The gathering Saturday came under crystal-clear skies that set a new summer standard for perfection, even as the rhetoric about the pursuit of freedom soared to near a standard of perfection set 50 years before.
It was a day when people spoke of the future of race in America and of one man’s vision, so forcefully delivered that five decades later the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech ranks with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress as the most iconic in U.S. history.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the last major speakers from the 1963 rally still alive, challenged listeners to push back against this year’s Supreme Court decision that struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The court’s 5 to 4 decision freed nine states, most of them in the South, from a requirement that they seek federal approval to change their election laws.
“I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Ala.,” he said, referring to his brutal beating by gas-masked police that was captured by photographers in 1965 and awakened many Americans to repression in the South.
“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred,” said Lewis, who was a student civil rights organizer 50 years ago. “It is the most powerful nonviolent tool that we have. We must say to Congress: Fix the voting rights act.
“I got arrested 40 times during the ’60s, beaten and left bloodied and unconscious,” he said. “But I’m not tired. I am ready to fight and continue to fight, and you must fight.” His address received a standing ovation.
Arrested 40 times.