I’m writing to let you know of one of the most important and engaging broadcasts we’ve done in this series. Fifty years ago on August 28, 1963, more than a quarter-million people descended on the nation’s capital in a peaceful petition for “jobs and freedoms” that became the historic March on Washington. Ten civil rights leaders addressed the nation that day from the Lincoln Memorial. One of course was Martin Luther King, Jr., with his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. But the youngest speaker of the day — and the only one still living — was 23-year-old John Lewis, then head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Lewis had been almost beaten to death two years earlier in the Freedom Rides of 1961. Two years after the March on Washington, he would almost be beaten to death a second time. He survived and is today the representative for the 5th U.S. Congressional District of Georgia.
Earlier this summer John Lewis took me back to the spot at the Lincoln Memorial where he had led off the speakers on that historic day. As we walked up the steps, he was surrounded by young people visiting Washington who were fascinated to meet this American icon in person. With Abraham Lincoln looking down on us, John Lewis recounted for the children what had unfolded there half a century ago. Later, in Lewis’ office, we pored over photographs and mementos of that day and that era when our history was transformed.
My team and I have brought these elements together in a moving portrait of a man who has lived his life with extraordinary moral consistency and courage. The broadcast airs this upcoming weekend (check local listings) on Moyers & Company, one month before the 50th anniversary itself. I hope you’ll join us.
In the meantime, enjoy these two previews from the show, as well as a detailed look at the changes Lewis was encouraged to make in his speech just before he began.