An activist of the Civil Rights Era now serving on the Hill warned that people are “trying to make it harder, more difficult” to vote, “so another generation must stand up and push.”
“I made a decision very early to get involved in the civil rights movement. I was 15 years old in 1955. When I heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio, when I heard about Rosa Parks and seen like Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking directly to me saying, John Lewis, you, too, can do something. You can make a contribution,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told CNN.
“I grew up 50 miles from Montgomery and growing up there, I saw the signs that said white men, colored men, white women, colored women. I didn’t like it and Dr. King provided a way out for me. It was not easy. We were beaten. Yes, we were jailed and we lost some friends, lost some relatives, some colleagues, but we didn’t give up. We didn’t give in. We kept the faith.”
Lewis remembered that “during the ’60s, I had people who would pour hot water, hot chocolate, hot coffee on many of us.”
“Put lighted cigarettes out in our hair or down our backs. Pull us off the stool and spit on us, but we were trained to look straight ahead and be as ordinarily and peaceful as possible,” he said of the lunch counter protests.
“When I was beaten on a bridge by a state trooper, I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death, but I was prepared and I was ready, but to do all I could to end segregation and racial discrimination and gain the right for all of our citizens to participate in a democratic process.”
The congressman said his parents chided him to mind the signs dictating where whites and coloreds could be. “Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way. That’s the way it is.”
“But Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble. It’s my hope and my prayer that the next generation of young people will stand up and speak up and speak out and confront the injustice, confront the evils that we see around us and be bold and be courageous,” Lewis said.
“I knew two of the young men and had met one of the third young men that was beaten, murdered in Mississippi, two young white men and one young black man, went out to investigate the burning of a church just 50 years ago,” he added. “And I tell young people and students all the time, these three young people didn’t die in Vietnam. They didn’t die in the Middle East or Eastern Europe or in Africa, they died right here in our own country. That’s why it’s so important for young people, for young children to understand that when they become 18 they must register. They must go out and vote in every election.”