Rep. John Lewis: Immigration Is the New Civil Rights Battle

Fifty years after taking part in the Freedom Rides, Lewis issues a challenge for today's generation.

Rep. John Lewis (center) shakes hand with fellow Freedom Rider.(Kris Connor/Getty)

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 TR: How did you convince other people at the time to join the movement?

JL: I spent a tremendous amount of time telling my fellow schoolmates that we had to do something; we had to act. Sometimes I said, “Look what the young people in North Carolina are doing. Look at the young people at Central High School in Little Rock. If they can do it, we can do it, too.” I convinced some of them to come with me to attend a nonviolence workshop.

TR: Did you ever worry, along the way on the Freedom Rides, that your efforts wouldn’t work and that nothing would change?

JL: In keeping with the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence, you had to be hopeful. You had to be optimistic that things were going to work out. You had to make it work out.

TR: Next week, you and other Freedom Riders are retuning to Jackson. Have you stayed in touch with the others?

JL: I have stayed in touch with some of the individuals that I got to know very well 50 years ago. Some live in Atlanta, some live in Washington, and when I travel to other parts of the country, I run into some Freedom Riders.

On the other hand, I’ll be seeing some for the first time in 50 years. It will be wonderful to see what people are doing. Many of us are still engaged and still trying to do our best to make our country and the world a better place.

TR: A lot of young people today want to “do something” to make a difference but don’t feel they have a movement or distinct cause to join. What advice would you give them?

JL: There are still too many people in our society that are left out or left behind. I feel these young people must make a commitment to the long haul and be leaders — not just for a season but for a lifetime — to deal with the issues of poverty, hunger, violence and immigration. I don’t think I have a blueprint or road map for them, but I would say be creative … Find a way to make some noise, to speak up and speak out.

TR: Is there a particular issue that you’d like to see more people mobilize around today?