played a key role in the 1963 March on Washington where Martin
Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I have a dream" speech. A crowd
of 200,000 people gathered around the Lincoln memorial in August
1963 to hear speeches by leaders of civil rights organizations,
such as John Lewis. However, Lewis' speech sent a different message
than King's speech. While both leaders embraced a desegregated
society with equal rights for all, Lewis felt the federal government
wasn't doing enough. While others seemed to be celebrating at
the march, Lewis was angry and the speech he had prepared reflected
it. He was so angry that several civil rights leaders and the
Catholic Archbishop participating in the event coerced Lewis into
moderating his speech.
the "toned-down" speech was not the celebration of the Kennedy
administration's role in the movement that the prior speeches
had been. Many were surprised by his speech, when so many considered
the Kennedy administration receptive to the Civil Rights movement
and the key sponsor of civil rights legislation. During Lewis'
experience growing up in Alabama and as a SNCC activist, he had
been beaten and jailed several times; and he knew there were members
of SNCC and many other African-Americans still fighting on the
front lines in the Deep South.
than any other Civil Rights group, SNCC was critical of the federal
government's role in the movement. While the members of the administration
celebrated and cheered at the march, SNCC members felt the federal
government was much quieter Deep South, where racism was barely
tempered. Lewis was angry at the administration's policy of minimum
interference and allowing the nation to focus attention away from
the violence and crimes against human rights going on in Mississippi,
Alabama, Georgia, and the rest of the South.
in mind, John Lewis took the stand and gave his speech to crowd:
march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud
of, for hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here--for
they have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving
starvation wages…or no wages at all. In good conscience, we cannot
support the administration's civil rights bill.
bill will not protect young children and old women from police
dogs and fire hoses when engaging in peaceful demonstrations.
This bill will not protect the citizens of Danville, Virginia
who must live in constant fear in a police state. This bill will
not protect the hundreds of people who have been arrested on trumped-up
charges like those in Americus, Georgia, where four young men
are in jail, facing a death penalty, for engaging in peaceful
to know, which side is the federal government on? The revolution
is a serious one. Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution
out of the streets and put it in the courts. Listen Mr. Kennedy,
the black masses are on the march for jobs and for freedom, and
we must say to the politicians that there won't be a 'cooling-off