RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Now back to Denver and the Democratic convention. Tonight, Martin Luther King, Jr. will be remembered on this anniversary of his "I Have a Dream" speech. The tribute will be introduced by Congressman John Lewis, who stood with Dr. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 45 years ago today. NPR's Linda Wertheimer talked to John Lewis yesterday in Denver.
LINDA WERTHEIMER: John Lewis helped to change this country. As a very young leader of the civil-rights movement, he survived violent confrontations to come with King to Washington.
Mr. JOHN LEWIS (Civil Rights Activist): I spoke number six. Dr. King spoke number 10. And I will never forget A. Philip Randolph, the chair of the March on Washington, and he introduced me. He said I now present to you young John Lewis, the national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And I got up, and I started speaking.
Those who are out there, be patient and wait. We must say that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now.
(Soundbite of cheering, applause)
WERTHEIMER: Lewis is the only one of the 10 speakers still living, and the memories of those days and those lives are all around him this week as the Democrats nominate Barack Obama.
Dr. King's speech made history. Lewis says that will happen again tonight.
Mr. LEWIS: When Barack Obama accepts the Democratic nomination to become the president of the United States of America and starts speaking, I think all of America and many parts of the world, the hopes, the longings, the aspiration and the dreams will be hanging on every word he says.
It's going to be incredible. You know, people died. Some people didn't make it to the March on Washington. They were beaten. They were tear-gassed. Some were shot and killed. And even after the March on Washington, where there had been so much hope, so much optimism, we had a terrible bombing on a church in Birmingham, where four little girls were killed, but I cried all my tears.
WERTHEIMER: I feel very blessed, Lewis finally said, that I lived to see this day come around.
Barack Obama names Lewis as one of his heroes. Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King are the others. Obama has studied the civil rights movement.
Lewis says that he has no regrets that Obama is not a child of the movement. Lewis is grateful that he and others helped create the situation that produced a Barack Obama.
Mr. LEWIS: He is free of what a lot of the battles and scars that many of us suffered. He never saw the signs that said white men, colored men, white women, colored women. He never saw the signs that said white waiting and colored waiting. He never tasted the fruits of segregation and racial discrimination. So he's a different human being. He should be free to help liberate the rest of America and maybe take a message to the rest of the world.
WERTHEIMER: Still, Lewis says he would like to hear from Barack Obama that this is not the end or even a new beginning, but a continuation of a long struggle. If white America embraces Obama, John Lewis says, maybe we can all move up a little bit. And he says that all over his home state of Georgia, young people feel something is happening.
Mr. LEWIS: And you hear people saying, I was not there with you to march across the bridge on Selma. I was not at the March on Washington, but I'm in this struggle to make Barack Obama president.
WERTHEIMER: Lewis will be there to speak tonight. I just hope I make it through, he says. Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, Denver.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.