By Eric Heilman Hoya Staff Writer

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the most important figures of the Civil Rights movement, reminded students and professors at the Georgetown Law Center of the importance of making Civil Rights a practical reality in a speech last Wednesday. Lewis, who with Martin Luther King Jr. was a keynote speaker at the arch on Washington in 1963, spoke as part of the The Task Force on Diversity and Community’s continuing celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In addition to his speech at the March on Washington, Lewis helped lead such events as sit-ins at segregated Nashville lunch counters, the Freedom Ride across the South and the march from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery.

Lewis spoke to a group of approximately 130 law students and professors on the 12th floor of the Georgetown University Law Center’s Gewirz building about his role in the Civil Rights movement.

“In the last 30 or 40 years,” Lewis said, “we have seen a non-violent revolution in this country.”

According to Lewis, however, the price of this revolution was not cheap.

“[People who died in the Civil Rights movement] did not die in Vietnam or the Middle East. They died in our own country just a few years ago,” he said, “because they participated in an effort to include more American citizens in the democratic process.”

Lewis, who was arrested more than 40 times for his involvement in the movement, helped achieve the goal of inclusion by organizing the 1965 march from Selma, Ala. to ontgomery. Held in protest of literacy tests and Jim Crow laws that prevented African-Americans from registering to vote, the original march consisted of 600 people who, despite taking part in a peaceful march, were dispersed by Alabama state troopers with guns, tear gas and nightsticks in an event that became known as Bloody Sunday.

“After Bloody Sunday,” said Lewis, who received a concussion in the fray, “there was a sense of righteous indignation on college campuses, in churches and even in Congress.”

This led to one of the most important events of Lewis’ civil rights career. Two weeks later, the march started over again with more than 35,000 participants who were under the protection of federal troops.

This march is widely believed to have been the catalyst for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that helped remove barriers to African-Americans who wished to register to vote.

“If someone had told me after I had been beaten in a Greyhound station or when I had a concussion on that bridge outside of Selma that I would be standing here as a Member of Congress, I’d have said `You’re crazy,'” Lewis said. “But by sitting down and sitting in, we were standing up for the best in American tradition, so don’t give up, give in, or become cynical.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.