1963 August 28

John Lewis Speech at March on Washington Censored


Civil rights leader John Lewis, chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, founded on February 1, 1960), spoke at the historic 1963 March on Washington. March organizers regarded his planned speech to be inflammatory and too critical of the John F. Kennedy administration, and as a result threatened to withdraw their participation in the march if he was allowed to deliver it. Lewis was finally persuaded by A. Philip Randolph, who had planned a march in 1941, to remove parts of his speech. Copies of both his planned speech and the one he delivered are accessible below. For the March on Washington itself, see August 28, 1963.

Part of Lewis’ anger at the Kennedy administration was a result of its failure to support the civil rights movement in Albany, Georgia (1961–1962), a nearly forgotten chapter in the history of the civil rights movement, and the Justice Department’s prosecution of some civil rights leaders on questionable charges. See the beginnings of the Albany Movement on November 17, 1962.

By the time of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013, Lewis was a respected, senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Also at the anniversary in 2013, Lewis was the only living person who had spoken from the podium in 1963.

Lewis had a long and courageous career as a civil rights leader. As a Freedom Rider in 1961, he was beaten by racists in Rock Hill, South Carolina on May 9, 1961 and again in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 20th. Fifty-two years later, on March 2, 2013, the then Montgomery police chief apologized to Lewis for the failure of the police to protect him in 1961, and gave him his police badge as a symbol of reconciliation.

On March 7, 1965, “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis was savagely beaten by police in Selma, Alabama, when he tried to lead a march to demand voting rights. The beating outraged public opinion across the U.S. and around the world, and led to the enactment of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law on August 6, 1965.

Lewis’ censored remarks (in part): “I want to know, which side is the federal government on?”

Read the original draft of his speech: http://www.crmvet.org/info/mowjl.htm

Read the speech he delivered: http://www.crmvet.org/info/mowjl2.htm

Watch Lewis speak at the 50th anniversary of the march: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYasqMFCJao

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