CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Congressman John Lewis, the Atlanta Democrat who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and was severely beaten on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1964, leaves little doubt that "strong leadership" from Lyndon Johnson got the Voting Rights Act passed. Lewis spoke not in the context of the current flap between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He spoke Aug. 6, 2005 on the 40th anniversary of the landmark law's adoption -- the date he delivered the Democratic Party's weekly radio address.
"We were beaten, tear gassed, and trampled by horses on that bridge, that that's what it took to bring voting rights to people of color in America. The events of 'Bloody Sunday' as it came to be known, aroused the conscience of the nation. Under President Lyndon Johnson's strong leadership, the nation responded and Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. President Johnson signed it into law 40 years ago today."
Lewis did not mention Dr. King in that talk, although he spoke of the sacrifice of others who gave their lives during the 1960s civil rights movement. However, in a 2004 interview he recalled how King was moved and wept when Johnson went on national television after "Bloody Sunday" and promised that Congress would take action. The interview is here and the pertinent part is on Page 5. Said Lewis:
"President Johnson recognized that, but before he closed that speech and introduced the Voting Rights Act he said, 'We shall overcome.' He said it more than once, 'And we shall overcome.' And he became the first President to use the theme song of the Civil Rights Movement in a major speech, and Dr. King was so moved he started crying, and we all cried when we heard Lyndon Johnson say, 'And we shall overcome.'"