Connect to share and comment
Washington, Aug 20 (EFE).- "We have to continue to end discrimination in all its forms," Congressman John Lewis, the only speaker still living from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 March on Washington, said in an interview with Efe.
The Georgia Democrat listed the problems of poverty, hunger, and "too many people of color that are in jail, that are caught up in the criminal justice systems."
"Fifty years later, we have to continue to end discrimination in all its forms," Lewis said. "When people put people down because of their race or color...we all have to speak out and speak up and say it will not be tolerated, it will not continue to happen in America."
Lewis, at 23 the youngest of the 10 speakers at the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, described with nostalgia his standing with King for social justice.
"Dr. King for me was like a big brother. He was my friend, he was my inspiration, he became my hero," the lawmaker said in a telephone interview.
A faithful disciple of King's teachings about non-violence, Lewis, 73, said that King "was so moved and so gratified when the young people started sitting in, going on the Freedom Rides. He knew then that his message and his way would live on from time to time."
But the march, which ultimately gathered together some 250,000 people, at first met with the skepticism of President John F. Kennedy, who feared the possible disorder would derail the Civil Rights Act.
"You could tell by the body language of President Kennedy he didn't like the idea of hundreds of thousands of people coming to Washington, and he said 'Mr. Randolph if you bring all this people to Washington, won't there be violence and chaos and disorder, and we would never get a civil rights bill to the Congress?'" Lewis said, recounting an exchange between JFK and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph.
"Mr. Randolph responded in his baritone voice and said "Mr. President, this will be an orderly, peaceful, non-violent protest," Lewis recalled.
Lewis's speech, overshadowed by King's "I have a dream" address, defended the right to vote and the elimination of all the procedures imposed on blacks in order to cast a ballot, such has having to pay a poll tax and pass a literacy test.
"There were black men and women teaching in colleges and universities, high school principals and teachers, who were told over and over again they could not read or write well enough," Lewis said.
Lewis began his activism at 19.
As the leader of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, he took part in the Freedom Rides, the bus trips in the South protesting against discrimination on public transport.
Lewis was injured by police in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
A congressman for almost 30 years, Lewis believes that Barack Obama being voted into the White House was important but not sufficient and that minorities must keep up the struggle for equal opportunities.
Lewis is in favor of legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants, strengthening the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and more participation by minorities as voters and as candidates in all spheres of government.
The minorities must unite, he said.
"We got to go together, African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and whites of good will, we all got to go together," Lewis said. "As A. Phillip Randolph said 50 years ago, 'maybe our foremothers and forefathers all came to this great country in different ships, but we're all in the same boat.'"