At the time of the first March on Washington in 1963, John Lewis was 23 years old and the youngest speaker to move the estimated quarter-million marchers with his urgent call for true equality. “We do not want our freedom gradually,” he said. “But we want to be free now.”
Fifty years later, the late Freedom Rider and congressman reflected on his speech. And on the 57th anniversary—amid a heartbreaking year filled with far too many deaths and Black Lives Matter protests—we remember Rep. Lewis’ poignant words about freedom, equality, and the importance of voting.
“There are forces—there are people who want to take us back,” he warned during a speech a few days shy of the anniversary of the march. He went on to say, “We cannot go back. We’ve come too far. We want to go forward…The vote is precious—it is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society, and we have to use it.”
Referencing how he was beaten and inflicted with a fractured skull for marching for voting rights in Alabama on Bloody Sunday, Rep. Lewis demonstrated resilience that surely resonates across generations that continue to fight for racial justice and voting rights today. “I got arrested 40 times during the ’60s,” he remembered. “Beaten and left bloody and unconscious. But I’m not tired. I’m not weary. I’m not prepared to sit down and give up. I am ready to fight and continue to fight, and you must fight.”
You can watch that anniversary speech here:
Days later, Rep. Lewis gave another speech on August 28, 2013 and said:
You can read the full transcript of his speech here:
To honor Rep. Lewis, make sure you’re registered to vote, remember to cast your ballot, and never stop making “good trouble,” as he called it.
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