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Bill Moyers and Rep. John Lewis: 50 Years After the March on Washington, America Is a Long Way from True Equality

“To look out and see the best of America convinced me more than anything else that this is the product, this is the work of the movement,” Civil Rights Leader Lewis tells Moyers.

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BILL MOYERS: In the five decades since, John Lewis has become an icon of the civil rights movement, a hero who faced down brutal Southern police in the name of freedom and was beaten bloody for daring to do so. Today, he is a fourteen-term Congressman from Georgia. Recently, he and I returned to the National Mall in Washington to remember that day in 1963 and the march that changed America.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: People were all the way down. And you just saw hundreds and thousands of individuals.

I'm John Lewis. And I was the youngest speaker. Ten of us spoke. I spoke number six. Dr. King spoke number 10. And out of the 10 people that spoke that day, I'm the only one still around.

CHILD #1: Congratulations.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: What's that?

BILL MOYERS: Congratulations.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: Thank you very much.

BILL MOYERS: It was a great moment in American life.

CHILD #1: You were his friend?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: Yeah. I got to know Dr. King. I met him in 1958 when I was 18. But I first heard of him when I was 15 years old in the 10th grade. We worked together. We marched together. We got arrested together in Selma, Alabama.

BILL MOYERS: Have you ever heard this story before?

CHILD #2: Yes, I have.

BILL MOYERS: You have?

CHILD #2: I watched it on TV.


REP. JOHN LEWIS: So you know about the sit-ins? The Freedom Ride?

CHILD #2: Yeah.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: People marching for the right to vote? You know, I was on the march from Selma to Montgomery. I was beaten.

On March 7, 1965, a group of us, about 600 people, black and white, many young people, some people who had just left church, decided to march from Selma to Montgomery, about 50 miles away, because people of color, black people in Alabama, couldn't register to vote simply because of the color of their skin.

And we decided to march across the Alabama River, a bridge called the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And we got to the highest point on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and we looked over and we saw a sea of blue, Alabama state troopers. And we got within hearing distance of the state trooper. And Major John Clyde of the Alabama state troopers. “This is an unlawful march. It would not be allowed to continue.”

MAJOR JOHN CLYDE from EYES ON THE PRIZE: This is an unlawful assembly. You have to disperse. You have orders to disperse.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: And the young man walking beside me, who was working with Dr. King, said, "Major, give us a moment to kneel and pray."

And the major said, "Troopers advance."

REP. JOHN LEWIS: I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a night stick. Had a concussion at the bridge. I thought I saw death. I thought I was going to die.

BILL MOYERS: And when you were attacked by the police, when you were beaten, when you were almost killed, you didn't think a moment of responding, replying violently?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: No, never because we studied the way of peace, the way of love, the way of non-violence. One of the people that beat me on the Freedom Ride in 1961 in South Carolina came to my office later with his son. His son had been encouraging his father to do it. And he said, "Mr. Lewis, I'm one of the people that beat you and left you bloody. Will you forgive me? I want to apologize." His son started crying. He started crying. I started crying. He hugged me. I hugged him. He called me brother. I called him brother.

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