you know, I indicated that I was committed once I got in." So it was an unfortunate incident. I understood what happened from Alice's perspective. I think it's always hard to leave politics, especially on a losing note like that, but she did try to get back in the race. It turned out that she didn't actually have enough time to put together the necessary petition signatures to run and wasn't able to get on the ballot. But, you know, it was a--it left a little bit of a bitter taste in my mouth just in the sense that it reminded me that part of politics is this struggle for individual advancement that doesn't always have to do with, you know, the actual agenda of the community, and it's hard to keep above the fray. I mean, if you're going to be involved in this process that you end up having to play hard ball and battle it out even as you keep your eye on the prize, and that's not always an easy thing to do to balance those two things--the gamesmanship or the power struggles involved in politics and the policy and, you know, long term concerns that should be driving our political process.