John Lewis and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington
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    • COURTESY BETTMAN/CORBIS

      John Lewis, age 23, Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, speaks at the Lincoln Memorial during the historic March on Washington, August 28, 1963.

Fifty years after the 1963 March on Washington, Congressman John Lewis, winner of the 2012 Ridenhour Courage Prize, joined a coalition of labor groups, advocacy organizations, and activists on the National Mall on Saturday to commemorate what many remember as one of the greatest moments the nation has seen — and to march again for jobs and freedom.

As Institute fellow Ari Berman reports for The Nation, Lewis  "was the youngest and most radical speaker at the March on Washington. When Lewis returns to the Lincoln Memorial to address the rally on August 24, he will be the only surviving speaker from that historic afternoon."

"We have come a great distance since that day," Lewis tells Berman. "But many of the issues that gave rise to that march are still pressing needs in our society — violence, poverty, hunger, long-term unemployment, homelessness, voting rights and the need to protect human dignity." And in a time when the Supreme Court has struck down what Lewis calls "the heart and soul" of the Voting Rights Act and after the acquittal of George Zimmerman — a case Lewis has said reminds him of the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till — the anniversary of the march is an opportunity to address human rights and economic security in the current climate.

As one of the original Freedom Riders, Lewis was badly beaten and arrested while peacefully protesting Jim Crow segregation at interstate bus terminals in the South and nearly died marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama.

Lewis, along with co-authors Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, recently released the first in a series of autobiographical comic books, March: Book One, about what led him to become a key player in the March on Washington. At a panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Lewis said that he and the authors hoped "that young people and people not so young will be inspired by March and have the courage to get in the way, to get in trouble, good trouble, and to make some noise." 

The Ridenhour Prizes recognized Lewis in 2012 for his lifetime commitment to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties and building what he calls "The Beloved Community" in America. His remarks and John Siegenthaler's moving introduction can be watched here

"Some of us during that period accepted the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence as a way of living," said Lewis in his acceptance speech. "I think we have an obligation and a mission and a mandate to educate, to inspire, to inform all our citizens that there is a better way: the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence."

Find out more about the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington here.

Tags: civil rights, john lewis, march on washington, ridenhour prizes, voting rights, voting rights act

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