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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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And here, this young man here is Cleveland Robinson. This man was almost blind, but no one wanted to say to him, "But you cannot walk with the group." And, so, he walked with us. This is Rabbi Joachim Prince of the American Jewish Congress.

He was born in Berlin and moved to America during the late 30s. He moved to Newark, New Jersey, and became a leader, a spokesperson for civil liberty, civil rights. And this is Joe Rauh. He was one of the unbelievable leaders in the NAACP. And this is unbelievable Whitney Young, who was head of the National Urban League.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: Who's been a dean at the School of Social Work at Atlanta University. Roy Wilkins, the head of the NAACP. Walter Reuther, the head of the United Automobile Workers Union.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: And this is A. Philip Randolph.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: He was born in Jacksonville, Florida, moved to New York, and organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He was our leader. He was our dean. We called him the dean of black leadership. He was a principle of a man.

BILL MOYERS: So, when you look back what comes to your mind?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: An awesome day. An unbelievable day. A moment in American history when people came together and heard and saw Martin Luther King Jr., deliver that magnificent “I Have a Dream” speech. I will never forget just standing on those steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out.

There was a wonderful spirit. You looked out, just saw the signs from organizations, from church groups, labor groups, youth groups. It was black and white. I think it represented one of the finest hours in American history.

BILL MOYERS: What struck me about the speeches that unfolded that morning were that they weren't just about segregation. They were about an egalitarian vision of America, white and black, that was part of the social gospel that all of you seemed to be preaching. That there was something larger than ending segregation, as important as that was.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: I believe I used a line in my own speech when I suggested we must seek more than mere civil rights, but we must seek to create a community. We must -- a sense of brotherhood. And the day I was there. We were trying to create and move us toward the creating of a beloved community.

BILL MOYERS: It was a universal vision that unfolded in speech after speech.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: It was an all-inclusive message, a message for all Americans. So, it didn't matter whether we were black or white, Latino, or Asian-American, or Native American. It was -- and that's what Dr. King had the ability to do in his own speech. He delivered a sermon. And I think, in a sense, we all were delivering small sermons. He had the ability, more than any of us, to transform the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial into a modern-day pulpit. And he knew he was preaching.

BILL MOYERS: So, what was going through your mind early in the morning?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: Early in the morning I kept thinking, "Is it going be okay? Is it going be all right?" I was not concerned about whether it was going to be peaceful because I believed that the people, especially those coming out of the South, had been touched by the spirit of the movement.

 
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