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Rep. John Lewis on the ‘Unfinished Work’ in the Civil Rights Movement

July 7, 2014

If you want to know something about a successful protest movement, Rep. John Lewis is a good person to ask. At the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival, the Congressman and civil rights leader—who is the last remaining speaker from the 1963 March on Washington—reflected on his experience protesting during the Jim Crow era and the new graphic novel March, which he co-authored, about the movement. He also offered his perspective on what’s needed today to move the country forward on issues of human and civil rights.

“Necessary Trouble”

During his interview with PBS host Gwen Ifill, Lewis acknowledged that bringing about change isn’t always on the straight and narrow path. “You have to have the ability to speak up, speak out, and get in the way,” Lewis said, “get in trouble, good trouble — necessary trouble.”

In the video below, Lewis gives an example of the ” necessary trouble” he and others got into during their nonviolent protests for equal voting rights during Bloody Sunday, the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, when many were beaten and hosed down by police.

The ‘Unfinished Work’ of the Civil Rights Movement

“The movement wasn’t just about African Americans, it was about all Americans,” Lewis said. During the session Lewis discussed current US civil rights issues, expressing his support for comprehensive immigration reform and gay rights.

Youth’s Obligation

In the audience, Citizen University Founder and Festival speaker Eric Liu posed a question to Lewis: In today’s age, how should we define for this generation the challenges that we should be willing to put ourselves on the line for?

“I hear too many people say, ‘I’m not going to participate, that’s not my cause,'” Lewis responded. “We have to participate. Politics controls everything that we do in America, from the time that we are born until the time that we die.

“So you have a moral obligation, a mission, and a mandate to push and do everything you can, to leave this little piece of real estate we call America a little greener, a little cleaner, and a little more peaceful for generations yet unborn.”

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