ATLANTA — Tens of thousands of people are gathering on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. today for a modern March on Washington, summoning the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement as a new push against systemic racism has animated protests across the country this summer.
The late Rep. John Lewis' death earlier this summer also put a renewed attention on the struggle for equity, as dignitaries, politicians and civil rights activists paid tribute to his acts of courage as a young man on the front lines of the movement.
Lewis was the youngest speaker at the original March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have A Dream" speech. With today's events going on in the nation's capital, it's worth remembering what the longtime Atlanta Congressman said on Aug. 28, 1963.
You can watch his full speech here:
It was not a speech that was made in general terms - Lewis addressed specific injustices he wanted rectified and specific policies he wanted realized.
"We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of," Lewis said. "For hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here. For they are receiving starvation wages, or no wages at all. While we stand here, there are sharecroppers in the Delta of Mississippi who are out in the fields working for less than three dollars a day, twelve hours a day. While we stand here there are students in jail on trumped-up charges."
"We come here today with a great sense of misgiving," he added.
Lewis then addressed his issues with the Civil Rights Act, then a bill that was still being formed - there was nothing in it, he said, "to protect the young children and old women who must face police dogs and fire hoses in the South while they engage in peaceful demonstrations."
He demanded language in the bill to protect the Black vote - which would eventually be done in a separate law, the Voting Rights Act. He called for a bill to reestablish the New Deal-era Fair Employment Practice Committee. And he called for "social revolution" in the political parties.
"They’re talking about slow down and stop. We will not stop," he said. "By the force of our demands, our determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in the image of God and democracy."
Today, those words infuse the spirit of yet another March on Washington amid another movement for a social revolution.