My first encounter with John Lewis was the day before the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the early morning of the March, August 28th, 1963. Rumor had gotten back to Dr. King and Bayard Rustin, Executive Director of the March, that Patrick O’Boyle, Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and one of the original conveners of the March, was threatening to pull out of the March because of what he had been told was a section in John Lewis’ proposed speech at the March to which Archbishop O’Boyle objected because he believed that It appeared to invite violence.
Lewis had included in his proposed speech a sentence or more talking about marching through Atlanta like General Sherman did during our Civil War.
Apparently, no one close to Lewis could persuade him to change that part of his speech. Bayard, Martin, and Ted Brown (the AFL-CIO civil rights director) decided that only A. Phillip Randolph may be able to persuade Lewis to delete or change the wording that prompted Father O’Boyle to resign as a leading sponsor of the March. And so it was that Randolph persuaded him to remove the “offending” language.
- The original proposed version of John Lewis’s speech
- The final revised version
- Watch a video of Lewis delivering his speech at the March
Millions remember the photo of John Lewis walking next to Hosea Williams from SCLC attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge leading Black local Selma, AL residents to register to vote. Most remember the police brutality on horseback and on foot using billy clubs to knock down and beat Negroes peacefully walking to vote. These images and President Lyndon Johnson’s speech before a Special Session of Congress seeking passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Bill are seared into the historical memory of our nation.
Thus, the recent death of John Lewis, member of Congress for 30 years provoked a massive national outcry of remembrance and honor for his life and work seeking to redeem the soul of America…
His death ag the age of 80 on the same day as that of Reverend C.T. Vivian, at 95, seem to be telling us something: The moral arc of the universe continues to bend toward justice.
Dr. Clarence B. Jones