John Lewis – Address at The March On Washington – August 28, 1963 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
John Lewis (1940-2020) – Civil Rights leader and human rights champion has left this life. The towering figure of the Civil Rights movement and Conscience of The Congress, succumbed to Pancreatic Cancer earlier today. His passing was announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Lewis, who as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was one of the “Big Six” leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington, played many key roles in the Civil Rights Movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the United States. He was a member of the Democratic Party leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and had served from 1991 until death as a Chief Deputy Whip and Senior Chief Deputy Whip from 2003 to his death.
Lewis represented Georgia’s 5th congressional district, one of the most consistently Democratic districts in the nation. Since its formalization in 1845, the district has been represented by a Democrat for all but eleven years.
Lewis was one of the most liberal members of the House, and one of the most liberal congressmen to have represented a district in the Deep South. He had been categorized as a “Hard-Core Liberal” by On the Issues. The Washington Post described Lewis in 1998 as “a fiercely partisan Democrat but … also fiercely independent.” Lewis characterized himself as a strong and adamant liberal. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said Lewis was the “only former major civil rights leader who extended his fight for human rights and racial reconciliation to the halls of Congress.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also said that to “those who know him, from U.S. senators to 20-something congressional aides,” he is called the “conscience of Congress.” Lewis has cited former Florida Senator and Congressman Claude Pepper, a staunch liberal, as being the colleague that he has most admired. Lewis also spoke out in support of gay rights and national health insurance.
Lewis drew on his historical involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as part of his politics. He made an annual pilgrimage to Alabama to retrace the route he marched in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery – a route Lewis worked to make part of the Historic National Trails program. That trip became “one of the hottest tickets in Washington among lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, eager to associate themselves with Lewis and the movement. ‘We don’t deliberately set out to win votes, but it’s very helpful,” Lewis said of the trip’.” In recent years, however, Faith and Politics Institute has drawn criticism for selling seats on the trip to lobbyists for at least $25,000 each. According to the Center for Public Integrity, even Lewis said that he would feel “much better” if the institute’s funding came from churches and foundations instead of corporations.
And as a reminder of the undying spirit and lifelong commitment of the man, here is an excerpt of his address at The March On Washington – August 28, 1963.
John Lewis: I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete. We must get in this revolution and complete the revolution. For in the Delta in Mississippi, in southwest Georgia, in the Black Belt of Alabama, in Harlem, in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and all over this nation, the black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom.
They’re talking about slow down and stop. We will not stop. All of the forces of Eastland, Barnett, Wallace, and Thurmond will not stop this revolution. If we do not get meaningful legislation out of this Congress, the time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. We will march through the South; through the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham. But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today. By the force of our demands, our determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in the image of God and democracy. We must say: “Wake up America! Wake up!” For we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.
Here is that complete address, as it happened at the March On Washington – August 28, 1963.
John Lewis – February 21, 1940 – July 17, 2020.