The month of August is just a few days old, and near the end of this month the nation will turn its clocks back a half-century to a warm day on the Washington Mall in our nation’s capital.
It was a day when Americans’ conscience was spurred by the rhetoric — and I use the term “rhetoric” in its highest form — of a group of then-young leaders who called the nation to account for the acts of discrimination that were all too common.
Fifty years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963, about a quarter-million people gathered on the Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear what they needed to hear. Indeed, it’s likely most of the throng wanted to hear it as well.
John Lewis was 23 years old at the time, and is thought to be the youngest of the speakers who took the mic that day. Fifty years later, Lewis is still going strong. He’s a Democratic congressman from Georgia. His path to public office, though, was fraught with struggle and spilled blood — his own blood.
I’ve blogged already about this PBS program, but I want to include this link once more to call attention to Rep. Lewis’s remarkable revisiting of that March on Washington.
The acclaimed journalist — and former Baptist preacher and White House press secretary — Bill Moyers visited the Mall with Lewis. Together they remembered the events of the day as it unfolded. They talked of the struggles that African-Americans experienced then. They talked of the pitched battles between the police and demonstrators seeking a more civil nation.
The nation will turn its clock back very soon to remember that day, which is best noted for the words delivered by another young man, Martin Luther King Jr., a young Baptist preacher who started reading his prepared text — only to launch into his renowned “I have a dream” riff that he delivered extemporaneously.
Dr. King would die a violent death a little less than five years later. The rest of the speakers — except for one — are now gone. John Lewis remains a forceful voice for the cause of civil rights.
His words of reflection are worth hearing again and again.