(The Root) — In remarks commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, U.S. Rep. John Lewis — who was the youngest speaker at the 1963 march — harnessed his own history of civil rights activism to rally attendees to push for legislative reforms to protect voting rights.
Lewis, known as a civil rights hero in part because he was one of the peaceful demonstrators attacked by armed officers while attempting to cross the Edmond Pettus Bridge on 1965’s Bloody Sunday, said, “Almost 50 years ago, I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us. You cannot stand by … the vote is precious. It is almost sacred; it is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society.”
He urged attendees to advocate for legislation that would reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court’s recent decision that key parts of the law were no longer valid.
“We must say to the Congress, ‘Fix the VRA’ … I got arrested 40 times during the 1960s, beaten, left bloody and unconscious, but I’m not tired, I’m not weary, and I’m not prepared to sit down and give up … I’m prepared to fight … and you must fight,” Lewis told marchers.
“There are forces, there are people who want to take us back,” he said. “We cannot go back. We’ve come too far. We want to go forward … we cannot give up, we cannot give out, we cannot give in.”
Read all of The Root‘s March on Washington coverage here.