Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) gave a forceful plea during his speech at the Democratic convention for voters to reelect President Obama, equating Republican-sponsored voter ID laws to Jim Crow-era voting restrictions and urging voters to, “march to the polls like never before.”
“Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back?,” Lewis asked. “Or do you want to keep America moving forward? My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”
Lewis, who drew national attention to segregation in transportation as one of the original Freedom Riders in the early 1960s, decried Republican efforts to pass voter ID laws as a new twist on the same trick of voter suppression. Harkening to his past as a civil rights activist, Lewis said the nation had come too far to return to the battles he’d fought a half century ago.
“I’ve seen this before. I’ve lived this before,” he said. “Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.”
Lewis also recalled several anecdotes about his personal experience pushing for equal treatment for all citizens. For one, he told of how after President Obama’s election, a man came to his office and identified himself as one of the assailants who’d attacked Lewis decades ago during a civil rights demonstration. The man had come to ask for forgiveness, a sign, Lewis said, that the nation had come a great distance.
“He came to my office in Washington and said, ‘I am one of the people who beat you. I want to apologize. Will you forgive me?’” Lewis said. “I said, ‘I accept your apology.’ He started crying. He gave me a hug. I hugged him back, and we both started crying. This man and I don’t want to go back; we want to move forward.”
Watch the full speech below: