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Friday, October 14, 2005

CBS 46 Atlanta - Georgia congressman issues call to action for young

CBS 46 Atlanta - Georgia congressman issues call to action for youngGeorgia congressman issues call to action for young
Oct 13, 2005, 10:06 PM

LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- Noted civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis called on a new generation of young Americans to become more active in shaping the future of the nation.

Lewis, the son of Alabama sharecroppers who founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that played a key role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, said students today could be much more effective agents for change because they are more informed.

"We believed that if we would say something, the government would respond. There's a sense now in America that maybe no one is listening. We need to find a way to build that sense of hope, to tap into the energy and sense of vigor and vitality on the part of young people," he said in an interview. "We need young people to be inspired. We need to call upon the best in them."

He remembered drawing on inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

"They created an age of great expectation. We expected more," he said. "We need people to get out there to inspire us again, all of us. That's why I enjoy speaking to students and people not so young, and trying to inspire them to stand out and speak up."

Lewis was in Arkansas to lecture on racial reconciliation at the Clinton School of Public Service, where 16 students from 11 states and two foreign countries are participating in the only master's degree program of its kind in the nation.

The congressman said he is inspired every time he comes to Little Rock, site of the 1957 school desegregation crisis that became the nation's first test of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the doctrine of separate-but-equal public schools for black and white.

In September 1957, then-President Dwight Eisenhower ordered federal troops to escort nine black students through angry white mobs to classes at Central High School after then-Gov. Orval E. Faubus blocked the nine from enrolling at the all-white flagship high school

"The first time I visited Central High, I cried. To walk through the doors, I felt like I was walking on holy ground," Lewis said. "In 1957, I was 17 years old and I followed the drama of Little Rock, and it inspired me, along with the Montgomery bus boycott, to find a way to get involved in the civil rights movement."

Lewis went on to organize sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters and participated in freedom rides across the South. Always, he and others were prepared to die for what they believed in, he said.

"If you believe in something that is so dear and so necessary, you come to that point where you say 'I'm going to give it my best. So you beat me, you throw me in jail, but I'm going to get out and be mended, patched up and get back out there,"' he said. "You keep going back."

Lewis also called for a new war on poverty to help the poor, whose plight was exposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He urged more emphasis on educating poor children, providing affordable health care and improving wages.

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