John Lewis, long time civil rights icon and then member of the House of Representatives has died. Many on the left will remember him for his role as an establishment liberal. I remember him differently.
I first saw John Lewis in a small meeting of civil rights activists in New York City back in the early 1960s. I don’t remember his words, but I remember his demeanor – more like an aura. He spoke very quietly and seriously. You could see that he meant every word that he said.
But my clearest memory of John Lewis was from the famous 1963 March on Washington. (Here is my memory of that march.) That was the speech at which Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It was all very good to this then 17 year old. But what really gripped me was the speech of John Lewis – clear, sharp and brimming with anger. He criticized the then-pending Civil Rights Act and the Democratic Party. “Where is our party?” he demanded.
This also speaks to the criminal betrayal (there is no other word for it) of the Communist Party. John Lewis was looking for an alternative, as were many other (mainly young) civil rights activists. But the CP led them right back into the Democratic Party.
But it is Lewis’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington for which he should really be remembered. Here it is, and it is just as relevant today as it was in 1963: