Watch: John Lewis Recalls Bloody Sunday 1965

Human Rights

On Friday, Democratic Congressmember John Lewis questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s election during an interview on NBC News. Early on Saturday morning on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Donald Trump hit back at Lewis on Twitter, saying he was "All talk, talk, talk–no action." Trump’s comments sparked a massive national backlash. Congressmember Lewis is a civil rights legend. In 1965, he was beaten almost to death by Alabama state troopers as he attempted to lead a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The images from what came to be known as Bloody Sunday helped galvanize support for the Voting Rights Act signed into law months later. Congressmember Lewis described what happened on Bloody Sunday during a 2012 interview on Democracy Now!

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÃ�LEZ: At least 42 Democrats and counting plan to boycott Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration this Friday, after President-elect Trump used the weekend to attack civil rights icon John Lewis. 

REP. JOHN LEWIS: I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.

CHUCK TODD: You do not consider him a legitimate president?


CHUCK TODD: Why is that?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I don’t plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I miss since I’ve been in the Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong.

CHUCK TODD: That’s going to send a—that’s going to send a big message to a lot of people in this country, that you don’t believe he’s a legitimate president.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected. That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not the open, democratic process.

JUAN GONZÃ�LEZ: Early on Saturday morning on Martin Luther King weekend, Donald Trump hit back at John Lewis on Twitter, saying he was, quote, "All talk, talk, talk–no action."

AMY GOODMAN: Trump’s comments have sparked a massive national backlash. Congressmember John Lewis is a civil rights legend. In 1965, he was beaten almost to death by Alabama state troopers as he attempted to lead a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The images from what came to be known as Bloody Sunday helped galvanize support for the Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Johnson months later. New York Congressmember Yvette Clarke tweeted, "When you insult [Congressman John Lewis], you insult America." Congressmember Jerrold Nadler tweeted, "Trump stands with V. Putin. I stand with @repjohnlewis." Well, in 2012, we interviewed Democratic Congressmember John Lewis, and I asked him to describe what happened on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: On March 7, 1965, a group of us attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to dramatize to the nation that people wanted to register to vote. One young African-American man had been shot and killed a few days earlier, in an adjoining county called Perry County—this is in the Black Belt of Alabama—the home county of Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr., the home county of Mrs. Ralph Abernathy, the home county of Mrs. Andrew Young. And because of what happened to him, we made a decision to march. In Selma, Alabama, in 1965, only 2.1 percent of blacks of voting age were registered to vote. The only place you could attempt to register was to go down to the courthouse. You had to pass a so-called literacy test. And they would tell people over and over again that they didn’t or couldn’t pass the literacy test. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles on a bar of soap. On another occasion, a man was asked to count the number of jellybeans in a jar. There were African-American lawyers, doctors, teachers, housewives, college professors flunking this so-called literacy test. And we had to change that, so we sought to march. And we got to the top of the bridge. We saw a sea of blue—Alabama state troopers—and we continued to walk. We came within hearing distance of the state troopers. And a man identified himself and said, "I’m Major John Cloud of the Alabama state troopers. This is an unlawful march. It will not be allowed to continue. I give you three minutes to disperse and return to your church." And one of the young people walking with me, leading the march, a man by the name of Hosea Williams, who was on the staff of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, "Major, give us a moment to kneel and pray." And the major said, "Troopers, advance!" And you saw these guys putting on their gas masks. They came toward us, beating us with nightsticks and bullwhips, trampling us with horses. I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick. I had a concussion at the bridge. My legs went out from under me. I felt like I was going to die. I thought I saw Death. All these many years later, I don’t recall how I made it back across that bridge to the church. But after I got back to the church, the church was full to capacity, more than 2,000 people on the outside trying to get in to protest what had happened on the bridge. And someone asked me to say something to the audience. And I stood up and said something like: "I don’t understand it, how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam but cannot send troops to Selma, Alabama, to protect people whose only desire is to register to vote." The next thing I knew, I had been admitted to the local hospital in Selma.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that moment where you decided to move forward, because I don’t think the history we learn records those small acts that are actually gargantuan acts of bravery. Talk about—I mean, you saw the weapons the police arrayed against you. What propelled you forward, Congressmember Lewis?

REP. JOHN LEWIS: Well, my mother, my father, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, and people all around me had never registered to vote. I had been working all across the South. The state of Mississippi had a black voting age population of more than 450,000, and only about 16,000 were registered to vote. On that day, we didn’t have a choice. I think we had been tracked down by what I call the spirit of history, and we couldn’t—we couldn’t turn back. We had to go forward. We became like trees planted by the rivers of water. We were anchored. And I thought we would die. I first thought we would be arrested and go to jail, but I thought it was a real possibility that some of us would die on that bridge that day, after the confrontation occurred. I thought it was the last protest for me. But somehow and someway, you have to keep going. You go to a hospital, you go to a doctor’s office, you get mended, and you get up and try it again.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s civil rights icon, 14-term Congressmember John Lewis, speaking on Democracy Now! in 2012, not long after the release of his book, Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change. Well, over this Martin Luther King weekend, sales of Lewis’s books on the civil rights movement has soared, after Donald Trump attacked him. As of Monday morning, four were among Amazon’s top 20 best-sellers, with a box set of his National Book Award-winning graphic memoir trilogy March at number one. In the wake of Trump’s attack on Lewis, the NAACP has demanded Trump apologize. In addition to Trump tweeting that Lewis is all talk and no action, Trump called Lewis’s Georgia district "crime infested." Many of Lewis’s constituents recoiled at Trump’s offensive racial stereotyping of their majority-black community. Residents who actually live in Georgia’s 5th Congressional District responded by tweeting out photos of their community with the hashtag #DefendThe5th, which includes Atlanta, Emory and the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a headline across the top of its Sunday front page that read, "Atlanta to Trump: Wrong."

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