US Congressman John Lewis said he wanted to be a preacher when he was a child. But his early years in Alabama were spent preaching only to chickens in a chicken coop. Decades later though, he would deliver a strong message of civil disobedience to thousands during the March on Washington.
Congressman Lewis remembered the Jim Crow rules of the south in the 1950s, while visiting Morris Street Baptist church. He recalled the signs and messages of his childhood. They told him where he could drink water, go to school, or even eat a meal. The discrimination fueled him to do something. He helped organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“We started sitting in…we would sit on lunch counter stools and someone would come up and spit on you or put a lighted cigarette out in your hair or pull you off the stool or beat you.”
Lewis says he realized that he was part of something bigger than himself. He and other members of SNCC were beaten by police in 1965 during a march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. That day became known as Bloody Sunday, and Lewis, his skull fractured in the scuffle with Alabama state troopers, appeared on TV to make an appeal to President Lyndon Johnson before going to the hospital to get his wounds treated.
“I was hit in the head with a nightstick by a state trooper…I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death.”
Lewis says because he has risked his life for human rights of all people, he is saddened at how many minority males kill each other senselessly.
“I think Dr. King would be very distressed to see what is happening to so many of our young people . We've got to come to that point where young people– all young people, black or white or Latino or Asian American come to value life.”
Lewis who represents Georgia's 5th Congressional district has received dozens and awards and thousands of accolades for his work in civil rights, but his greatest accomplishment is in helping others reach their potential and seeing the positive growth in a nation he loves.
“The only way to make a difference is to get involved and stay engaged, through the highs and lows, the easy times and the difficult struggles. We have to keep on pushing and pulling knowing without a doubt that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it always bends toward justice.”