Winfrey, speaking with the press in front of the Williamson Fieldhouse where the show was filmed 23 years ago and again, yesterday, said her return to Williamson was a good reunion for her and several people who appeared on the show in 1987.
"It was a wonderful reunion. It was a really great experience and I felt that we accomplished a lot," Winfrey said.
In 1987, Winfrey came to Williamson to discuss AIDS in a small town and to focus on Mike Sisco, a Williamson-area man with AIDS, who had been kicked out of the Williamson swimming pool. The pool was shut down and cleaned and the story made national headlines, even making the front cover of US News & World Report.
The program, taped at the Williamson Fieldhouse in West Williamson, was a town-hall type show, with people waiting in line to talk on camera at a microphone.
"Mike Sisco really was one of the unsung heroes for the movement of creating information around AIDS," Winfrey told The Logan Banner. "When we did it at the time, we did it to use him as a symbol for getting the information out about how you contract the disease and what it means to have the disease. He's one of my most memorable interviews and one of my most memorable experiences was coming here to Williamson 23 years ago. As we round out this year, the 25th season and the final year of The Oprah Show as we know it, this is one of the places I wanted to revisit to see if ideals have changed and if the way people thought about AIDS has changed."
Several people had already been interviewed by Winfrey’s production staff over the last two weeks and those who were talking to the show were forced to sign confidentiality contracts so that all information about the show would be kept secret.
However, Don Halcombe, a spokesperson for Harpo Productions, said Winfrey interviewed nine people, including Tina Sisco, Anna Sisco and Patricia Lea Collins, who are sisters of the late Mike Sisco; Cynthia Stuart, Dr. Woodrow Myers, Eugene Thorn, Nina Blackburn, Jerry Waters and Bobby Webb. Myers is the only person interviewed who is not from Williamson.
The show will be a part of Winfrey's show's 25th and last season, which begins airing September 13.
"I hope people can look at themselves and look at this show and understand that no matter what affliction people have, whether it's AIDS or any other disease or some kind of crisis or disaster has befallen them, that people would be more compassionate. I think that is the complete message of this whole series we did here today and 23 years ago," Winfrey said. "I understand people's fear, because in 1987, we still didn't know everything and it's understandable that people would have questions and what was represented here in Williamson really was a microcosm for the country. We used Williamson as a symbol for what was going on in the rest of the country. But, I think Nina (Blackburn) just summed it up that the fear overtook the compassion. And I think in all circumstances, this will not be the last time the world is faced with some kind of disease or affliction where you would want to ostracize people because they're not like you. And, I think the lesson is always 'How can you be be more compassionate.' That's one of the last questions I asked. 'How, if you had to do it again, would you have done it differently as a community? Even if you have fear, how do you embrace the person and still try to maintain a sense of protection and information for yourself and your family."
Sisco’s story was also featured on the Oct. 12, 1987, edition of U.S. News & World Report in a story entitled “AIDS — When Fear Takes Charge.”
A report in the Williamson Daily News on July 14, 1987, said the Williamson city pool was closed after Sisco swam in it. The story made the headline of the paper and an image of the newspaper was used in the article.
The U.S. News & World Report article discussed how Sisco’s family shunned him and how rumors of him trying to infect the town had gone around.
At the press conference, Winfrey discussed how attitudes have changed since the show in Williamson two decades ago.
"It would be unfair to judge the statements of two or three people and make a judgment about the entire community based on that," Winfrey said. "I would think that the overall consensus is that when you are in a group like that, a lot of people take on the mob mentality — that's one of the words that Jerry Waters used himself — because they are fueled by fear and lack of information and when you know better, you do better, which is a wonderful saying I learned from Maya Angelou. Now, we know a lot more and people would behave differently with different information."
Robin Vance of Logan works in Williamson and made her way over to the Williamson Pool to see Winfrey filming part of the show where all the controversy took place 23 years ago. Vance and Mary Montgomery got an impromptu meet and greet when they told Winfrey they thought she looked beautiful.
Winfrey broke ranks from her bodyguards and walked over to talk with Vance and Montgomery, who came to Williamson from Hardy, Ky., with hopes of catching a glimpse of Winfrey.
“I work right down the street and I found out about it from the newspaper,” Vance said, smiling. “It was awesome meeting her. I have been a fan off and on of hers for years.”
Vance said she is glad Winfrey did the show on AIDS in a small community.
“I think it needed to be addressed and, hopefully, things have changed since 1987,” Vance said. “I didn’t know that much about AIDS in 1987. I thought that show was sad. It’s neat that she’s here.”
Montgomery cried when Winfrey shook her hand. She said she was so excited that she doesn’t remember what Winfrey said to her in the greeting.
“I wanted to meet her because she’s such a wonderful person. She has helped so many people. I told her it was nice meeting her and that she is beautiful,” Montgomery said. “When she started toward me, I was in shock. I was so excited that I can’t hardly remember what she said. She told us she was glad to meet us. We are glad to have her here.”