Remember When Rep. John Lewis looked back at time with MLK

Published 7:23 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

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This article, written by Jaine Treadwell, originally appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 1, edition of The Messenger.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the massive “March on Washington,” the largest peaceful demonstration in our country’s history.

Standing before the Lincoln Memorial and with the Washington Monument towering in the distance, King delivered one of the most impassioned and stirring speeches of our time as he made a plea for racial equality and justice.

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John Lewis, currently a U.S. Congressman from the State of Georgia and native of Pike County participated in that march.

Prior to Dr. King’s speech, Lewis spoke to the marchers as the representative of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Lewis called that day in Washington. “the most moving day of my life. ”

“It was a beautiful, but hot August day,” Lewis recalled. “As I spoke, I looked out at the crowd. At that sea of humanity and got a great feeling. It was a coming together of America. I saw black and white, young and old, Protestants, Catholics and Jews. I saw America at its best, people from all over. There were people from the heart of the deep South. It was truly a bi-racial demonstration. All of America was represented –the East, the West, the North and the South. I knew we had won a moral victory.”

Later, when King spoke to the thousands of marchers and to millions more watching at home on television, Lewis felt a “stirring” in his heart as he and the others reacted to King’s eloquent pleas for racial justice.

“I have a dream,” King’s voice rang out “that one day this national will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”

“Dr. King’s speech was deeply rooted; he spoke from his heart and soul,” Lewis said. “He was able to reach out through his speech and touch every person there that day. You could see it in their faces. You could see it their reactions. We were all moved, all of us, black, white, rich and poor. Everyone. It made all of us proud to be Americans. When he finished his speech all of us who were seated near the Lincoln   Memorial stood and cheered. Two hundred and fifty-thousand marchers cheered. Everyone was deeply moved. I will never forget it.”

The March on Washington, in my estimation, was one of the finest hours for the Civil Rights Movement.

After the demonstration, Lewis was one of those who met with President John Kennedy.

“President Kennedy had not been open to the whole idea of the march,” Lewis said. “He had some reservations about the march being peaceful.  But, after the march being peaceful, he met with us and shook each of our hands and thanked us. He said that the was very pleased and very moved and was pound of all of us.

“Dr. King was deeply moved by the magnitude of the demonstration and by the President’s reaction to it.  That is the only time I remember seeing him more emotional was after the Selma crisis.  March 1965. President Johnson spoke on television on the question of civil rights. During that speech, he used the words, “We have overcome.’ I was sitting with Dr. King and he began to cry. Tears came down his face and others of us cried, too. Hearing the President of the United States use the theme song of our movement made us know that it was just a matter of time.