White Lies

White Lies

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. Support in-depth storytelling that matters by subscribing to Embedded+ and unlock early access to new episodes and sponsor-free listening. Learn more at plus.npr.org/embedded

Episodes

May 6, 2019 2 mins
A new serialized podcast from NPR investigates a 1965 cold case. New episodes every Tuesday starting May 14.
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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.
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May 21, 2019 57 mins
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.
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May 28, 2019 50 mins
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.
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June 4, 2019 44 mins
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.
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June 11, 2019 51 mins
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.
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June 18, 2019 51 mins
In Episode 6, we reveal the identity of the fourth man who participated in the attack on the Rev. James Reeb.
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June 25, 2019 66 mins
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.
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January 24, 2023 3 mins
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 ...
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January 26, 2023 45 mins
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 t...
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February 2, 2023 49 mins
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 Em...
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February 9, 2023 51 mins
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...
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February 16, 2023 54 mins
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 ...
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February 23, 2023 43 mins
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 ...
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March 2, 2023 41 mins
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 b...
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March 9, 2023 48 mins
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 st...
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March 16, 2023 64 mins
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? Fi...
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