BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John Lewis, where did you get the title of your book, "Walking With
Representative JOHN LEWIS (Author, "Walking With the Wind: A Memoir
of the Movement"): Well, I grew up in southeast Alabama on a farm in
an area called Carter's Quarters, near Pike--in the heart of Pike
County, really, near a little place called Troy. And one day a--a
storm came up--a very bad storm came up, and I was in this old
tin-roof house and the wind started blowing. And my aunt suggested
that we all clasp hands--just hold hands. And we started walking with
the wind. And one part of the house would lift up and we'd try to
hold it down with our tiny little bo--bodies--my first cousins and my
aunt. And the other side would blow and try to lift up, and we would
move to that side. And in America, during the past few years, the
wind been blowing. And I think I've been walking with the wind,
trying to hold the American house together, keep it from being
divided, keep it from coming apart.
LAMB: In the movement--and you call it the movement. Define that.
Rep. LEWIS: The movement is the civil rights movement. The
modern-day movement started in--I guess in 1955 when Rosa Parks took a
seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and refused to--to get up a--and
give her seat to a white gentleman. She was arrested and went to
jail. And Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as a--as a leader.
I remember that week so well when the bus boycott started. I was 15
years old, in the 10th grade. And what Martin Luther King Jr. and
the people in Montgomery did inspired me to find a way to get involved
in the civil rights movement. It--it gave me a way out. It--it
taught me how to stand up to segregation and racial discrimination.
And I wanted to meet Dr. King.
And a few years later I--I wrote Dr. King a letter, when I had
finished high school, and he wrote me back. I told him I wanted to
attend Troy State College. It was nine miles from my home. And Troy
State College was a state-supported school; didn't admit black
students. Dr. King wrote me back and invited me to come to
Montgomery. In the meantime, I'd been accepted at a little school in
Well, when I was home for spring break, my father drove me to the
Greyhound bus station. I boarded a bus and traveled from Troy to
Montgomery. And a young, black lawyer who had been a lawyer for Rosa
Parks and Dr. King met me at the Greyhound bus station and drove me
to the F--the First Baptist Church in Montgomery that was pastored by
Reverend Abernathy and ushered me into the pastor's study into the
office of the church and introduced me to Martin Luther King Jr. And
that was my entrance into the civil rights movement.
LAMB: Now at that stage, how old were you?
Rep. LEWIS: At that time, I was 18 years old.
LAMB: And how old was Dr. King?
Rep. LEWIS: Dr. King was only 11 years older at the time. He was
11 years older.
Rep. LEWIS: Twenty-nine.
LAMB: And what kind of an image did he have for you then?
Rep. LEWIS: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had already emerged as this
unbelievable national figure. He was my hero. He was an inspiration.
He was, in a sense, larger than life. I was deeply inspired by this
man. This one young man using the philosophy and the discipline of
non-violence, using the emotionalism within the black church as an
instrument, as a vehicle to a freedom was so inspiring. But when I
first met him I was so scared, I was so nervous, really, to be
standing in the presence of Martin Luther King Jr. And when he said
to me--he said, `John--are you John Lewis, the boy from Troy?' And I
said, `Yes, I'm John Robert Lewis.' I gave my whole name. And from
that moment on, we hit it off very well.
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
Rep. LEWIS: This picture was taken in Nashville in 1962, standing at
a restaurant. On the other side were people--members of the Klan
standing around. And I was trying to get into this restaurant to
engage in a sit-in.
LAMB: I want to jump way ahead just for a moment and ask you how many
times you were physically injured in the process of the movement, and
what was the worst?
Rep. LEWIS: During the height of the movement, I was literally
beaten two times. The Freedom Rides in May of 1961 at the Greyhound
bus station in Montgomery, where a group of young Freedom Riders,
black and white, tried to desegregate transportation facilities
throughout the South. I was hit in the head with a wooden crate and
left lying, bleeding, unconscious, at the Greyhound bus station.
LAMB: Who hit you? Do you know?
Rep. LEWIS: A member of a mob--a mob that grew to several hundred
met us at the Greyhound bus station, when we had traveled from
Montgomery--from Birmingham, rather, to Montgomery. And this mob just
came out of nowhere and started beating members of the press. And
then after they beat members of the press, they took their pencils and
pads and cameras. Then they turn on the Freedom Riders. It was an
interracial group. And they just beat us until a man came and fired a
gun. It was the public safety director for the state of Alabama, a
man by the name of Floyd Mann. He fired a gun straight in the air and
said, `There will be no killing here today. There will be no killing
here today.' And the mob dispersed. And that was a w--probably one of
the worst beatings.
But the n--the next one occurred on March 7th, 1965, when we attempted
to march from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize to the nation that
people wanted the right to register and vote. And I was one of the
leaders of that effort. We walked through the streets of Selma in an
orderly, peaceful, non-violent fashion. It was a silent march; no one
saying a word. We got to the apex of the bridge crossing the Alabama
River. We saw a sea of blue Alabama state troopers. And we continued
We came within hearing distance of the state troopers, and a man
identified himself and said, `I'm Major John Clough of the Alabama
state troopers. This is an unlawful march, and it will not be allowed
to continue. I give you three minutes to disperse and return to your
church.' We continued to walk. And about a minute and a half, Major
John Clough said, `Troopers, advance.' You saw these men putting on
their gas masks, and they came toward us, beating us with night
sticks, bullwhips, using tear gas and that Sunday became known as
Bloody Sunday. I had a concussion and was hospitalized on that day.
LAMB: You say in the book that you've been back to see the mayor of
Selma, who's still the mayor today?
Rep. LEWIS: Yeah, I have been back to see the mayor of Selma.
LAMB: White man?
Rep. LEWIS: He's a white man. He--he was the mayor--his name is
John Smitherman--Joe Smitherman, rather. He was the mayor in 1965,
and he's still the mayor today. I--in 1965, 33 years ago, only 2.1
percent of blacks of voting age were registered to vote in--in Selma.
It didn't have any black elected officials. There was a tremendous
amount of fear in--in Selma because you not only had Mayor Smitherman,
but you had the sheriff by the name of Jim Clough. And the--and the
sheriff was so mean to people, to whites and black. This guy wore a
night stick on one side, a gun on the other side and he carried an
electric cattle prodder in his hand. And he didn't use it on cows; he
used it on people. So there was terror and there was fear in--in--in
Selma, but I've been back there an--to visit on several occasions.
LAMB: But I--I--I think you said that the mayor has either apologized
or admitted that he was wrong.
Rep. LEWIS: This mayor today has apologized and said he was on the
wrong side. He now considers many of us who were involved in the--in
the movement during those days as his friends. And he's saying now
that if he were in the same position that we were in back in 1965, he
would have been out there doing the same thing. He would have been
out leading the march for the right to vote. He's given me the key to
the city of Selma and made me an honorary citizen of Selma. But back
in 1965, he called me an outside agitator.
LAMB: What made you want to do the book?
Rep. LEWIS: I wanted to--to d--to write this book--I wanted to do
this book to demonstrate to young people and to people not so young
that when people come together, believing in something, with a sense
of faith and a sense of hope, that they can make the impossible become
possible; that this is a story of--of a people trying to make America
better, trying to hold the American house together. It--it is my
story, but it is also the story of countless and nameless individuals.
LAMB: When did you first--how did it happen? Who--who s--who started
this process of the book?
Rep. LEWIS: Well, several of my friends have said to me over the
years, `You need to tell your story. You--you need to write it down.'
And young people--elementary school students come to my office in
Washington, in Atlanta, and I go around to student groups in Georgia
and all ov--around the country and they say, `Do you have a book?
Where can we read more?'
And, so in a sense, it--it's been the people who have suggested that I
put it down, put it on paper so we can read it, so we can have it, we
can hold it. And it's been very liberating. It--it--it--it free you.
It--it's out there now. And I feel very--I feel free. I feel
liberated that I've been able to--to write this book.
It's like getting arrested the first time. When I got arrested the
first time back in 1960, I had been told over and over again, `Don't
get in trouble. Don't go to jail. Don't break the law.' That's what
my grandfather and my great-grandfather, my mother, my father told me.
It was--it was not the thing to do. But when I was arrested and went
to jail the first time, I felt free. I felt liberated. And so
writing this book is another liberating experience.
LAMB: Who's Michael D'Orso?
Rep. LEWIS: Michael D'Orso is a free-lance writer l--living in the
state of Virginia. He's written several great books. He did
"Rosewood," the story of the town in Florida that was burned out by
whites. He w--authored several other books. And I didn't know
Michael. I knew of his work. But in writing this book, we became
friends, but we came--became more than friends; we became like
LAMB: How did you do it?
Rep. LEWIS: We spent a tremendous amount of time together. He came
to Atlanta, visiting with me; spent time and days and days in Atlanta.
We went home--to my home in--in Alabama and spent time with my mother,
my sisters and my brothers; went back to the little place where I was
born. The house is not there anymore, but the--the pine trees--we
walked through the--the trees, through the--the woods, the dirt road
that I played on, and--and--and he got a feel for it. We traveled
back to Montgomery, to Selma, to Birmingham. We went to Nashville.
And he spent time with me in Washington. We just became each other,
really. As I su--suggested, we became brothers. I think he learned
more about me than he ever wanted to know.
LAMB: Did he record you?
Rep. LEWIS: He recorded a--a g--a great deal. He used a tape
recorder. But at the same time, we would just be having a meal,
and--and he would get his pad, get his rec--tape recorder out and--and
get the essence of what I said.
LAMB: L--let's briefly go over the different locations that--where
you lived in your life. Talk about your mother and father, who you
dedicate the book to, and--and mayb--is your mom still alive?
Rep. LEWIS: My mother's still alive. My mother is almost 84 years
LAMB: And your brother lives across the street from her in a trailer?
Rep. LEWIS: My older brother live directly across the street
from--from my mother, and then two other brothers live nearby, on this
land. See, in--in 1944, when I was four years old--and I do remember
when I was four--I remember so well my father, who had been a
sharecropper, a tenant farmer, had saved $300, and with the $300, he
bought 110 acres of land. And I remember so well when we moved to
this particular place where w--my mother and brothers still live
today. My father and mother worked very, very hard. I have six
brothers and--and three sisters.
LAMB: But your brother Edward is deaf?
Rep. LEWIS: My brother Edward is deaf, but he's--he's very
independent, very smart. He look out for my mother; literally take
care of her. She's in good health. But he has really been sort of
a--the doer and very independent, kept out--he's two years older than
LAMB: How long did you live in Pike County?
Rep. LEWIS: I lived in Pike County until I left to go to school in
May of--well, until 1957. I wa--I was 17 years old. But I went back
home almost every summer until I got involved in the civil rights
LAMB: And you went to school in Nashville?
Rep. LEWIS: I went to school in Nashville. I traveled by Greyhound
bus. Is--in September, 1957, I was 17 years old when I left Pike
County. I had an uncle who saw that I wanted to get an education. I
was the first one in my family to go to college. And this uncle
bought me a foot locker, gave me a $100 bill. I left with this $100
bill and this foot locker, going to live in the city of Nashville.
LAMB: What school?
Rep. LEWIS: A little school called American Baptist Theological
Seminary, the college of the Bible. I was studying to become a
minister. And so it was a big city. It was--it was the--the biggest
place I ever lived. I had my own bed for the first time, had my own
room for the first time 'cause as a child, six brothers and three
sisters, I had to share a bed with my brothers with many of us in the
same room. But going off to school, I had--it was a s--degree of
independence. I was on my own. And I think I grew up overnight.
LAMB: Was it an integrated school?
Rep. LEWIS: We had, at the school, white professors but no white
students; white administrators, white staff people, but no white
LAMB: In 1957, or even before that, what could blacks not do that
whites could do in the South?
Rep. LEWIS: I--in 1957, the South was still a very segregated place.
I saw--when I traveled to Montgomery or to Birmingham or to Nashville
or to Atlanta--I saw the signs that said, `White Men,' `Colored Men,'
`White Women,' `Colored Women,' `White Waiting,' `Colored Waiting.'
Segregation was the order of the day. Y--you had dual--you had dual
waiting rooms, rest room facilities. And there was a tremendous
amount of fear in the South during--during those years.
This is the period of Little Rock Central High. This is after the
Montgomery bus boycott. Y--you couldn't go into a store and buy
something like a--a book or--or buy clothing and then go to the lunch
counter or go to a restaurant. You couldn't go into some of the
drugstores and--and--and then get a prescription filled and--and--and
buy toothpaste or s--or soap or something and then try to take a seat
at a lunch counter. You would be arrested. You would be jailed. You
couldn't just--you would be denied service.
LAMB: How about motels?
Rep. LEWIS: It was almost impossible for black people to find a
place to stay in a motel or a hotel. The first time--the very first
time that I left the rural South, I left with this uncle of mine and
his wife, my aunt. I was 11 years old in 1951. We were traveling by
car from Alabama--from Troy, Alabama, to Buffalo, where two of my
brothers--two of my mother's brothers lived. And my mother prepared
food--cooked all type of food because there was no--there was not a
place for us to stay. She prepared fried chicken, cakes and pies,
sandwiches that we--there was not anyplace for us to eat as we
traveled through Alabama, through Tennessee, through Kentucky.
LAMB: And in this picture, you're 11?
Rep. LEWIS: I'm 11 years old there in--i--in 1951. During those
years, I--I had all of my hair and I was a few pounds lighter.
LAMB: As you went north to Buffalo, what changes occurred?
Rep. LEWIS: Well, as you t--crossed the state line and--and left
Tennessee and Kentucky and--and--Ohio was different. You could go and
use any rest room facility. You could get something to eat in a
restaurant at a lunch counter. And when I went to Buffalo, I saw
black people and white people living side by side, eating in the
restaurants and lunch counters in the department stores. So
that--that was an education for me.
LAMB: In the famous 1963 March in f--on Washington and the speeches
that were delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial, you were there
and you say it was a controversial speech?
Rep. LEWIS: I was there. I had prepared a speech. I tried to
prepare a speech that represented the feeling, the attitude of the
people in the organization that I represented, the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee, and the people that we were working with all
across the South.
See, the original idea of the March on Washington was not to support a
particular piece of civil rights legislation, but it was a--a march
for jobs and freedom. And President Kennedy had proposed a piece of
legislation that said if you had a six- or eight--sixth-grade
education, you should be considered a literate and you should be able
to register to vote. And those of us in the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee felt that it was too little. That was
just--that was--didn't go far enough. We felt that the only
qualification for being able to register to vote in the South should
be that of age and residence.
So in that March on Washington speech, I said, `One man, one vote is
the African cry. It is ours, too. It must be ours.' And I went on to
say in the speech that there was not anything in that proposed
legislation that would protect people involved in peaceful,
non-violent protest. And I tried to suggest that the party of Kennedy
was the party of Eastland. This was a reference to Senator Eastland,
who was the chair of the Judiciary Committee from the state o--of
Mississippi. And sort of said the party of Rockefeller was the party
of Goldwater. `Where is our political party?'
And the speech was a--a strong speech, and some people thought it was
too strong. But when I look back on it, it was a very mild, and
there's no--there was not anything radical about the speech.
LAMB: As we are looking at other photographs--you were 23 when you
gave that speech, and here you are in the Oval Office.
Rep. LEWIS: I was 23 years old on--on that day, August 28, 1963,
when I delivered the speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And
after the speech and Dr. King's speech and other speakers, we left
the Lincoln Memorial and went to the White House and had a meeting
with President Kennedy. That was my last time seeing President
Kennedy alive. He invited us all in, and we had tea and cookies and
orange juice with him. And he stood and congratulated each one of us.
It was a very--I think he was very, very pleased that the march
went--went off so well.
LAMB: How'd you get into that meeting? You were 23. The rest of
those men in that group were quite a bit older.
Rep. LEWIS: At the time, I was the chair of the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee, and I was their youngest chair. And it would
have been very difficult to sort of keep me from being there, so
President Kennedy had invited me to come to an early meeting back in
June of 1963, when the v--idea of the march first came up, and so I
was one of the speakers and I was invited to come back there.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that I chaired at the
time was very involved. These were young people, black and white
young people, working all across the South, some of the bravest and
courageous young men and women. They were literally putting their
bodies on the line.
LAMB: What was SNCC?
Rep. LEWIS: SNCC was a--a--a federation, a--a coalition of--of
student groups. We called ourselves a circle of trust, a band of
brothers and sisters. We were young people that were willing to go in
places where others were not willing to go or didn't want to go.
LAMB: How integrated was it?
Rep. LEWIS: It was very integrated. It w--you know, I used to think
during those early years of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee that the only real and true integration that existed in
America at that time was within the movement itself. I--it was very
integrated. It was the essence of what Martin Luther King Jr. would
call the beloved community on interracial democracy.
W--we didn't think about race a--and color during those early--early
yea--these were people, black and white, that were willing to put
their bodies on the line and go to jail together. And, you know, some
of the young people died together. During the Mississippi summer
project in 1964, three young men--Andy Goodman, Michael Schwerner and
James Chaney--were working trying to get people to register to vote.
They went out to investigate the burning of a black church that was
being used for a voter registration workshop. These three young men
were arrested, taken to jail--this is in June of 1964--taken out of
jail later that night, beaten, shot and killed.
And--and when someone is struggling and going to jail with you, dying
with you, you don't think about race. You forget about race. And
that was what was so beautiful about those--those days, when things
were so simple, during the days that I served as chair of the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1963 to June of 1966.
LAMB: Who were the other folks that we would recognize who you were
around in those days?
Rep. LEWIS: Well, there were individuals like Julian Bond, who was
the communication director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee; James Foreman, who was executive secretary; and a young man
named Bob Moses. And then there was Stokely Carmichael, who succeeded
me as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
And wh--one of the issues that emerged during the late '65, early '66,
when there were feeling that some of us was too non-violent, that we
were too willing to be part of an interracial coalition, that we were
not aggressive enough against President Johnson; we were not standing
up to Martin Luther King Jr.--suggested that there should be a change.
And I will never forget, in May of '66, I had been re-elected chair of
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The election was
challenged. And Stokely--I was de-elected and Stokely was elected
chair of SNCC.
LAMB: Go back over those names again. Let's start with Julian Bond.
Where is he today?
Rep. LEWIS: Julian Bond i--is a professor at--at American University
and the University of Virginia. He served many years in the Georgia
state Legislature, in the House and in the Senate. Bob Moses a--is
teaching algebra in Cambridge, and he's been going throughout the
country trying to get inner-city students to--to learn algebra.
LAMB: And you said that he changed his name in the middle of all of
Rep. LEWIS: He ch--during the height of the movement, because he
didn't want to be known, he didn't want to emerge as a leader. And he
changed his name from Moses. And...
LAMB: To Paris.
Rep. LEWIS: To--to Paris. To Bob Paris. Paris b--i--is his middle
name, and so he just wanted to be called Bob Paris and not Bob Moses.
And he went off to Africa and spent several years in Africa, and then
he came back and finished his PhD at--at Harvard and then started
LAMB: Now Julian Bond you write about a lot in here. He went on to
be now the chairman of the NAACP.
Rep. LEWIS: Julian is the chair of the NAACP. He was very, very
active. He did an unbelievable job as the communication director for
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
LAMB: But you two ended up having a--a little bit of a problem when
you ran--both ran for Congress for the same seat.
Rep. LEWIS: Well, back in 1986, there was a--an open seat: Georgia
5th Congressional District. And we both wanted to go to Congress.
And I remember very well back in October of 1985 we had lunch together
at a local restaurant in Atlanta. And Julian called me Mr. Chairman
because I had been the chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee. And he said, `Mr. Chairman, what are you going to do?' I
said, `I'm running for Congress.' And I said, `Senator, what are you
gonna do?' He said, `I'm running for Congress.' I think that was the
shortest lunch we ever had together.
LAMB: He had his son with him, you tell me.
Rep. LEWIS: His--his son was there, and his son is now in the City
Council in Atlanta. His son is--Micah was with him. And--but it was
a--it--it was a very difficult period because Julian is someone that I
was very close to. We were good friends. And that tested our
friendship. But I kept saying during that campaign that this was not
a referendum on our friendship. It was not about us. It was about
the future of the city of Atlanta, about the future of the district
and the future of our country, really.
LAMB: And you beat him by what percentage?
Rep. LEWIS: Well, in the first election, the primary, he received 47
percent of the vote and I got only 35 percent and we had a runoff.
There were several other candidates. We had a runoff. In three
weeks, I went up 17 points and he went up one point. I think I got
out there and I worked, and I worked very, very hard. And the mistake
that Julian made i--he is so good--he is very good. But the mistake
that he made: He challenged me to debate him. He was already the
front-runner, and he put me on the same level with him. And I just
said, `Here I am. I want to be the congressperson. I may not be able
to talk as fast as my colleague, my friend, but Julian is my friend,
he is my brother, but I want to be part of an effort to make Atlanta
the capital of the 21st century.' And gave a little of my background,
my history. And I think the people in the district saw me out there
working day in and day out, and I won 52 percent and he f--got 48
LAMB: Stokely Carmichael--you--but before we get to him, let me just
bring up the fact that you--you talk about Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas
Merton and Henry David Thoreau as your--your symbols of the
non-violence. How c--how come those three? And when did you first
get introduced to Gandhi, Thoreau and Merton?
Rep. LEWIS: Well, I first heard of Gandhi through the words of and
preaching of Martin Luther King Jr., from a distance. But then a
f--oh, about two or three years after Dr. King emerged on the scene,
I met a young man by the name of Jim Lawson, the young methodist
minister, born in Ohio; had traveled to India, studied Gandhi. This
man, this--this young scholar, minister, was--who really believed
in--in non-violence--the philosophy of non-violence, not simply as a
technique or as a tactic but as a way of life, as a way of
living--really embedded me with non-violence and with the teaching of
Gandhi; probably did more than any human being to inspire me to try to
find a way to live the way that Gandhi would have people to live,
I started reading Merton when I was in school in Nashville as a
seminary student, and it w--he was very inspiring--very, very
inspiring, reading his work, what he--what he--what he had to say
about life, about self, about in a sense forgetting about your own
circumstances, losing yourself in the circumstances and the problems
of--of others; the whole idea of contemplation, the whole idea of
meditation and the whole idea of action and service.
And Thoreau, it was very much in keeping. I read about him. I--I
tried to practice civil disobedience from time to time, because many
of the problems in the South--we weren't violating necessarily laws;
we were violating customs, traditions and sometimes we were violating
local laws, state laws. And Thoreau said, in effect, that if you
violate a custom, if you violate a local law, then b--be prepared
to--to do your time, serve your time. And that's what we tried to do.
LAMB: What was the most time you ever spent in prison?
Rep. LEWIS: Forty days is the longest period I--I spent in
time--i--in jail. To be exact, it was 37 days. That was in
LAMB: At the Parchment prison.
Rep. LEWIS: Parchment, the city jail in Jackson and Hinds County
jail, but all together it was Parchment. And I will never, ever
forget what happened in Parchment during the Freedom Ride. It was--it
was unreal traveling through the delta of Mississippi, a group of
Freedom Riders amid...
LAMB: You started from where?
Rep. LEWIS: We started from the city of Jackson, and we were taken
late at night, after midnight. Early in the morning, a group of men
in a huge truck without any windows--and we were taken to the
maximum-security unit of Parchment.
LAMB: How far is that from Jackson?
Rep. LEWIS: It's more than a h--about 140 miles.
Rep. LEWIS: North.
LAMB: And why had you been in Jackson?
Rep. LEWIS: We--we were arrested in Jackson at the Greyhound bus
station. We tried to use the so-called white waiting room, the
so-called white rest room facilities, so-called white restaurant.
LAMB: What year?
Rep. LEWIS: I--in--in May of 1961. And there was a police captain
there. He became known as Captain Ray. And the moment that you
started in, Captain Ray would say, `Move on.' And before you could
even move, he would say, `You're under arrest.' And he literally put
us in a paddy wagon and took us to jail. We filled the city jail in
Jackson. We filled the Hinds County jail in Jackson. And when all of
these facilities became full, they decided to take us to Parchment.
LAMB: Is Stokely Carmichael with you?
Rep. LEWIS: Oh, Stokely was one of the--one of the Freedom Riders.
He came down from Howard University, from Washington, DC, and became
part of the Freedom Riders. That is when I first met Stokely, in May
LAMB: So you're on your way overnight to Parchment.
Rep. LEWIS: We traveled to Parchment. You get to Parchment. And a
guy tell us, who'd be riding us, to sing our freedom songs now; said,
`We have niggers here that will eat you up'--that's what he said. He
was talking about the Black Justice. He s--`They will eat you. They
will beat you up.' And he brought us all into a long hall and told us
all to take off our clothes. And we stood there with all of our
clothing off. And theng--and these guys had their rifle drawn on us.
And that was--I wasn't afraid, but I was--I was really concerned about
what could happen, what was about to happen. Then they led us in twos
to take showers. And if you had a beard, mustache, any facial hair,
you had to cut it off. There's no mirrors for you to look in. You
just have a razor. And while you was there standing, taking your
shower, the guy still had this rifle drawn on you.
And then they led us, after the shower's over, in twos into a cell
with a bunk bed, a commode and a tiny, tiny face bowl. And that's
what we had for the--we stayed nude there for maybe two hours. And
then they brought us a pair of Mississippi undershorts and a--and a
T-shirt, and that's what we kept on the--our entire stay there.
LAMB: Was there a time when they flooded the cell or something like
that, where, you know, there was water you had to sit in?
Rep. LEWIS: Th--they flooded the cell with water. They cut off the
air conditioner. And it was very, very, very hot. You're talking
about May and June in--i--in--in Mississippi.
LAMB: Why were they doing this?
Rep. LEWIS: Th--they tried to dehumanize us. They tried to
de--destroy our sense of dignity and worth. They tried to send a
message to other people that were joining the Freedom Ride from all
across the country. And they tried--they wanted that message to get
out, to send a message for other people not to come to Mississippi.
LAMB: At the height, how many Freedom Riders were there and who were
Rep. LEWIS: At the height of the Freedom Ride, there was more than
300 young men and women, but also ministers, rabbis, teachers,
doctors, lawyers from all parts of America came there to show their
support for the Freedom Ride.
LAMB: Explain tha--that Stokely Carmichael was in Parchment, but
d--somebody a--did you ask him to leave, or they--they moved him out
of there? Was that where they because he...
Rep. LEWIS: A--at one time during the stay in Parchment, Stokely,
along with a few others, could not adhere to the philosophy and to the
discipline of non-violence. They were always agitating, making noise
or complaining about something. And Stokely and a few others were
asked to leave. They were bailed out of jail and sent back to
Nashville and eventually back to Washington.
LAMB: When was the last time you saw him?
Rep. LEWIS: I saw Stokely Carmichael about two months ago.
LAMB: When he was here in town?
Rep. LEWIS: He was here in town, here in Washington, being honored.
H--he is suffering right now. He's sick. And a group of people came
together--it was the first time, I think, in probably 15 to 20 years
that all of the chairs of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee--former chairs--have been together.
LAMB: And what would you say is the difference between the two of you
and your philosophies today?
Rep. LEWIS: Today I'm a believer. I am a believer in an interracial
democracy. I believe in the idea of the beloved community. I believe
that we must lay down the burden of race. I believe in integration.
I believe that integration, like non-violence, is one of those
immutable principles that you cannot deviate from. I--I believe in
America. I believe that we gotta have coalition in politics. We
cannot divide the American house; we got to keep this house together
and build one house, one community, one family.
And I don't think Stokely shares that. Stokely is not a believer in a
philosophy--in the discipline of non-violence. I believe in it as a
way of life, as a way of living, not just as a means, not just as a
technique. And I think some people, like Stokely and others, use it
only as a means, only as a technique. And when that happens, it's
just like a faucet. You can turn it on and you can turn it off. You
have to choose today if you're gonna hate somebody today and love
somebody tomorrow. But when you accept non-violence as a way of life,
as a way of living, then everything that you do and everything that
you say is governed by that principle.
LAMB: Let me show you just an excerpt from an interview that we had
with Stokely Carmichael after that event in Washington a couple of
weeks ago in New York--just a minute of it. I want you to react to it
when you see this.
(Excerpt from videotape)
LAMB: How far would you go with violence f--to bring about the
Mr. STOKELY CARMICHAEL: All the way. All the way. All the way.
LAMB: What's that--what's that mean?
Mr. STOKELY CARMICHAEL: Whatever's necessary. Whatever's necessary. In
terms of carrying out--to destroy the enemy, whatever's necessary.
LAMB: What will? You say the vio--the revolution is coming. When
will it come?
Mr. STOKELY CARMICHAEL: We don't know. That's the only trouble, but it's
LAMB: And what will happen when it comes?
Mr. STOKELY CARMICHAEL: Oh, when it comes, there's going to be a real--a
real experience of genuine equality and democracy. There's going to
be a clearer understanding of the needs that humanity must be--at all
times and all conditions be concerned about advancing humanity and
that all human beings who are involved in this aspect of life must
make a contribution to advance humanity. And there is no question
that this is what's going to happen.
(End of excerpt)
LAMB: John Lewis, when you gave the speech over at the Lincoln
Memorial in 1963, you said the following: `The revolution is at hand,
and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic
slavery.' Define the two revolutions that we're talking about here.
Rep. LEWIS: When I--when I speak of revolution, I'm talking about a
revolution of values, a revolution of ideas and I speak in terms of
non-violent. That revolution must take place in the hearts, in the
minds, in the souls of people, not a revolution i--in the streets.
See, I believe that you cannot separate means and ends. Means and the
ends are inseparable. If you're striving to create the beloved
community and open society--if that is the goal, if that is the end,
then the means, the methods must be one of love, one of peace.
What Stokely is talking about is--is nonsense. It is crazy. He's
dreaming. The great majority of the American people--and I believe
the great majority of the people of the world--want to live in a world
community at peace with itself. I think it is the desire of humankind
not to go down that violent path. W--we're--we're seeing what
violence will do. It--it's too much violence. There's been too many
killings. It--it leads to chaos, not to--to the essence of community,
not to the--the building of a house that is together.
LAMB: Let me really switch subjects here and ask you about a party
that you were invited to one time by a man named Bernard Lafayette, a
party in which he wanted you to meet someone, your wife. What was
that--what--what year was that?
Rep. LEWIS: This is the--I remember that very well. How can I
forget it? Bernard Lafayette was an old schoolmate of mine, and he
invited me to a party in--in Atlanta. It was a dinner party at the
home of a young lady who was on the staff of Martin Luther King Jr.
by the name of Xernona Clayton. And it was a dinner party. It was,
like, the end of the year, end of 1967. It was the beginning--it was,
like, I guess, the eve of 1968.
And I remember it so well. The young lady that was at this party that
he wanted me to meet--I couldn't drive. I--I didn't have a driving
license during that time. He told me I should meet--I should meet
this young lady. Her name was Lillian Maus. And we met and talked
and we hit it off very well. She was defending the civil rights
movement, arguing on behalf of the movement. And she had on a very
interesting dress. I will never forget it. And I don't think she
really knew what the dress really meant. And it had all of the peace
symbols i--in the--in the d--in the--in the dress. And from that day
on, from that dinner party, we became friends and later we started
dating and, before--in less than a year, we were married, and now
we've been married almost 30 years. It'll be 30 years this year.
LAMB: Where is this picture from right down here at the bottom?
Rep. LEWIS: This picture at the bottom was a picture taken at my
house in Atlanta with Julian Bond and his wife.
LAMB: I think we got the wrong one--the one with Zell Miller in it
Rep. LEWIS: Oh, the one with Zell Miller. Oh, this was when I
announced for Congress. This is the one when I announced for Congress
in--in 1977 in the special election. That's my wife and son and the
governor, Zell Miller, who was lieutenant governor then. That's
LAMB: And what was the picture you were talking about, this one right
Rep. LEWIS: That one was taken a few years later with Harry
Belafonte, Julian Bond and his wife, along with my wife, Lillian.
LAMB: And how much, overall, has your wife played in your campaigns?
Rep. LEWIS: My wife's been--she's m--my closest and dearest friend.
She has played a major role in every campaign--in every campaign. She
got out and she campaigned very hard and she worked very, very hard.
She knows a lot of people. And she's a good talker, and she's been
a--a--a real soulmate, really.
LAMB: There are two things in the book that I wanna ask you about.
One is that when you were young, you talk about going to the library
every day to read The Nashville Tennesseean when you were in school.
Who introduced you to reading newspapers, and why did you do that
Rep. LEWIS: Well, when I was in--in this rural high school in Pike
County, Alabama, we had a librarian--maybe we called it a reading
room, but to the woman in charge, it was called the librarian--and she
always said, `Read. Read. Read everything.' And we'd go down there,
and sometimes she would just say--tell the students, `Be quiet,' and
she would say, `Read.' And I started reading.
My folks, my mother and father--we couldn't afford a subscription to a
newspaper, but my grandfather had a subscription to a newspaper. And
after he would finish with his paper, every single day we would get
his newspaper and read it. And with the newspaper and the radio, we
stayed informed. And I read The Montgomery Advertiser growing up, and
when I went to Nashville, I read The Nashville Tennesseean every
single day. It was a way of keeping informed, staying informed on
what was happening in different parts of the country.
LAMB: Who was around Nashville in those days?
Rep. LEWIS: Well, you--you had several wonderful, wonderful people.
There was a young reporter working for The Nashville Tennesseean who
covered the movement named David Halberstam who later went on and
became the reporter for the--for The New York Times. There was John
Siegenthaler. There was just a cadre of unbelievable people that I
got to know in Nashville in the media. But, also, I met W.E.B.
DuBois one day on the campus of Fisk University. He was walking
across the campus, and I met him. And we passed by, and then I went
back and I was introduced to him.
LAMB: You mentioned John Siegenthaler. He pops up in all these books
on the civil rights movement as a f--person that was in and out of the
scene. And in one case in your book, he got clobbered on the head
with a pipe.
Rep. LEWIS: He was beaten.
LAMB: What was his role?
Rep. LEWIS: Well, h--i--in 1961, he was President Kennedy's personal
representative to try to negotiate a--a--a--a truce, an agreement,
with the governor of Alabama to get us out of Birmingham to Montgomery
and to get assurance from the governor of Alabama and the state
official that they would protect the Freedom Riders. So John
Siegenthaler was there on behalf of President Kennedy in May of 1961,
and he got caught between trying to shepherd, protect some of the
young Freedom Riders and the mob, and he was caught and--and beaten
and left lying unconscious on the streets of Montgomery.
LAMB: You still see him?
Rep. LEWIS: Oh, I see John Siegenthaler a great deal. He's a good
friend. You know, when you're going through wars with people, you've
shared battles, y--you--you try to stay in touch.
LAMB: When did you first meet Bobby Kennedy?
Rep. LEWIS: I first met Bobby Kennedy in the spring of 1963. He was
attorney general. Bobby Kennedy was an unbelievable person as
attorney general, and I got to know him very well as attorney general
and later as senator from--from New York. I remember him saying to me
once in July of 1963--he said, `John, I now understand. The young
people, the students, have educated me. They have taught me a
lesson.' This--this man really did believe--he became convinced and
committed--he believed deeply in his soul, in his gut, I--I think, in
the cause of civil rights and--and social justice.
LAMB: When did you first go to work for him politically?
Rep. LEWIS: In March of 1968, when he announced that he was--seek
the Democratic nomination for the presidency. I sent him a telegram.
I was in Jackson, Mississippi, and said, `Senator Kennedy, I want to
help. I want to volunteer. I want to be part of your campaign.' And
he asked some of his people to call me, and they called me and they
invited me to go to Indiana, to Indianapolis. And I went to
Indianapolis to work on voter registration and organizing mass rallies
on behalf of--of the Kennedy campaign.
And I was with Bobby Kennedy the night of April 4th, 1968, when we
heard that Dr. King had been shot. I w--I didn't know--I just heard
that he had been shot and didn't know what condition he was in or
anything. And Robert Kennedy came and spoke to the crowd that we had
organized and announced that Dr. King had been assassinated. And I
will never forget that evening. And I sort of said to myself during
that week leading up to Dr. King's funeral--sort of said, `Well, we
still have Bobby Kennedy.'
And I threw myself into that campaign. I went to Atlanta to--to the
funeral and just got m--very much involved in the campaign--went out
to Oregon, campaigned for Robert Kennedy; introduced him at a college
student rally out there. Then I went on to California. And I just
knew he was going to win the Democratic nomination. We saw hundreds
and thousands of people just filling the streets of Los Angeles, the
motorcade of--pulling for Robert Kennedy.
LAMB: Go back for a moment to the night that Martin Luther King was
killed. You say that the crowd that assembled did not know that he
had been shot?
Rep. LEWIS: The people in the crowd did not know.
LAMB: In Indianapolis?
Rep. LEWIS: In Indianapolis that evening. We hadn't told anyone.
People did not know it. They were just standing there waiting for
Bobby Kennedy to come and speak.
LAMB: Well, di--did he tell 'em first?
Rep. LEWIS: Ri--it was Robert Kennedy who spoke to the crowd and
said, `I have some bad news f--tonight. Martin Luther King Jr. was
assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.' And people just cried. Some
people just dropped to their knees. And Robert Kennedy went on
and--and spoke, and he urged people not to turn to violence, not to
get lost in a sea of despair.
LAMB: Now what was the scene later, where you say he threw himself on
Rep. LEWIS: We went back--we left the rally and we went back to the
local hotel, where we all went into his room, and he laid across the
bed. And we all were sitting down. And we all cried. We all cried
LAMB: Did that surprise you, that he was that emotional about it?
Rep. LEWIS: It didn't surprise me because I think Bobby Kennedy had
grown so much during that period, and he felt very strongly that we
needed to make some changes in America, that he felt that Dr. King
was the best person, probably, to help us make those changes through
peaceful, non-violent action.
LAMB: And where were you then in California when he was killed?
Rep. LEWIS: When Bobby Kennedy was shot, I was in his room on the
fifth floor of the Ambassador Hotel. I had spoken with him just a few
minutes earlier. He joked with me that evening. He said, `John, you
let me down tonight. You let me down. More Mexican-American voters
turned out and voted for me than negroes.' And he sort of suggested
that we wait for him and that he would be back in 15 minutes.
So I was in his room in the Ambassador Hotel, fifth floor, with Teddy
White, the writer, several other media people, members of his family
and others. And we saw the announcement--it was a bulletin saying
that S--Senator Kennedy had been shot. And we all just dropped to our
knees. I cried, like so many other people. We--we cried. I just
wanted to get out of LA that--that night. I just wanted to leave. I
wanted to get to Atlanta. So the next morning I boarded a plane and
flew from Los Angeles to Atlanta. And I think I cried all the way
from Los Angeles back to Atlanta. And there, I can recall, as we--and
this is June 6th--as we flew across the mountains in Colorado,
Arizona, or someplace along the way, I could still see the snow o--on
But I got back to--to Atlanta, and a day or so later the family
invited me to come to New York for the funeral. And I went there the
night before the funeral and stood at one of the honor guard with
Reverend Abernathy. And then the next day I went to the funeral.
After the funeral, I boarded this funeral train and traveled from New
York. And all along the way you saw people with sign--hand-made signs
saying, `We love you, Bobby,' `Goodbye, Bobby'--just hundreds and
thousands of people waving, waving. And somehow, in some way, you--I
didn't want that train to stop in Washington. You--you just want it
to--to keep going, but we knew this was the end. 'Cause Bobby Kennedy
represented so much hope and so much optimism, the same way that
Martin Luther King Jr. did.
LAMB: Earlier I asked you about the newspaper reading. You still
read a newspaper today?
Rep. LEWIS: Oh, yes, I r--I read the newspaper. You know, it's--not
being able to read a newspaper, it would--would just mess up my day.
LAMB: I want to connect that, though, with the books because you also
tell us about your book collection. You have books here; you have
books down in Atlanta. But you found a book in a bookstore one time.
How did that happen, and why was that so important?
Rep. LEWIS: Well, I--I--I--I lo--I love books. I--I--I love books.
Books are important. I remember when I was growing up, I couldn't
check the book out of a--out of the library because I was black, and
they didn't allow blacks to come into the public library in Pike
County, Alabama, in Troy. And s--and we had very few books in o--in
our home. So any time I could get a book to read, I wanted to read a
So I got into collecting books. And I would go to antique shops, flea
markets and different places to try to find a good, old book. A--and
one day in Washington I--I went to a market, an old flea market in
just an old store out on the highway near Washington National Airport.
And it was a lot of dust. And I saw this book. It was "Stride Toward
Freedom," with a jacket on it.
LAMB: "Stride Toward Freedom."
Rep. LEWIS: By Martin Luther King Jr., s--telling the story of the
Montgomery bus boycott. And I looked in this book. It w--said, `Best
wishes, Martin Luther King Jr., June 21st, 1960.' So I took this book
and I looked in it, kept looking--there was a program in this book
from a chur--a local church in Washington, DC, where Dr. King spoke
at 10 AM, then he spoke again at 4 PM at the same church.
So I took the book and I closed it up and I went to the counter and I
said, `Ma'am, how much do you want for this book?' And she looked at
it. She said, `Fifty cents.' I gave her $1. She gave me 50 cents
back, and I got outta there. And I--and I've cherished that book
because once before, Martin Luther King Jr. autographed a book to me,
and someone in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee liberated
that book. They took that book from me. I don't know what happened
to it. And I--so I value that particular book, autographed by Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
LAMB: Our guest has been John Lewis, now congressman from Atlanta.
Here is the title of the book, "Walking With the Wind: A Memoir." We
thank you very much.
Rep. LEWIS: Thank you.
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