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White Lies

Author: NPR

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On the morning of August 21, 1991, a group of Cuban detainees took over a federal prison in Talladega, Alabama, and demanded their freedom. But how did they get here? And what became of them after? In season two of NPR's Pulitzer-finalist show, we unspool a decades-long story about immigration, indefinite detention, and a secret list. It's a story about a betrayal at the heart of our country's ideals. And in charting a course to our current moment of crisis at the border, we expose the lies that bind us together.

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17 Episodes
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Introducing White Lies

Introducing White Lies

2019-05-0602:055

A new serialized podcast from NPR investigates a 1965 cold case. New episodes every Tuesday starting May 14.
In 1965, the Rev. James Reeb was murdered in Selma, Ala. No one was ever held to account. We return to the town where it happened, searching for new leads in an old story.
The Who And The What

The Who And The What

2019-05-2101:00:1010

In Episode 2, we unravel the aftermath of the Rev. James Reeb's murder: the arrest of three men and the defense brought at trial. We also track down the last living jurors.
The Counternarrative

The Counternarrative

2019-05-2852:375

In Episode 3, we break down the conspiracy theory that emerged after the Rev. James Reeb's murder: that he was allowed to die or was killed because the civil rights movement needed a white martyr.
In Episode 4, we find a woman who says she knows who killed the Rev. James Reeb, because she was there. She's ready — for the first time in more than 50 years — to tell the truth about what she saw.
The X On The Map

The X On The Map

2019-06-1152:555

In Episode 5, we search for the fourth attacker while digging into the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black civil rights activist who was murdered in Alabama just weeks before the Rev. James Reeb. Jackson's killer was brought to justice in 2010. We look at his case for strategies to help solve Reeb's.
Learn Not To Hear It

Learn Not To Hear It

2019-06-1853:404

In Episode 6, we reveal the identity of the fourth man who participated in the attack on the Rev. James Reeb.
In our final episode, we examine the legacy of the Rev. James Reeb's death. We speak both to his descendants and to those of one of his attackers, exploring how the trauma and the lies that followed it affected both families.
Season 2: Trailer

Season 2: Trailer

2023-01-2403:17

In 1991, a group of men took over a federal prison in rural Alabama. But these men weren't prisoners, they were immigration detainees, all of them from Cuba. And none of them were serving time for a sentence; they were being indefinitely detained. Who were these men? What in the world had brought them from Cuba to a prison in rural Alabama, and what became of them afterward? On the new season of White Lies, hosts Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace set out to find the men who took over the prison and, in the process, unspool a sprawling story of a mass exodus across the sea, back-channel cold war communiques, family separation, and a secret list.
The Men on the Roof

The Men on the Roof

2023-01-2649:242

It all started with a photograph. A photograph from 1991 of a prison takeover in rural Alabama. A photograph of a group of men on the roof of that prison holding a bedsheet scrawled with a message: "Pray for us." In the first episode of the new season of White Lies, hosts Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace go searching for answers to the questions raised by this photograph. Who were these men? What on earth had made them want to take over that prison? And what became of them after? As they search, they uncover a sprawling story: a mass exodus across the sea, a secret list, and the betrayal at the heart of this country's ideals. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at plus.npr.org/embedded.
The Boatlift

The Boatlift

2023-02-0253:462

The story of the men on the roof didn't start with that prison takeover in 1991. It didn't start when they were detained in federal prisons. And it didn't start when the government made a secret list of their names in 1984. Instead, it started in the spring of 1980, with one of the largest refugee crises in American history: the Mariel Boatlift. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at plus.npr.org/embedded.
The Rumors

The Rumors

2023-02-0955:471

During our reporting, we heard one story over and over again: that Fidel Castro had emptied his prisons to fill the boatlift. It's a story that's been told so often and with such conviction that of course it must be true, right? But what if this was more theater than history? What was happening in 1980 in Miami and throughout the country that made this story so compelling? Why did it feel so true to so many people? In Episode 3, we go to Miami to find out. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at plus.npr.org/embedded.
The Entry Fiction

The Entry Fiction

2023-02-1659:00

When President Carter promised to welcome the men and women arriving on the Mariel boatlift with "an open heart and open arms," he had referred to them as refugees. But technically speaking, they weren't refugees. They were classified as entrants, an immigration status with a peculiar legal standing in the United States. While entrants are physically allowed to enter the country, legally they're still at the border, asking to come in. Their presence in the country is known as a legal fiction — specifically, the "entry fiction." So even as Cubans were disembarking boats in droves through the summer of 1980, they were officially still floating off the coast of Key West. And this immigration status followed them to where they went next: an army base in rural Arkansas. In episode 4, the curious case of the militarized border in the middle of the Ozark Mountains. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at plus.npr.org/embedded.
The Pen

The Pen

2023-02-2347:56

On May 18, 1980, a man named Genaro Soroa-Gonzalez arrived in Key West from the port of Mariel. With no family waiting to sponsor him, he was sent by plane to a resettlement camp at an army base. There he was interviewed by the INS and, a few days later, he boarded another plane, this one bound for the federal prison in Atlanta. But wait - he'd committed no crime, so why was the US government detaining him? And how long could they hold him? In Episode 5, the story of Genaro Soroa-Gonzalez and the beginning of the indefinite detention of Mariel Cubans. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at plus.npr.org/embedded.
The Trial

The Trial

2023-03-0243:08

In Episode 6, we sneak into the graveyard of the Atlanta federal penitentiary with a radical peace activist to learn more about what happened in the prison in late 1984. A peaceful protest by detainees held in the Atlanta pen resulted in a violent crackdown, and one of the detainees, a man named Jose Hernandez-Mesa, was charged in federal court with inciting a riot. We tell the story of his trial — and the surprising verdict that began reshaping public opinion about the Mariel Cubans who were being detained. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at plus.npr.org/embedded.
The List

The List

2023-03-0952:44

Since we began reporting this story, we've been after a list. A secret list. On it are the names of 2,746 people whom the US government deemed excludable, including the men on the roof. The government has kept this list so secret that at one point it went so far as to classify it. None of the Mariel detainees knew if their name was on the list or not. In fact, nobody knew what names were on the list. Until now. In Episode 7, the story of a list that sparked uprisings, separated families, and changed the trajectory of U.S. immigration policy. And the story of what we learned when we finally got our hands on it. Want to hear the next episode of White Lies a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at plus.npr.org/embedded.
The Excludables

The Excludables

2023-03-1601:09:252

In our final episode of the season, we start researching the names on the secret list of 2,746 Cuban excludables. What we find confirms many of our suspicions about the arbitrariness of how the U.S. government created the list. Our reporting takes us — where else? — to Cuba, to finally track down the men on the roof and hear them tell their own stories. What had they hoped to find in this country and what had they found instead? Finally, our journey takes us to one last interview in a high rise in Vancouver, Canada, where we hear from the man who led the uprising at Talladega, and made the decision to take to the prison's roof to display banners made from bedsheets that read, Pray for Us and Please Media: Justice, Freedom, or Death. Want to hear the first episode of Embedded's next series a week before everyone else? Sign up for Embedded+ at plus.npr.org/embedded.
Comments (61)

Arpita Sen Gupta

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Feb 24th
Reply

Anita Aldrich

The start of a thrilling adventure. Playing https://terraria3.com you will never get bored.

Mar 10th
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Steven Maurice

we're so afraid

Feb 17th
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Christen Ward

Man oh man i can’t say enough good things about this podcast! Thank you Chip & Andrew for bringing light to this topic! This podcast is so important for everyone to hear! Please do yourself a favor and listen to this! I promise you won’t regret it!

Jul 30th
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Beverley Keech

To say that we cannot judge the past because values and beliefs of the time were different, is a lie that we white people continue to tell ourselves to aneathetise and excuse our treatment of non-whites, or specifically in this instance blacks. At a point in time, roughly the 1690's, a cold, hard economic decision was made to dehumanise a sector of the human race for profit. An easy choice, different skin colour, few clothes because of the African climate, did not speak or understand a 'white' language. I speak with a white voice about the actions and choices of white people. The American civil war was fought for the right to continue to to see black people as less than human, the civil rights opponents fought for the same cause. In most white areas of the world the stupid and ignorant are still fighting for stupidity and ignorance to be perpetuated. Every statue in whatever country that commemorates a man that fought for the degradation, murder and enslavement of a member of the human

Jul 11th
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Draconius

Alabama needs to get its shit together and deprogram these racists. So sad what had happen there.

May 16th
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Top Clean

Thanks for the very good Podcast.

Apr 18th
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Tracey

ok k

Mar 11th
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Derek Raymer

Chilling historical account that I bet is repeated countless times in our country. Thank you to the creators for not giving up on this painful but potentially healing American Tale.

Jan 21st
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Terry Lempriere

Brilliant podcast, investigation by this guys/there team. Where's the next set is/podcast? Why are we still waiting NPR?

Jan 19th
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Linda White

I tell people - especially younger generations - that "IT" wasn't that long ago. I for one am 5 generations removed from slavery raised by parents who ushered us through the civil rights era in what I call a protected environment as "Army Brats". There is so much truth that is not told all because of a system of disenfranchisement..... These systems flourish when people don't see others as equals and teach through word and deed that specific groups are inferior in some form or fashion. The fact that these truths remained untold creating an environment of unapoligetic protection is not surprising. The U S legacy of brutal slavery and continued oppression of an entire group of people continues in all systems today - more covertly than overtly. I absolutely appreciated the time and energy these Alabamisn journalists took to seek and find the truth. It is my hope that one day, the hatred and mistreatment of others because they are different is no longer supported. If that day comes, t

Dec 21st
Reply (1)

alli lent

how can the FBI seriously say they couldn't do anything if they found the guy and it wasn't a federal crime? they can't go talk to local law enforcement? are you kidding me?

Dec 12th
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Nick Bryant

best episode. to bad it's the last. I suppose it's time to learn from history. thank you for your devotion to a true story that included all involved.

Sep 23rd
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Kim A. R.

Wow, what an amazing series. Thank you Chip and Andy for taking us this emotional journey. I have to listen to it again!!! Peaceful Rest Mr.Jim Reeb.

Aug 5th
Reply (1)

Kim A. R.

Oh, so no Blacks need to be treated fairly???!!! Martin Luther King was a trouble maker seriously???!!!! Killing men and keeping silent about it, is horrific.

Aug 5th
Reply (1)

Kim A. R.

Mr. Capp. Wow.smh

Jul 30th
Reply (1)

Mark Lafhameyer

uuuuuugh... racism racism racism... the daily NPR subject line. had it with our "public" radio station. We need an FM alternative to this crap already!!!!

Jul 24th
Reply (2)

Faith Trent Verburg

Excellent and terrible at the same time. I was struck by the inability of the Selma individuals to think about the family almost like an institutional narcissism. I have lived in the Montgomery area for over 25 years and this series helped clarify the deep resistance to truth I have experienced. Thank you so much and love to the Reeb family

Jul 18th
Reply (1)

deborah cassidy

Wow emotional episode. Great work.

Jul 18th
Reply

T M

What a miraculous luxury this old man whom has had, a full life, long marriage, and this ability to will the memory away of a possible accessory to murder. Bill Portwood is half assing his attempt at redemption to sate his own guilt. His wife seems to also believe that religious involvement is a trade equal for his violence and possibly murder of another religious person, while also ignorantly saying " he never was in trouble with the law", how utterly convenient.

Jul 15th
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