Don Cornelius never led a civil rights march, launched a boycott or gave a speech before a cheering crowd of protesters.

But his impact on America was as profound as virtually any civil rights leader, says Shayne Lee, a sociologist who grew up watching “Soul Train.”

Cornelius’ groundbreaking TV show didn’t just captivate African-Americans — it tied white and black America together in a way that had not been done before, says Lee, who teaches a course on hip-hop at the University of Houston.

“He was an ambassador, the pope of soul,” Lee said. “For a lot of suburban whites living in segregated America, this was their first exposure to this exiting new world of movement and energy. He made black culture more accessible.”

Cornelius, who hosted “Soul Train” for 22 of its 36 years on the air, died Tuesday. He was 75. Police reports indicate he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

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