Beloved voting rights advocate, civil rights leader and Congressional Representative John Lewis died Friday at the age of 80. On Saturday, Martin Luther King III spoke with CBS News’ Nikole Killion, looking back at Lewis’ legacy, impact and the close relationship the congressman had with his father, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
“John Lewis was greatly inspired by the leadership and speaking of my dad, and of course, he personifies what a democracy ought to be. As the conscience of the Congress of the United States of America. As one who has always stood up for issues around human and civil rights, and so our nation is at a great loss at this point,” King III said.
Born in Troy, Alabama, Lewis first met King after the civil rights icon sent a bus ticket to the then-teenaged Lewis to join him in Montgomery, Alabama.
“Are you the boy from Troy?” King asked the young, eager teenager, kick-starting a lifelong relationship between the pair.
“He shared stories of when he was a young man, maybe 15 or so, that he had heard my father’s speeches on the radio in Alabama,” King III recalled. “And at some point, the organization SCLC (The Southern Christian Leadership Conference) my dad was president of, sent him a bus ticket to come to Montgomery.”
Lewis worked with various other civil rights leaders throughout his career, including C.T. Vivian, an American minister who also died Friday, who dedicated his life to fighting for equality for all. A fight, King III notes, that is still ongoing.
“He ran his race, he finished his course, and it is up to us all to continue until freedom and justice and equality is real for all humankind,” King III told CBS News. “That was a dream that my father envisioned. It did not come to fruition because we still are fighting the triple evils the dead defined as poverty, racism — he said militarism, I’ve changed that to violence.”
Lewis was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Now, the eldest son of the civil rights icon wants a real tribute to Lewis, not just “lip service,” by having the largest voting turnout the country has ever seen for the upcoming 2020 election. Voting rights were an issue Lewis fought hard for, famously suffering a fractured skull when police attacked him and fellow demonstrators after they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, a day that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
“If in this election cycle of November of 2020, we vote at levels that we’ve never ever seen, that would be part of a tribute,” says King III.
When asked what type of legacy a powerful figure like Lewis leaves behind, King III said, “as John Lewis was inspired by my father, through dad’s speeches and teachings, I’ve been inspired, and millions across the nation and world by John Lewis’ example. When you talk about a person of integrity, a person with an unusual conscience, that is something we all can aspire to. And he showed us how we could do it, he made it look very easy.”
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