Bill Moyers and Rep. John Lewis: 50 Years After the March on Washington, America Is a Long Way from True Equality
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Bill Moyers and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) met to share experiences and revelations about the momentous March on Washington both attended 50 years ago.
Their discussion takes them to the spot in front of the Lincoln Memorial where Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, and others famously spoke about freedom and justice, creating critical momentum for both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. While there, Moyers and Lewis attract the attention of schoolchildren, and conduct a spontaneous living history lesson.
The March on Washington is largely remembered for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The 23-year-old Lewis, newly named to lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was the youngest of the featured speakers, but among the most defiant.
Now a 14-term congressman from Georgia, Lewis shares new insight into how the event unfolded — including last-minute conflicts over his own manuscript. He also discusses the continuing challenges to racial and economic equality, and his unwavering dedication to nonviolence and brotherly love as a means toward a more just end — even when facing inevitable violence and brutality.
“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,” Lewis tells Bill. “Sometimes you have to not just dream about what could be — you get out and push and you pull and you preach. And you create a climate and environment to get those in high places, to get men and women of good will in power to act.”
Threading rarely-seen documentary footage into their conversation, Bill — who was deputy director of the newly-created Peace Corps at the time — also shared his own memories of the day. He concluded with an essay about how the goal of equal rights and opportunities for all Americans — so championed at the March on Washington — continues to elude us.
“But for a few hours that day,” Bill says, “we could imagine what this country might yet become.”
Full transcript of the interview with Lewis and BIll Moyers' essay appear below the video:
BILL MOYERS: Welcome. For each of us, there are days that are turning points. A day that changes our personal life, or a day that changes the nation. Sometimes, very rarely, it’s one and the same day. Just such a day happened to me on Wednesday, August 28, 1963. I was 29 years old, the deputy director of the Peace Corps, with offices one block from the White House and a short walk from the Lincoln Memorial. That morning, largely on impulse, inspired by a friend, I joined the quarter of a million Americans, people of every age and color, who had come for the March on Washington.
The event is now most famous for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” but like many of the others there, I was first transfixed by one of the other speakers, the youngest on the platform.
A. PHILIP RANDOLPH: Brother John Lewis…
BILL MOYERS: His name was John Lewis. He had just been named head of SNCC – the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee -- and he was 23 years old. I will never forget the speech he delivered that day.
JOHN LEWIS: We must get in this revolution, and complete the revolution. For in the Delta of Mississippi, in Southwest Georgia, the Black Belt of Alabama, in Harlem, in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and all over this nation, the black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom.