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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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REP. JOHN LEWIS: Of trust. A band of brothers and sisters, that you have to respect the dignity and the words of every human being. So you could not strike someone or hit someone, even have an evil thought or even consider. And we truly believed there's a spark of the divine in every single one of us and that you don't have a right to scar or destroy that spark. So, you must be respectful of every human being.

BILL MOYERS: You know, you've always had a way of refusing to let fear take control of your life. What do you owe that to?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: Someplace along the way, growing up in rural Alabama I came to the conclusion that you must not be afraid. You must not be afraid. And in the Movement, the sit-ins, the freedom rides before the March on Washington when I was beaten and left bloody and unconscious in Montgomery at that Greyhound Bus Station and almost died, I became more determined than ever that I would never ever be afraid.

BILL MOYERS: Why? Where did that come from?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: It's studying the philosophy of non-violence, studying the great religions of the world, studying Gandhi and Thoreau and listening to the words of Martin Luther King Jr. You cannot be afraid. You cannot live in fear.

BILL MOYERS: You're lost when you live in fear. It's over for you, right?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: Well, it's -- to live in fear is, like you don’t exist -- you lose all sense of hope. You have to be hopeful.

BILL MOYERS: And you were when you approached those steps that morning to make your speech?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: When I arrived there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I was very hopeful. I was very optimistic. I was ready. I was ready. And when A. Philip Randolph stood up and said, "I now present to you young John Lewis, the National Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee," I had what I considered an executive session with myself.

BILL MOYERS: An executive session with yourself?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: Yeah. I said, "This is it. I must go for it." So, I looked to my right. I saw all of these young people from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Then I looked to my left. I saw many young people, black and white, up in the trees trying to get a better view of the platform. Then I looked straight ahead. And I just started, starting speaking.

JOHN LEWIS IN 1963: We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of, for hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here. For they are receiving starvation wages, or no wages at all. While we stand here, there are sharecroppers in the Delta of Mississippi who are out in the fields working for less than three dollars a day, twelve hours a day. We come here today with a great sense of misgiving.

It is true that we support the administration's civil rights bill. We support it with great reservations, however. Unless -- unless Title III is put in this bill, there is nothing to protect the young children and old women who must face police dogs and fire hoses in the South while they engage in peaceful demonstrations.

BILL MOYERS: But you know, you made your brothers in the march very nervous as they started hearing about what you were going to say. In fact, correct me if I'm wrong on this. But the night before your speech, one of your associates mistakenly put a copy of several copies of it on a table in the press room. And word began to-- the copies began to circulate and the alarms went up. What can you remember of that?

 
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