Lewis Sees New Racial Era With Obama's Success Georgia Rep. John Lewis marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 45 years ago when he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Sen. Barack Obama will accept the Democratic nomination on the same date. For Lewis, that marks the start of a new time in racial politics.

Lewis Sees New Racial Era With Obama's Success

Lewis Sees New Racial Era With Obama's Success

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/94051037/94057502" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Party members at the Democratic National Convention will pay tribute Thursday night to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who on the same day in 1963 delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington.

The tribute will be introduced by Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who marched with King and stood with him on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day 45 years ago.

As a very young leader of the civil rights movement, Lewis survived violent confrontations with police and white mobs before he marched with King in Washington. Of the 10 people who spoke alongside King that day, Lewis is the lone survivor.

The memories of those days are all around Lewis as the Democrats pick Barack Obama as the party's first African-American presidential nominee.

King's speech made history, and Lewis says that will happen again, when Obama speaks before 75,000 supporters at Denver's Invesco Field at Mile High on Thursday night.

"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 aspirations and the dreams — will be hanging on every word he says," Lewis 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 the terrible bombing in a church in Birmingham, where four little girls were killed. I thought I cried all my tears," he says.

Lewis says he feels blessed to have lived to see this day come around.

Obama names Lewis as one of his heroes, along with President Abraham Lincoln and King. Obama has studied the civil rights movement.

Lewis says that he has no regrets that Obama is not a child of the movement, and he is grateful that he and others helped create the situation that produced Obama.

"He is free of a lot of the battles and scars that many of us suffered," Lewis says.

"He never saw the signs that said 'White Men,' 'Colored Men,' 'White Women,' 'Colored Women,' " Lewis adds. "He never tasted the fruits of segregation and racial discrimination, so he is a different human being. He should be free to liberate the rest of America, and maybe take a message to the rest of the world."

Still, Lewis says he would like to hear from Obama that this is not the end — or even a new beginning — but a continuation of a long struggle. If white America embraces Obama, he says, maybe we can all move up a little bit.

Lewis says that all over his home state of Georgia, young people feel something is happening.

"And you hear people saying, 'I was not there with you to march across the bridge at Selma. I was not at the March on Washington. But I am in this struggle to make Barack Obama president,' " Lewis says.