The dream is not yet a reality. That was the recurring theme at a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that featured panelists, performances and a rousing keynote address from U.S. Rep. John Lewis last Sunday.
It was an event during which Martin Luther King, Jr. was quoted liberally, topics of discussion ranged from raising the minimum wage to the death of Trayvon Martin, and audience members– many of whom attended the original march — occasionally bowed their heads or wiped away tears.
“If it hadn’t been for the March on Washington, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” said Lewis, the sole surviving speaker from the march and one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. “It changed America forever.”
In a speech that was part history lesson and part call to action, Lewis detailed the development of the 1963 march that transformed the country’s social landscape and spurred the passage of key legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also described his own transformation from a boy in Troy, Alabama, who questioned the existence of segregation, into a civil rights hero who risked his life for equality and justice.
“I would ask my mother and my father and my grandparents, my great grandparents, ‘Why?’ And they would say, ‘That’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble,’” he said. “The action of Rosa Parks and the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired me to find a way to get in the way, to get in trouble – good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Update: Rep. Lewis’ speech at the 50th anniversary commemoration Saturday is below.