John Lewis was the 23-year-old son of Alabama sharecroppers and already a veteran of the civil rights movement when he came to the capital 50 years ago this month to deliver a fiery call for justice on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As we prepare to cover the anniversary of the march and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s beloved “I Have a Dream” address, we want to hear from people who were there. Mr. Lewis’s urgent cry — “We want our freedom, and we want it now!” — was eclipsed on the steps that day by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. But two years later, after Alabama State Police officers beat him and fractured his skull while he led a march in Selma, he was back in Washington to witness President Lyndon B. Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today Mr. Lewis is a congressman from Georgia and the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington in August 1963. His history makes him the closest thing to a moral voice in the divided Congress. At 73, he is still battling a half-century later. With the Voting Rights Act in jeopardy now that the Supreme Court has invalidated one of its central provisions, Mr. Lewis, a Democrat, is fighting an uphill battle to reauthorize it. He is using his stature as a civil rights icon to prod colleagues like the Republican leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, to get on board. He has also met with the mother of Trayvon Martin and compared his shooting to the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.
Mr. Lewis has an answer for those who say the election of a black president was a fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream: It was only “a down payment,” he said in an interview. “There’s a lot of pain, a lot of hurt in America,” Mr. Lewis said in his office on Capitol Hill, which resembles a museum with wall-to-wall black-and-white photographs of the civil rights movement. Current events, he said, “remind us of our dark past.”
But Mr. Lewis, a longtime practitioner of civil disobedience (he has been arrested four times since joining Congress), is also encouraged. He said he found it gratifying to see peaceful throngs “protesting in a nonviolent fashion” after George Zimmerman was acquitted in Mr. Martin’s killing. Last week, he created a minor dust-up by telling Britain’s Guardian newspaper that Edward J. Snowden, the national security contractor who leaked classified documents, could argue that he was “appealing to a higher law,” but later condemned the leaks.
Now Mr. Lewis is introducing himself to a new generation by telling the story of his life as a Freedom Rider in “March,” a graphic novel that he wrote with a young aide,Andrew Aydin. The book, released this week, is modeled on a 1958 comic about Dr. King, which inspired early sit-ins.
Mr. Lewis remains a link to that past. At a National Urban League convention in Philadelphia last month, he was on fire as he told the crowd how his parents reacted when he asked about colored-only signs a lifetime ago in the Deep South.
Full Article: Still Marching on Washington, 50 Years Later – NYTimes.com.