Tovia Smith

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The funeral for a New Jersey man on Sunday comes at a most poignant moment for his family, as it coincides with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Rabbi Israel "Sy" Dresner was one of the earliest Freedom Riders in the 1960s and was close with King.

Dresner died Thursday of cancer at the age of 92.

Dresner was arrested four times in the early '60s during the time he spent as a Freedom Rider. He used to leave his home in northern New Jersey, sometimes driving all night long, to join the nonviolent protests against segregation in the South.

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One year after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when mobs stormed in, trying to stop Congress from certifying the election of President Biden, the "Big Lie" that drove it all remains as widespread as it has ever been.

Countless recounts, courts, commissions and private contractors — including Republicans — have all dismissed former President Donald Trump's claims that the election was stolen. But a new NPR/Ipsos poll shows that two-thirds of Republican voters and just over one-third of all voters still believe it.

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Updated November 16, 2021 at 12:40 PM ET

For the first time in its history, Boston is inaugurating a newly-elected mayor on Tuesday who is not a white man. Michelle Wu – who's Asian American — is the first woman and first person of color elected to lead the city. While many are hailing it as a major turning point, others see it as more of a disappointment that the three Black candidates in the race couldn't even come close.

It's exactly what everyone's been waiting for.

"I'm very happy to get out," says one woman, sitting down to a view of the harbor, at the Pilot House restaurant in Sandwich, Mass., on Cape Cod.

"It's like we're free at last!" a friend laughs, joining her to celebrate a 70th birthday, albeit several months late.

They're as thrilled to be dining out again as restaurant owner Bob Jarvis is to see customers start pouring back in.

It's happening millions of times a day. Pharmacists jab an arm with the COVID-19 vaccine and hand over a paper card certifying that the shot was administered, and when.

"This is your ticket to freedom soon," smiles pharmacist intern Ojashwi Giri, as she hand-writes the name and birth date of another newly vaccinated customer on one of the coveted cards at Union Pharmacy in Newton, Mass. "I'm sure you're going to want to treasure this."

After a long, brutal winter, Cornwall's Tavern in Boston's Kenmore Square is finally getting what it's been waiting for. Or at least a taste of it. The first day Boston restaurants could start putting tables back out on the sidewalks, turns out to be during a stretch of sunny days of temperatures in the 60s, and the tables are full.

Harvard medical student Kailey Slavik — who steered clear of indoor dining since the pandemic started, is almost giddy now to be able to go to a restaurant again.

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Michelle Queen does not consider herself part of QAnon, but she does believe some of its most outlandish conspiracies – including that Satan-worshipping elites in a secret pedophile cabal are killing babies and drinking their blood.

"When you are evil, you're evil," says Queen, 46, from Texas. "It goes deep."

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In Northern California, a typical meeting of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors used to run around two or three hours.

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They may not be earning any sympathy points from the rest of the nation, but these are tough times for New England Patriots fans. It's not just that they didn't even make the playoffs this year, for only the third time in two decades. But even worse. After a 20-year love affair with star quarterback Tom Brady, they now have to watch him go to the Super Bowl with his new team: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Well, I don't need to tell you that in this divided nation, there are widely divergent emotions around today's transition of power. NPR's Tovia Smith has been out speaking to voters in Massachusetts. She joins us now.

Hey, Tovia.

For some, it was the final straw. The U.S. Capitol riots, and the president's behavior both before and after, has soured some of Trump's supporters.

For others, it has only ratcheted up their zealous devotion to the president, and their deep frustration with an election they falsely believe was rigged.

Carol Jones, 74, from Franklin, Tenn., is among those regretting her support for Trump since Wednesday's insurrection, when thousands of pro-Trump protesters stormed the Capitol building.

If you're the type to be disappointed by what's under the Christmas tree, this year you may find yourself even more dismayed by what's not under the tree. Millions of gifts may arrive late, as the U.S. Postal Service grapples with an unprecedented volume of packages from people shopping online, instead of at stores, and shipping holiday gifts instead of bringing them in person.

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This time of year, Cornwall's Tavern in Boston would usually be booked with back-to-back Christmas parties and packed with college students celebrating the holidays.

Instead, John Beale, who owns the place with his wife, Pam, sits in the back, reading the newspaper, as Christmas music wafts down on the one lone customer having lunch. When a second customer shows up, John turns to welcome him, waving his arm at the empty space. "You can sit anywhere you want," John offers.

It's anything but a usual season.

President-elect Joe Biden is doubling down on his calls for unity and healing, reminding Americans, "We are at war with the virus not with each other." In his Thanksgiving address this week, Biden reiterated the appeal he's been making since his first speech as president-elect, when he implored everyone to "put away the harsh rhetoric," "give each other a chance," and end what he calls "this grim era of demonization in America." But the notion is proving a hard sell to many, including Biden's own supporters.

To many people it's a giant leap forward for womankind. But to others, the historic election of the nation's first female and woman of color to be vice president is a long-overdue step, and a reminder of how much more of the road still lies ahead.

If you find yourself fighting with a friend over politics, or frustrated and furious with your nearest and dearest over whom they're supporting for president, you're hardly alone. A recent survey shows just how much the nation's bitter political divide is causing social splintering and taking a toll on friendships. Even decades-long relationships have been caving under the pressure, giving new meaning to "social distancing."

Voters are both denouncing and defending President Trump for how he's handling his COVID-19 diagnosis, reflecting the deep political divide over how he has managed the pandemic as a whole. Even in blue Massachusetts, the president is getting both criticism and kudos.

Tony Beaulieu never goes anywhere without his "Trump 2020" hat on the front windshield of his truck, and his Trump flag in the back. His face mask is usually somewhere on the floor.

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As colleges around the U.S. are facing COVID-19 outbreaks and crackdowns on students engaged in coronavirus-risky behavior, campuses are also facing a new threat: legal challenges from the students they're punishing.

Few people have been looking forward to colleges reopening – and staying open — this fall, as much as the people who run Cornwall's Tavern in Boston's Kenmore Square. A go-to for students and faculty at Boston University, the family-owned pub has been counting on the back-to-school crowds to help it survive. In an industry hard-hit by the pandemic, it's a test Cornwall's can't afford to fail.

"It's a frightening time," said Pam Beale, who owns the place with her husband John. "It feels like the earth is moving under your feel all the time."

As stressful as it always is for students applying to college, this year it's all that — and then some — for the admissions officials trying to decide whether to admit them. Because of the pandemic, many students will be applying without standardized test scores and several other metrics admissions officers at selective schools have long relied on, leaving colleges scrambling to figure out what else they might consider instead.

This is the first in an ongoing series of stories following the struggle of one restaurant trying, like many, to reinvent itself to survive the global pandemic.


Food and drink establishments have been among the most challenging businesses to operate through the pandemic. Around the nation, many have already shut down for good, while others that reopened are now closing again because of increases in COVID-19 cases in some places.

The protests since the death of George Floyd are being hailed by many as a watershed moment that might ultimately bring about an end to police brutality and systemic racism. But the high hopes are also tangled up in dark fears that the current uprising will eventually die down and will end up being just one more missed opportunity.

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