John Lewis Dies at 80

Tamar Hallerman in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

In June 1963, [John Lewis] moved to Atlanta, the headquarters of SNCC, taking up residence in a sparse second-floor walk-up in the southwest corner of the city. He had barely unpacked his bags before he and other civil rights leaders were invited to White House. President John F. Kennedy, who would be assassinated a few months later, had concerns about the impending march.

The peaceful event drew more than 200,000 people to the National Mall, all pushing for more federal attention to the electoral, social and economic plight of African Americans. That muggy August day lives on in America’s collective memory as the day King articulated his dream for an equal society. But Lewis, then 23, delivered the event’s most controversial address, rife with frustration and anger at the “cheap politicians” whose inaction perpetuated inequality. The Kennedy administration and march leaders implored him to soften the speech at the eleventh hour.

“To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we must say that ‘patience is a dirty and nasty word,’” Lewis stated in his original speech. “We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually. We want our freedom, and we want it now.”

The crowd’s applause interrupted Lewis 14 times.

Barack Obama:

I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders. When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made. And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family. We will miss him dearly.