One on One with Congressman John Lewis

Denise Rolark-Barnes | 8/20/2013, 12:52 p.m.
Often called “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” Congressman John Lewis has dedicated his ...

They said, “Oh no, you can’t say that, that’s too inflammatory.” We kept that in the speech until we got to the Lincoln Memorial. When we got to the Lincoln Memorial, someone said there is still a problem with your speech. We met on the side of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. James Foreman, executive secretary of SNCC, had a portable typewriter and a young man who went to Howard University, whose name was Courtland Cox, and others started saying what changes can be made. And Mr. Randolph said, “John we have come this far together let’s stay together. Can we change this; can we change that?” And Dr. King said, “John, can we change this, that doesn’t sound like you.” So I agreed to delete the reference to Sherman and a march through the South. I just called out different cities.

And in the end I said: Wake up America! Wake Up! Wake Up Mr. President! Wake Up Congress! Let’s complete the revolution of 1776. And I ended on that note.

Is it important to acknowledge the 1963 March on Washington?

Yes, but not just to relive it or to say we accomplished something, but to be revived. It seems like history and fate are coming together. As we prepare for the 50th anniversary, we have the recent Supreme Court decisions and the jury verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, and it’s saying, in spite of the March on Washington 50 years ago, despite all of the changes and the progress, we are not there yet. Despite all of the scars and the stains of racism, they are still deeply imbedded in American society.

In spite of the fact that we have an African American as president of the United States of America, this man, this one man, I think has been treated worse than any president that I have seen in my years. He has been called everything but a child of God. And I think it’s a reflection of the deep-seeded influence of racism and bigotry. There are people who are afraid of the future. Embrace it. You cannot stop the tide; you cannot stop the change. In the matter of a short time, the make-up of this country will be very different. In a few short years, the minority will be the majority.

What should be the focus of the 50th Anniversary March on Washington?

Fifty years ago it was jobs and freedom. It should be a march for jobs or freedom. We need to put people back to work. But also, it should be about justice. Take the word freedom and insert justice. Freedom to live, freedom to survive without feeling you will become a victim of gun violence.

Fifty years later we must be concerned about the environment, saving this little planet we call earth. We have to use what we need and leave the planet a little better for future generations. Clean water, clean air, food safety should be our focus and not just on bombs, missiles and guns, and spend our resources on education and health care.

Final Words

I hope young people will be inspired that they too can make a contribution; that they, too, can strike a blow against discrimination, against violence, poverty, homelessness and hunger. And, that many of them will emerge as young leaders in the 21st century.

We must never, ever think about quitting or stopping. We must never get lost in the sea of despair. We must keep going and do what we can to make this country and the world community better. If we fail to act under our watch, history will not be kind to us.