The Oprah Winfrey Show Interview

The following is the transcript of the interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show, January 21, 2003:

Joyce King, in the audience of The Oprah Winfrey Show

01:37:35;07 WINFREY: Like we just heard, visiting Huff Creek Road can be a very profound experience. Joyce King found that to be true as well. It was in 1998 that Joyce was working as a radio reporter in Dallas, when she was sent to Jasper to cover the James Byrd story, and like Marco and Whitney, her journey to Jasper took a very unexpected turn and became a defining moment of her life. Let’s look. (Excerpts from videotape) Ms. JOYCE

01:37:59;00 KING: In June of ’98, I was an anchor with a Dallas radio station. I was fired from my long-time position, and just a few months after that, I found myself rehired as a street reporter and assigned the Jasper, Texas, dragging, which I could not believe. I did not want to be there. It was the last place I wanted to be. I imagined Jasper to be full of Klan activity, full of racism, full of people who hated people who looked like me.

When I first pulled into the town of Jasper, it was very peaceful-looking. In fact I said to myself, this is where the dragging happened? I went directly to Huff Creek Road, which is here Mr. Byrd was found. I got out of the rental car, started to walk the three-mile route, and I started to cry. I got down on my hands and knees, because I could still see what appeared to be evidence circles in the road, and it went on and on–wallet, one head. That was at the culvert, where he was decapitated.

I stayed two weeks for each trial, and half my hair fell out. The stress was enormous. Crime scene photos, autopsy photos, they would give me nightmares that continue to this day. My impression of the sheriff, the first time I saw him, he was so much a cowboy sheriff to me, it scared me, and I just labeled him another good old boy with a gun and a badge, and I thought no way would justice be done adequately. We like to say other people have stereotypes about black people. We don’t like to admit as black people we, too, harbor stereotypes, because they–they have been so ingrained into us. I brought a lot of racial baggage into Jasper.

Sheriff Billy Rowles helped me shed some of that baggage by addressing my own issues. We are very good friends now. I learned that he wanted justice, and that became our bond. If you don’t remember anything else about Jasper, remember that it should be a model for justice. It did deliver justice. I found out that Jasperites are very loving, compassionate people, hard-working, and they really are fair–fair-minded. We may have laws that protect us, but you cannot legislate hearts. That has to come from within and so I–I think a lot of people did change. Sheriff BILLY

01:40:16;20 KING: How are you, sweetie? If you can have a friendship like mine and Billy Rowles, I think there is always hope, and we both like to think that we went into this case good people, but we came out better people. (End of excerpts)

01:40:16;29 ROWLES: Hi, love.

01:40:30;19 Ms. WINFREY: Wow. Joyce has written a book about the James Byrd case called “Hate Crime.” Joyce says that she had to shed her racial baggage in Jasper. What do you mean by that?

01:40:40;29 Ms. KING: I went into east Texas thinking that because I’m a native Texan, I knew what this whole community was about, seen it my whole childhood, and it was the big bad wolf for me, and so I went in with a chip on my shoulder. I went in thinking, `I don’t want to be here. I know what this is going to be, and I–I just–I don’t want to see it up close.’

01:41:00;07 WINFREY: Were you surprised by the first outcome?

01:41:03;06 Ms. KING: I was relieved more than surprised. I think after I met…

01:41:08;00 WINFREY: Because was everybody–were–were the black people–I don’t know–you can’t speak for all the black people, but you’re a reporter, so you had a–a general sense–was the feeling that we’re–we’re just going to be put back in 1950-whatever, or…

01:41:20;12 Ms. KING: I think historically, people always knew in the back of their minds there was that possibility, and there were people waiting for that to happen. There were actually groups that wanted that to happen so they would have a reason to protest, have a reason to tear the town apart, have a reason to say, `Look, I told you this was going to be the case.’ So I was very relieved when the first was convicted, guilty of capital murder.

01:41:42;17 WINFREY: And you and the sheriff are now friends.

01:41:44;10 Ms. KING: Very good friends.

01:41:44;16 KING: Very good friends.

01:41:45;04 WINFREY: OK.

01:41:46;02 Ms. WINFREY: OK. That’s pretty good. Thank you so much, Joyce. Coming up, we invited a group of people to watch the film, and then taped the discussion they had afterwards. Their insights on racism when we come back. (Announcements)


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