Historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad observes in his book The Condemnation of Blackness that “to think and talk about African Americans as criminal is encoded deeply in our DNA.” In this 2012 Moyers Moment from Moyers & Company, Muhammad tells Bill how, during Reconstruction, former slaves were perceived to have a moral failing that made them different from white European immigrants. As a result, he explained, “immigrant communities got police reform. And black people got police repression.”
Watch Bill’s full interview with Khalil Gibran Muhammad.
Could the secret to improving American health lie in school? In this November 2008 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, author and food activist Michael Pollan recommends a new way of thinking about school lunches — economically, nutritionally and politically. He says it can result in a healthier population, an economic stimulus and the promotion of good lifelong habits.
Watch Pollan’s full conversation with Bill Moyers.
In this 2001 Moyers Moment from Bill’s documentary Trade Secrets, Bill examines the many chemicals that have been introduced into our environment over the last few decades. To find out just how pervasive these chemicals were, Bill volunteered to get his blood tested.
It’s a tactic used by powerful industries time and again: When research findings interfere with your ability to turn a profit, contaminate the field with your own manipulated science. Bill’s 2001 documentary, Trade Secrets, follows the vinyl chloride industry’s attempts to do just that.
In this 2001 Moyers Moment from Trade Secrets, Bill speaks with David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, two public health historians, and Richard Lemen, the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, about the U.S. vinyl chloride industry’s attempts to cover up scientific research with their own skewed science.
Vinyl chloride is a toxic chemical compound that is used to manufacture PVC plastic. The companies who produce it knew for decades that being exposed even to small amounts of vinyl chloride could be extremely damaging to a person’s health, but documents show they conspired to keep that fact from their workers, who were exposed daily. In many cases, employees died of rare forms of cancer after years of working in factories that manufactured the compound.
Watch Bill’s 2013 conversation with David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz on Moyers & Company.
Bernice Johnson Reagon — a singer, song leader, civil rights activist and scholar — was an integral part of the African American struggle for civil rights. In the ’60s she helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Freedom Singers, and in the ’70s she founded Sweet Honey in The Rock. She is now a Distinguished Professor of History at American University in Washington, D.C., and Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution.
In this excerpt from a 1991 interview with Bill Moyers, Reagon explains how music was used throughout black history to empower and show solidarity, and how one particular song — “This Little Light of Mine” — helped do that during the civil rights movement.
In the 1990 documentary Amazing Grace, Bill Moyers looks at how one song has changed people’s lives across America, from church choirs to opera singers to prison inmates. In this clip, Johnny Cash performs “Amazing Grace,” which he played for an audience at Huntsville State Prison in Texas. Cash reflects on the first time he sang it — in the fields with his family, grieving after his brother died. We also hear from members of Huntsville’s prison choir what “Amazing Grace” means to someone spending the rest of his life being punished for his crimes.
In this 2012 Moyers Moment from Moyers & Company, songwriter Tom Morello — known as the guitarist for the band Rage Against the Machine, and more recently as a solo performer under the name “The Nightwatchman” — discusses the role he and his music play at political protests, and the American tradition of social justice troubadours.
Watch the full conversation between Bill Moyers and Tom Morello.
During the Great Depression, Pete Seeger and his friend Woody Guthrie traveled together from town to town, Seeger with his banjo and Guthrie with his guitar, playing music in exchange for meals. Later, Seeger came to New York where he played in support of unions and the fight against fascism, joined the communist movement and left it again. Repeatedly throughout his life, and especially during the McCarthy era, Seeger’s folk songs attracted the attention of those in power who branded Seeger a dangerous figure.
In this clip from a 1994 interview, Seeger tells Bill that music has a power that, even after decades of playing it, he still doesn’t fully understand. “All I know,” he says, “is that throughout history, the leaders of countries have been very particular about what songs they want sung, so some people, beside me, must think songs do something.”
In 2008, Bill spoke with small town lawyer-turned-bestselling author John Grisham about writing, law and justice. In this Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, the two discuss Grisham’s first nonfiction novel, The Innocent Man, which tells the story of Ron Williamson, who spent 11 years on death row, wrongly convicted of murder. Grisham says Williamson was the victim of a system that deals out justice unevenly, with terrible consequences and cost.
In this 2006 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason, author Salman Rushdie — a self-described “hard-line atheist” — talks about the need to “broaden what we can understand and say, and therefore be.”
“I’ve been trying all my life to find a language to express our sense of what is not material,” Rushdie tells Bill. “without having recourse to the ready-made ideas of religion.”
Watch the full conversation between Salman Rushdie and Bill Moyers
In this 2004 Moyers Moment from NOW with Bill Moyers, author Richard Dawkins makes the case for evolution’s truth, and assesses the argument of “intelligent design.”
“All material should be studied with an open mind and studied critically. What’s wrong is to single out evolution as any more open to doubt as anything else,” Dawkins tells Bill. “Evolution is about as certain as anything we know.”
In this 2006 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason, novelist Martin Amis talks about his inner conflicts when it comes to his own agnosticism.
“Agnostic is the only respectable position, simply because our ignorance of the universe is s0 vast… We’re about eight Einsteins away from getting any kind of handle on the universe,” Amis tells Bill. “But why is the universe so incredibly complicated? That makes me delay my vote on the existence of some intelligence.”
Over the years, Bill has become well known for his thoughtful discussions on eternal questions about God, faith and reason. Here, we’ve collected memorable moments from his conversations with prominent agnostics and atheists to shed light on issues of religion and identity.
Author Salman Rushdie, a self-described “hard-line atheist,” talks about the need to “broaden what we can understand and say, and therefore be.” (2006)
Watch the entire conversation between Bill Moyers and Salman Rushdie. MORE
In this 2009 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, filmmaker Oliver Stone describes his personal experiences as a soldier in Vietnam and explains how they inform many of his films, particularly Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, which deal explicitly with war. The mass killing and suffering of civilians in Vietnam reminds him of today’s war in Afghanistan, Stone says, and he recalls the desensitization to killing with which he had to come to grips when he returned home. MORE
In this 2007 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, Constitutional scholar Bruce Fein and journalist John Nichols discuss how George W. Bush, during his administration’s “war on terror,” claimed powers never intended for the president. They also cite other historical examples of both wisdom and weakness in how the executive branch wielded its authority.
Fein argues that we can defeat terror without sidestepping our integral system of checks and balances. “No one wants to downgrade the fact that we have abominations out there and people want to kill us,” he tells Bill. “But we should not inflate the danger and we should not cast aside what we are as a people.”
Watch Bill’s full conversation with Fein and Nichols here.