John Lewis

  • Aired:  06/04/12
  •  | Views: 8,250

Congressman John Lewis recalls the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March, America's segregation and his mentor Martin Luther King, Jr. (6:43)

>> Stephen: WELCOME BACK EVERYBODY, MY GUEST TONIGHT WAS A CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER

AND AN ORIGINAL FREEDOM WRITER.

THIS IS "THE COLBERT REPORT." NO FREE RIDES.

PLEASE WELCOME CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) CONGRESSMAN LEWIS, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR COMING ON.

>> THANK YOU.

>> Stephen: NOW LET US REMIND SOME OF THE PEOPLE HERE WHO MAY NOT KNOW THE

ENTIRETY OF YOUR CV, THAT YOU WERE A LEADER IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.

YOU WERE ELECTED TO CONGRESS IN 1986.

>> YES.

>> Stephen: YOU PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN THE STRUGGLE TO END SEGREGATION AS CHAIRMAN OF

THE STUDENT NONVIOLENT COORDINATING COMMITTEE.

THE YOUNGEST SPEAKER AT THE 1963 MARCH ON WASHINGTON.

AND YOUR NEW BOOK IS CALLED "ACROSS THAT BRIDGE" WHAT DOES THAT BRIDGE YOU'RE

TALKING ABOUT?

>> WELL, NOT JUST THE BRIDGE ACROSS THE ALABAMA RIVER THAT WE MARCHED ACROSS.

>> Stephen: EDMUND PETIST BRIDGE.

>> BUT THERE ARE STILL BRIDGES TO CROSS AND RIVERS TO CROSS TO MAKE OUR COUNTRY

BETTER TO BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER, BECAUSE WE ARE ONE PEOPLE, ONE FAMILY, ONE

HOUSE, NOT JUST AMERICAN HOUSE BUT THE WORLD HOUSE.

WE ALL LIVE IN THE SAME HOUSE.

>> Stephen: YES, BUT WE ARE DIVIDED ALONG POLITICAL LINES AS WE SHOULD BE.

>> OH THAT IS NOT NECESSARY.

>> THEY ARE CONSERVATIVE,

AND THEN THERE ARE SOCIALISTS.

AND SOME OF US WANT WHAT'S BEST FOR AMERICA.

WE ALL SHOULD WANT THE BEST BUT NOT JUST AMERICAN COMMUNITIES, BUT WHAT IS BEST FOR ITS WORLD

COMMUNITIES BECAUSE WE ALL LIVE IN THIS SAME HOUSE AND WE MUST LEARN TO LIVE

TOGETHER OR WE WILL PERISH AS FOOLS.

AND THAT'S WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

>> Stephen: ALL RIGHT LET'S TALK ABOUT THE EDMUND PETIST BRIDGE.

BEFORE WE GET TO THE BRIDGE,

YOU KNEW MARTIN LUTHER KING.

>> I KNEW MARTIN LUTHER KING

>> Stephen: GOOD GUY.

>> WONDERFUL MAN, WONDERFUL MAN, WONDERFUL HUMAN BEING.

I MET HIM WHEN I WAS 18 YEARS OLD.

>> Stephen: HOW DID YOU GET TO KNOW HIM?

>> WELL, I GREW NEWSPAPER RURAL ALABAMA.

AND WHEN I GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL, I WANTED TO A A SCHOOL CALLED CHOICE 125I9

COLLEGE, 10 MILES FROM MY HOME SOME I WROTE A LETTER TO DR. KING.

TOLD HIM I NEEDED HIS HELP.

HE SENT ME A ROUND TRIP GREYHOUND BUS TICKET AND INVITED ME TO COME TO MONTGOMERIE TO MEET WITH HIM.

AND I WILL NEVER FORGET IT IN MARCH OF 1958, BOARDED A BUS TO MONTGOMERIE.

YOUNG LAWYER MET ME.

I WALKED INTO THIS ROOM,

INTO BS, AND DR. KING SAID ARE YOU THE BOY FROM TROY.

ARE YOU JOHN LEWIS.

AND I SAID DR. KING, I'M JOHN ROBERT LEWIS, I GAVE MY WHOLE NAME.

AND THAT WAS THE BEGINNING.

>> Stephen: AND HE REMEMBERED.

>> HE REMEMBERED.

>> Stephen: SO HE WAS A MENTOR OF YOURS.

YOU BECAME FRIENDS.

YOU WERE ACTUALLY THE YOUNGEST SPEAKER AT THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON IN 1963.

I WAS MAYBE THE YOUNGEST ATTENDEE BECAUSE MY MOTHER WAS THERE.

SHE WAS PREGNANT WITH ME.

THAT IS ACTUALLY WHY I HAVE THIS BANNER RIGHT HERE THIS IS THE FREEDOM MARCH BANNER,

AUGUST 28th, 1963.

>> THAT'S VERY MOVING.

THAT IS VERY MOVING TO ME SDZ I REMEMBER-- ONE OF THE THINGS.

>> THANK YOU FOR BEING THERE.

>> Stephen: WELL, YOU ARE WELCOME.

I HAD LITTLE CHOICE IN THE MATTER.

(LAUGHTER)

>> YOU WERE WERE THERE.

>> Stephen: I WAS THERE AND I REMEMBER YOU SAYING-- .

IT MEANT SO MUCH TO ME.

>> YOU HEARD ME.

>> Stephen: I Z OH I DEFINITELY HEARD YOU.

>> REALLY.

>> Stephen: BUT THEN WHEN YOU GOT TO THE BRIDGE, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU AND THE

OTHER MARCHERS AS YOU WENT ACROSS THAT BRIDGE.

FIRST OF ALL, WHY WAS THERE ANY RESISTANCE TO YOU GOING ACROSS THAT BRIDGE.

>> WE HAD PLANNED TO MARCH FROM SELMA TO MONTGOMERIE TO DRAUM ADVERTISE TO THE

NATION AND THE WORLD THAT PEOPLE OF COLOR WANTED TO REGISTER TO VOTE.

IN 1965, IN SO MANY OF THE SOUTHERN STATES IT WAS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE FOR PEOPLE

OF COLOR TO REGISTER TO VOTE.

IN SELMA, ALABAMA, ON ONE OCCASION A MAN WAS ASKED TO -- COUNT THE NUMBER OF

JELLY BEANS IF IN A JAR.

HE FULFILLED HIS LAT RASS SEE TEST, HE HAD BEEN BEATEN,

ARRESTED, JAILED.

SOME PEOPLE KILLED, ALL ACROSS THE AMERICAN SOUTH.

BUT WE HAD TO CHANGE THAT.

>> Stephen: SO YOU GET TO THE BRIDGE.

>> WE GET TO CROSSING THE BRIDGE.

I WAS WEARING A BACKPACK BEFORE IT WAS FASHIONABLE TO WEAR A BACKPACK AND IN THIS

BACKPACK I HAD TWO BOOKS,

ONE APPLE, ONE ORANGE,

WANTED TO HAVE SOMETHING TO EAT, SOMETHING TO READ, HAD TOOTHPASTE AND TOOTHBRUSH

BECAUSE I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO BE ARRESTED, I WANTED TO BE ABLE TO BRUSH MY TEETH.

YOU KNOW, BEING IN JAIL WITH YOUR FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES.

>> Stephen: YOU WANT TO BE YOUR FRESHEST.

>> RIGHT.

RIGHT.

WE GET TO THE HIGHEST POINT ON THE BRIDGE, DOWN BELOW WE SAW A SEA OF BLUE, ALABAMA

STATE TROOPERS AND WE CONTINUED TO WALK.

AND THE STATE TROOPERS IDENTIFIED HIMSELF AND SAID I'M MAJOR JOHN-- WITH THE

ALABAMA STATE TROOPERS.

THIS IS AN UNLAWFUL MARCH.

YOU WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE.

I GIVE YOU THREE MINUTES TO DISPERSE AND RETURN TO YOUR CHURCH.

AND ONE OF THE GUYS WALKING BESIDE ME, YOUNG MAN BY THE NAME OF JOSE WILLIAMS FROM

DR. KING'S ORGANIZATION SAID MAJOR, GIVE US A MOMENT TO KNEEL AND PRAY.

AND THE MAJOR SAID TROOPER-- AND THESE GUYS PUT ON THEIR GAS MASKS CAME TOWARD US BEATING

US WITH NIGHT STICKS,

TRAMPING US WITH HORSES AND RELEASING THE TEAR GASMENT I WAS HIT IN THE HEAD WITH BY

A STATE TROOP WE ARE A NIGHT STICK, GOT A CONCUSSION, I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE.

>> Stephen: I DON'T WANT TO HAVE TO CROSS THAT BRIDGE IS THERE SOME EASIER BRIDGE FOR

THE REST OF US TO CROSS, NOT THAT BRIDGE.

>> WELL, YOU KNOW, YOU CAN GO AND CROSS THAT BRIDGE TO REMIND PEOPLE OF THE

DISTANCE WE'VE COME AND THE PROGRESS WE'VE MADE.

YOU SHOULD COME AND GO WITH ME ONE DAY.

WE CAN GO BACK.

I WILL TAKE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS BACK TO TRY TO INSPIRE THEM TO CHANGE THEM TO COME TOGETHER BOTH

DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS.

>> Stephen: I HOPE YOU DON'T MIND IF I BRING MORE THAN AN APP NELL MY BACKPACK.

>> IT WILL BE FINE.

WE PROVIDE YOU WITH ENOUGH TO EAT.

(LAUGHTER)

>> Stephen: THANK YOU,

CONGRESSMAN.

>> THANK YOU.

>> Stephen: CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS, EVERYBODY.

THE BOOK IS ACROSS THAT BRIDGE.

WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK.

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