One on One with Congressman John Lewis
Denise Rolark-Barnes | 8/20/2013, 12:52 p.m.
But Dr. King was a symbol. And, to be honest, many people saw Dr. King as a threat to their own leadership. He was young, a Black Baptist minister who was getting so much recognition, but it was Dr. King who inspired many of us, along with Rosa Parks. He inspired us all to get involved with the movement.
What were your feelings the day before the March?
The day before the March, I went to New York with several people to speak and help raise money for buses.
I remember coming to Washington by plane from NY and arriving here and staying the night before the march at the Capitol Hilton Hotel on 16th and K Streets, N.W. Dr. King stayed at the Willard Hotel.
It was in the Capital Hilton where I saw Malcolm X for the first time and I was able to speak to him. He came because he knew something big was happening in Washington, DC and he came to observe. He said to me something like, the march was suppose to be a protest march, but that the man down at the White House had convinced us to turn it into a picnic.
Later that night I went to my room and received a note under my door from Bayard Rustin. It said there was some problem with my speech and I should come to this meeting. There were leaders from other organizations. Archbishop O’Boyle threatened not to give the invocation if I didn’t change some lines in my speech. Some thought he was very close to the Kennedy family and they had gotten to him. My original speech said: We cannot support the administration’s Civil Rights bill for it was too little, too late. There is nothing in the proposed legislation that will protect old women and young children involved in peaceful non-violent protests run down by policemen on horseback and chased by dogs.
And later I said in the speech: We don’t have anything to be proud of for many of our brothers and sisters cannot be here because they are receiving starvation wages or no wages at all.
And I continued to say in the speech something like: “We are now involved in a serious revolution, the Black masses are restless.
Some people objected to the word “revolution” and the phrase “Black masses.” Mr. Randolph came to my rescue and said, “There is nothing wrong with the words ‘revolution’ or ‘Black masses’; I use it myself all the time.” So we kept it in the speech.
I went on to say: You tell us to wait; you tell us to be patient. We cannot wait; we cannot be patient. ‘Patient’ is a dirty and nasty word. And, I think he was joking but Bayard Rustin said, “John you can’t say that. The Catholic Church believes in being patient.” So that remained in the speech.
But near the end of the speech, I said: If we don’t see meaningful progress here today, we will not confine our March on Washington. We may be forced to march to the South, the way Sherman did...non-violently.