WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the veteran civil rights activist, urged the country to remember and build on the progress of the last five decades during a speech at the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington.
"Sometimes I hear people saying, ‘Nothing has changed,' " Lewis said. "Come and walk in my shoes."
Lewis, who was the youngest speaker at the original 1963 event, grew up in the cotton fields of Alabama and has served in Congress for more than 25 years. He recalled participating in the Freedom Rides “in the same year Barack Obama was born” to end segregation in public transportation.
"Fifty years later, we can ride anywhere we want to ride, we can stay wherever we want to stay," he said.
Nevertheless, "too many of us still believe our differences define us," Lewis said. He urged Americans to fight to end the "scars and stains of racism," such as stop-and-frisk policing, mass incarceration, chronic hunger and attacks on voting rights.
"We must never, ever give up," Lewis said. "We must keep the faith and keep our eyes on the prize."
[Updated, 1:14 p.m. Aug. 28: “We are one people, we are only family,” he added. “And when we finally accept these truths, then we will be able to fulfill Dr. King’s dream to build a beloved community, a nation and a world at peace with itself.”]
Lewis was preceded by television host and actress Oprah Winfrey, who called on the members of the crowd to celebrate the spirit of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by committing themselves to a life of service.
"As we, the people, continue to honor the dream of a man and a movement," she said, "we can be inspired, and we too can be courageous by continuing to walk in the footsteps in the path that he forged."
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