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Kristoff St. John on "startling letters of hate and discontent"

CBS News asked noted figures in the arts, business and politics about their experience in today's civil rights movement, or about figures who inspired them in their activism.

Kristoff St. John, Emmy Award-winning actor, "The Young and the Restless"

Have we or have we not achieved racial equality in the United States?

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Kristoff St. John Robert Voets/CBS

A lot of people in the United States were absolutely shocked that an African American president took office. I, for one, did not believe that that day would occur, at least not as soon as it did. Being a young man, I thought possibly in my old age, God willing, I'd get there. But with much adversity, Barack Obama is now celebrating his second term.

Now we have the question of, will a female ever sit in the president's chair? And now I believe that to be possible. Who might that be? Are we talking about Hillary Clinton? I don't know. But I do know that this has somehow brought the country in more harmony. The entire globe has seen that America has somehow combined to become this wonderful melting pot that we are now, and I believe that Obama has a lot to do with that cohesiveness. I celebrate him being in the president's chair, not because necessarily he's an African American, but because he's very good at what he does. He's a charismatic speaker, and I for one am a big fan.

What needs to happen in the next 50 years for equality to be fully realized in the U.S.?

I don't know if I should include the rest of the globe, but something in my heart tells me I should, because there's a lot of dissension worldwide when it comes to civil rights. And it's not just in this country that this particular battle is being fought. Mother Theresa was an activist; Mahatma Gandhi was an activist; Nelson Mandela, an extreme activist in South Africa for civil rights, for racial equality.

So in the next 50 years I believe what needs to happen is we all need to join hands and forces all across the planet . . . and understand that no race is better than the other, that we were all put on this planet the same. We bleed red.

This is how we must react to a country that's been tortured for many, many years -- a globe that's been in pain about this particular subject for many years. We only have to look at one of the most recent things in the United States, the Donald Sterling case. We somehow have to get past this racism and co-exist.

Is there something that you'd like to share about your personal connection to civil rights issues?

Early on in my run [on "The Young and the Restless"] as the character of Neil Winters, when Bill Bell Sr. [the executive producer] was writing the show, there was a storyline that was put into place where Neil romanced the character of Victoria Newman. We all know the infamous Victor Newman on the show, and his daughter, Victoria, was pregnant with child -- the character Cole was the baby. Cole left town, leaving a potential romance with Neil and Victoria, which actually happened. It blossomed, and Neil honorably told Victoria that he would take care of her baby.

As the storyline progressed and the characters became closer and the romance blossomed, the negative reaction from -- I wouldn't say the majority of the audience, I'm going to have to say it was the minority, but I received a lot of negative criticism, a lot of not just criticism, but fan hate mail. It actually came to my home address. Wedged in between the gas bill [and] my mortgage bill were startling letters of hate and discontent. It affected me deeply. I didn't really know what to do, other than to take stock of who I am.

I am of mixed heritage -- I'm African American, I'm white. My mother is 100 percent Polish. My grandparents on my father's side are from Portugal and from the Caribbean. And I wasn't quite clear as to why this was occurring, other than the fact that I wasn't ignorant to racism in this country. I had been involved in fights in elementary school because of the color of my skin. I was called certain names that are ignorant. But this particular episode was shocking.

I turned the hate mail over to CBS, the executive producer Ed Scott, and that in turn was turned over to the FBI. And they stopped coming. There were, I would say, a dozen or more letters.

But that only told me that people who watch the show -- doesn't matter what color they are -- that are sitting at home that don't believe that black and white should coexist are not my friends.


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