John Robert Lewis took the stage on Aug. 28, 1963, at the March on Washington, just 23, youngest of the Big Six civil rights leaders speaking, already a veteran of sit-ins, beatings and jailings as an original Freedom Rider. As chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, many saw him as too radical.
Rev. Martin Luther King asked him to tone down his speech.
Nonetheless, his words would speak to the ages:
To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again. And then you holler, “Be patient.” How long can we be patient? We want our freedom and we want it now.
Two years later, he would take the lead marching across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge to organize voter registration. Lewis would bear the brunt of water hoses and dogs sicced on peaceful protesters. Shocked by “Bloody Sunday,” Jim Crow’s fury unleashed, America demanded change. Months later, the Voting Rights Act would pass.
Many victories won, Lewis’ 1963 words bridge the decades.
Still tired of being beaten by police, Black men and women still seek freedom now.
The march of John Lewis — Freedom Rider, organizer, conscience of the Congress — ended Friday at age 80. The torch passes to a new generation who believe Black lives matter. That Black votes matter.
©2020 New York Daily News
Visit New York Daily News at www.nydailynews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.