tv The Last Word With Lawrence O Donnell MSNBC July 18, 2020 7:00pm-8:00pm PDT
in my younger days, i got arrested and went to jail 40 times. and since being in congress, noe another five times. and i may get arrested and go to jail again. >> he is an icon of the civil rights movement. >> they found the power of the human spirit in john lewis. and he came to symbolize the student movement. >> he believed that he could help a country find its soul. >> risking death to fight for what's right. >> i did not think john would survive. >> he likes to stir things up. he likes a little drama. >> let us vote! >> john lewis is not about
popularity. he's about purpose. >> never give up. never give in. >> the 17-term congressman faces a new foe. vowing to battle cancer, with the same courage he's used to fight for civil rights. his commitment through the years paved the way for a new generation. >> barack obama does not become president of the united states without a john lewis. >> john lewis led them on a mission to change america. >> our country will never, ever be the same because of what happened on this bridge. when activists turned out to protest the trump
administration's separation of migrant children from their parents in june 2018, congressman john lewis was there. >> i am sick and tired, sick and tired, of what happened to our children, to our babies. being taken from their mothers, from their fathers, separated. that's painful. it's a violation of human rights. >> that's right. and none of us who live on this piece of real estate we call america can be happy or satisfied. we're to do something. so we are prepared to take some action here and now. let's do it. >> you feel like you've been placed here for a reason. you have to disturb the order. >> one expression that he uses that i love. he says that we have to make good trouble. >> lewis first came up with the phrase as a child in pike county, alabama. >> i didn't like segregation and racial discrimination.
i didn't like the signs that said white waiting, colored waiting. white men, colored men. so i would come home and ask my mother, my father, my grandparents, why? and they would say, that's the way it is, boy. don't get in the way. don't get in trouble. >> born to sharecroppers in 1940, john robert lewis was one of ten siblings, growing up in the fields of cotton country. as a teenager, he was inspired by the montgomery bus boycott. and the sermons of dr. martin luther king jr. on the radio. >> as long as you sit in the back, you have a false sense of inferiority. and so long as you let the white man sit in the front and put you back there, he has a false sense of superiority. >> at the age of 16, lewis challenged segregation laws in his own town. >> we went down to the public library. little town of troy, alabama.
trying to get library card. trying to check out some books. we were told by the librarian that the library's for whites only, and not for coloreds. and that sent me on the path. >> lewis believed that path would lead him to become a preacher like king. he received a work-study scholarship to american baptist theological seminary in nashville and arrived in 1957. >> john has always had a genuine smile. even a kind of boyishness about him that has made him charming. >> he was a person who was easy to talk to and was always interested in social issues. >> lewis wanted to join the students beginning to integrate schools across the south. his target? all-white troy state university. just ten miles from his home in alabama. he wrote to dr. king for help. king's deputy sent him a bus ticket to visit montgomery in the spring of 1958, when he was
just 18 years old. >> and dr. king said, are you the boy from troy? are you john lewis? and i said, dr. king, i am john robert lewis. i gave my whole name. but he still called the me the boy from troy. >> dr. king told the boy from troy he would need his parents' permission to take on troy's state. but they were afraid of the consequences and refused. as lewis returned to nashville, he was determined to do something. and then, he met the second role model who would change his life. >> jim larson came to nashville and he enrolled as a student at vanderbilt university divinity school. >> this unbelievable young man taught us the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence. and he kept saying, respect the dignity and the worth of every human being. even if someone beats you, throw you in jail, look 'em in the eye and respect them.
>> lawson's group began sit-ins at lunch kouscounters in nashvi in early 1960. lewis and the other students filled the counters, tried to order food, and then, took what ever abuse was hurled at them. when the 20-year-old lewis was arrested for the first time, in february 1960, his parents were shocked. >> like a lot of people of color at that time, they were afraid of what was going to happen. he could die. they could lose land. or any number of terrible consequences. >> but lewis and the other students continued their sit-ins. and after months of protests, the politicians and business leaders in nashville agreed to desegregate lunch counters in may, 1960. >> we all applauded, and here was the situation that -- that turned out right. >> with that success, john lewis was even more inspired to take on jim crow laws, that segregated people by race. and denied basic rights to african-americans.
>> there were many meetings when he would come into the meeting with bandages on his head. he had been in demonstrations, and had been beaten. he was determined, though. he never let that stop him. i think you would have had to, literally, have killed him, to have stopped him. >> coming up. >> john lewis would put himself on the line, without question. o. you start with america's most awarded network, the one with unbeatable reliability 13 times in a row. this network is one less thing i have to worry about. (vo) then you give people more plans to mix and match so you only pay for what you need verizon unlimited plan is so reasonable, they can stay on for the rest of their lives. awww... (vo) you include the best in entertainment and you offer it all starting at $35. because everyone deserves the best.
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out a call for black and white volunteers to ride buses, headed into the jim crow south. traveling together would surely put them all in danger. >> they both applied to go on the original freedom rides. john was accepted because he was 21. my fath i asked my father if i could go. he said do you think i'm going to sign your death warrant? despi >> despite that warning, lewis went ahead. they set out in 1961 and were soon met by violence. lewis and another man were viciously beaten in rock hill, south carolina. a few days later, a group of rioters was attacked in birmingham. another bus was firebombed in aniston, alabama. c.o.r.e. cancelled the freedom rides. they were just too dangerous. lewis and the other nashville
students disagreed with the decision. >> it was right at the heart of what they'd been talking about in all their workshops. we can't let violence stop the movement. we've got to be willing to make whatever sacrifice it takes. >> the nashville student group decided to continue the freedom rides, themselves. if the adults refused to ride, the students still would. >> i remember several conversations with the department of justice. and they told me i just didn't understand that somebody would get killed. and i said, i understand and all of them understand as well. several of the students who were about to get on the bus gave me sealed envelopes. that i was to mail, in the event of their death. >> they knew how dangerous it was. but they were not afraid. they came prepared to face down the dangers with the power of their souls.
>> despite the violence, john lewis got back on a bus to alabama. as one of the new group of student freedom riders. >> they're supposed to have had protection. federal protection. but what we got to montgomery, they disappeared, and we were left in the hands of a mob. i mean, it was terrible. that's when john lewis was beaten and william barby. >> the riders kept going. this time, with federal guards. eventually, they made it to the dark heart of the south. jackson, mississippi. there, lewis and the others were arrested for breach of the peace and sent to mississippi's infamous parchment prison. >> it really was like going back into, you know, the antebellum plantation. it is plantation/prison. it was a rough experience. >> more students continued to join the freedom rides, and by the end of the summer, hundreds
of those riders filled parchment and other mississippi jails. >> it bonded them. they said we went in there a hundred little movements on campuses. we came out one movement. >> that national movement was called the student nonviolent coordinating committee, or sncc. when the group's chairman resigned in the summer of 1963, the organization turned to john lewis. with his country accent and lack of formal education, some saw him as an unlikely choice. >> they needed a chairman who had fought, who had bled, who had been to jail, who had suffered through every indignity that they were then asking the people in the field to suffer through. >> they found the power of the human spirit. in john lewis. and he came to symbolize the student movement.
>> almost immediately, lewis was tapped to represent sncc at the march on washington. at 23, he would be the youngest speaker at the event. but when people in the kennedy administration and more senior civil rights leaders read his planned speech, they said it was too militant. >> at the end of the speech, i said a day may come when we will not confine our march on washington but we may be forced to march through the south the way sherman did, nonviolently. >> the image of students as shermans scared the bejeezus out of people. >> dr. king and others came to me. and said, john, for the sake of unity, can we make these changes? and i couldn't say no to dr. king and we made the changes. >> let us not forget that we are involved in a serious social
revolution. >> even with the compromises, john lewis's speech, on august 28, 1963, was fierce. though, often forgotten, in the shadow of dr. king's dream. >> we do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now. >> in the years after the march on maswashington, lewis and snc concentrated on registering black voters. >> and the idea is that we got more people participating in government and bringing about changes, if we got more people to register to vote so they could practice their fundamental rights. >> in mississippi, during the summer of 1964, the students tried to register voters, with violent repercussions. and in selma, alabama, sncc volunteers set up a voter drive, but with few successes. >> not in session this afternoon, as you were informed. you came down to make a mockery out of this courthouse and he is
not going to have it. >> in spring, 1965, residents turned to dr. king for help. >> we are tired of having registrars refusing to register us and allow us to vote. >> many times, sncc did a lot of work. but when martin luther king came and the media came, it was, you know, described as martin luther king's work. >> there was always this tendency to want to challenge dr. king's leadership, and john didn't share that. john wanted to change the world. and he wasn't thinking about credit. >> king was his hero and his example and model. >> i think they shared a total commitment. there was no moral compromise. they were fearless. >> when king's group organized a protest march, from selma to montgomery, in march 1965, sncc
refused to join. but john lewis chose to march, anyway. at the front of the line. >> we're marching today to the nation that hundreds of thousands denied the right to vote. >> his nap sack held an apple and toothbrush. he was prepared to go to jail, as he had before but he was also prepared for worse. >> john was always available to risk death. and i think it was not that he wanted to die. it was at the basis of his leadership was showing a fearlessness that encouraged others. >> when the marchers crossed the edmund pettus bridge out of town, a line of state troopers confronted them. >> you are ordered to disperse, go home, or go to your church. >> they refused to turn back. the violence was broadcast on
national television. >> america's conscience was seared by what they saw that day. and i think it was a transformational moment in american history, because i think that's when the american people said enough's enough. >> two weeks later, the group set out again. then, joined by thousands of americans, from all over the country. inspired by the cause. president lyndon johnson used the public outrage to motivate his proposal of a voting rights act. in a speech to congress on march 15. >> what happened in selma is part of a far larger movement, which reaches into every section and state of america. >> only time i saw martin luther king shed a tear and i wasn't with john. but i bet you he cried, too. >> their cause must be our cause, too.
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we will use the energy and resources of our organization to implement the voting bill. >> the violence against marchers at the bridge in selma in 1965 helped convince congress to pass the voting rights act. and it secured john lewis's reputation as an icon of the civil rights movement. but that march, also, signalled a breach between lewis and his group, the student nonviolent coordinating committee. >> i felt, at the time, that the organization, and maybe even the movement, was moving in a different direction. >> 14 months after the selma march, a more militant faction ousted lewis as chairman. and the group soon began calling
for very different tactics. >> violence is a part of america's culture. it is as american as cherry pie. >> the new rhetoric went against everything in which lewis believed. >> we had been preaching the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence. preaching the sense of what we called the beloved community. that we're one people. that we're one family. >> after 40 arrests and countless beatings, in the name of the civil rights movement, john lewis left the group he helped to create. but he continued his work in community organizing and voter registration. >> just because he had this disagreement with an organization, it didn't mean that he had to abandon the ideals of the movement. >> he recognized the problem in america, racism and denial and unjust treatment, that he wanted to get the problems solved. >> working in the south, 27-year-old john lewis was introduced to the woman who would become his wife.
lillian myles. >> i said to myself, this young lady is really hip. and i started talking with her. >> she read everything about john's background and respected him tremendously. >> she was a wonderful, beautiful, charming, and she taught me a great deal. >> within a year, the couple was married. lewis, also, began a new work assignment in 1968. traveling for robert kennedy's presidential campaign. >> i got to know robert kennedy when he was attorney general. i admired him, and i thought he would be a great president. >> lewis took over the recruitment of black voters for the campaign, in several states. >> it was a big deal for robert kennedy, and it was a big deal for john lewis. it marked his transition to politics. >> lewis was at a rally with kennedy on the day his idol, dr.
martin luther king jr., was shot. >> martin luther king was shot and was killed tonight in memphis. >> just two months later, the nation still reeling from king's death, kennedy won the california primary. lewis was in the candidate's hotel suite, waiting while he gave his victory speech. >> my thanks to all of you, and now it's on to chicago and let's win there. thank you. >> and next thing, it was announced on television that he had been shot. >> is there a doctor in the house? >> and we saw the scene with bobby laying on the floor. we all just broke down and just cried, really. >> the two assassinations, tragedies for the nation, as well as personal losses for john lewis, helped set his future course. >> to lose two people that i admired and loved was much too much.
and later, i just said some of us must pick up where dr. king and robert kennedy left off. so if it hadn't been for them, i'm not so sure that i would have got involved in american politics. >> lewis plotted his entry into politics, as he continued his voter registration work in the 1970s. >> it is no longer the drama in the streets. # it it is in washington. it is in city hall. the state capitols around the south, around this country. >> he ran for the 5th congressional district in atlanta in 1977 and lost. he went on to serve on the atlanta city council but continued to eye the 5th district. >> right now, it's the highest possibility for a elected official that would like to move up. >> the seat opened up again in 1986. but there was another sncc veteran running. julian bond, who marched alongside lewis and, at the time, served in the georgia
state legislature. >> they were inseparable. they had collaborated, virtually, on everything for more than 20 years. >> after a crowded primary, the vote came down to a runoff between the two friends. >> the race was on. each of these men badly wanted this seat. and they were willing to go all out. >> tell julian bond here i come. >> the runoff divided, not just lewis and bond but, black atlanta and veterans of the civil rights movement, who knew them both. >> practically every prominent african-american leader in the metropolitan atlanta area was supporting julian bond. john wasn't phafazed by it. he was determined to outwork julian. >> he was all over the place, and i think julian kind of thought that he had it made. >> bond challenged lewis to a series of television and radio debates. >> and the real issue is which
of the two of us, john lewis or julian bond, would make the better legislator? >> julian is so smart, so gifted, spoke so well. and i think he thought that he would outdebate me. >> john was a man who expressed what he believed. he never put on airs, he never pretended. he never tried to please other people. >> you know anything about me, that i'm not up for sale. my vote cannot be bought. >> as the debates continued, lewis's team encouraged him to raise an issue from the earlier primary. when another candidate had challenged everyone to take a drug test, bond had refused. >> campaign advisers, myself included, had been urging john to issue that challenge to julian. john had resisted it. and then, julian made some comment that john had abandoned the voters of the city. >> you know, if it walks like a duck, it acts like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it must be a
duck. >> i said, well, mr. bond, i think you're the one doing the ducking. >> i challenge mr. bond to take the drug test. >> that's okay, john. that's all right. >> the challenge rocked bond's campaign. and three days later, john lewis won the runoff by four points. >> but i want to thank those folks, those good people, who had the courage, the raw courage, to change their vote in the runoff and vote for me. thank you. >> the sense of shock and absolute surprise in atlanta, the night that john lewis won that seat, is unlike anything i have ever seen. i mean, people were stunned. >> for the two friends, the damage was done. >> it was hurtful to him. i think he was hurt by the way that john presented those issues. >> their friendship was the
price they paid. >> there's been a real strain put on this relationship between the two of us. but, you know, time is a great healer. and i'm sure, in time, the wounds will heal. >> later, he became very supportive. and our friendship was mended. and he was a good friend. if i had to do it over again, i wouldn't do it. >> coming up. >> people died for the viet rig vote. friends of mine. colleagues of mine. nds of mine. colleagues of mine due to afib... ...not caused by a heart valve problem. so if there's a better treatment than warfarin, i'm reaching for that. eliquis. eliquis is proven to reduce stroke risk better than warfarin. plus has significantly less major bleeding than warfarin. eliquis is fda-approved and has both. what's next? i'm on board. don't stop taking eliquis unless your doctor tells you to, as stopping increases your risk of having a stroke. eliquis can cause serious and in rare cases fatal bleeding. don't take eliquis if you have an artificial heart valve
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. we're not only our side now. we are legislators. we are politicians, trying to use government as an instrument, as a tool to bring about change. >> after a hard-fought campaign, john lewis began his freshman term of congress in january, 1987. the 46-year-old was already known for his history in the civil rights movement, and wanted to use that influence to
become effective in washington. one of his first initiatives was a national museum of african-american history. >> he realized, here is a history that is crucial to understanding who we are, as americans. but it's a history that's undervalued, undertaught, and there is not a place to come revel in and understand that history. >> lewis first introduced his bill in 1988. and then, again, year after year. >> he's not daunted by long-shot causes. i mean, if he thinks that it's right, he's going to stick with it. >> more than a deck later, lewis gained an unexpected ally, kansas senator sam brownback. >> i was praying at st. joseph's church and i had this idea that we should have a museum. an african-american museum of history and culture. and john lewis tried for a dozen years and it'd get through one house but not the other.
>> brownback, one of the more conservative members of the senate, was weary of lewis's history. >> i had a public impression of him, which was pretty fiery. but then, when i met with him personally, i found a very thoughtful, enjoyable gentleman, that had done a great deal for the country. had a great passion. >> you have people that might not agree on some day-to-day issues, but they find common purpose. >> the bill to create the museum passed, and was signed into law by president george w bush in 2003. 15 years after john lewis first proposed it. it took another 13 years for the building to be finished. the museum opened on the mall in washington in 2016. >> there were some who said it couldn't happen. who said you can't do it. but we did it. we did it! >> through the years, lewis established himself as a force
in washington. >> thank you, very much, mr. chairman. >> a member of the influential ways and means committee. a deputy whip for the democratic party, and as a leader of the congressional black caucus. >> i am going to change my vote. >> but his personal life remained in atlanta, with his wife lillian. the separation wasn't easy. >> lillian didn't like it. and complained a lot about it. and then, she finally realized that he was wed to that work. >> lewis traveled to atlanta weekly to see lillian and their son john myles. >> john myles looked forward to seeing him come home for the weekends. they would do things together, as the boys would do sometimes. >> the couple made the long-distance arrangement work for decades, until lillian's death in 2012. atlanta was vital to john lewis, not just as his home but, as his political base. >> anything we need from
washington, he's got enough friends to get for us. >> lewis built relationships with colleagues, across the political spectrum, by leading congressional trips to selma and other sites of the civil rights movement. through the faith and politics institute, he traveled with more than 300 politicians over the years. >> when we were going on to those lunch counters or when we were marching. >> i think he's one of the few people in congress who could bring people, from many different parties, together. and say, let's spend three days wrestling with the past. only john could do that. >> lewis built on those relationships to support his chosen projects. >> he tries to use the influence that he has, the respect that he commands, to advance the causes that he thinks are important. and that i think are really all about fairness, justice, and equality. >> and no cause was more important to him than voting rights. >> i happen to believe that the vote is precious. it's almost sacred. it is the most powerful,
nonviolent instrument or tool that we have in our democratic society. >> there is a history there, with him, in terms of ensuring that the '65 voting rights act becomes law. and then, in his later life, protecting the gains that were won during the civil rights morphment. >> many of those gains lewis helped win were wiped out in 2013, when a stunning decision by the supreme court reversed decades of federal protection for voters in the soulgt. south. >> i think what the court did today -- it stabbed the voting rights act of 1965 in its very heart. >> what i think is probably one of the worst supreme court decisions of -- over the last 50 years. he sprung into action. >> before the ink was even dry, states began to put into force, effort to suppress people's voting rights. >> he worked towards the passage of that legislation.
tried to put back in place structure of the voting rights act. >> we've come too far. we made too much progress, mr. speaker, and we cannot go back. >> coming up. >> he is trying to talk directly to young people. he has written a comic book, for crying out loud. comic book, for crying out loud. we've always put safety first. ♪ ♪ and we always will. ♪ ♪ for people. ♪ ♪ for the future. ♪ ♪ and there has never been a summer when it's mattered more. wherever you go, summer safely. get zero percent apr financing for up to five years on select models and exclusive lease offers. thousands of women with metastatic breast cancer, which is breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, are living in the moment and taking ibrance. ibrance with an aromatase inhibitor
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people that i love. >> after more than 20 years in congress, john lewis faced a difficult choice in the fall of 2007. barack obama was running for president, and the election of an african-american to the nation's highest office would be the culmination of lewis's lifework. but early on, the frontrunner in the primary race was hillary clinton. >> the clintons were very supportive of him. when john had birthdays or fundraisers, president clinton would be there. he just now wanted to return the favor. you know, i've got to support clintons. they've been with me, every step of the way. >> but georgia democrats chose obama in their primary in february 2008. lewis reconsidered his position. >> as it looked like it was more of a reality about to happen, i
think people said, well, you know what? it's time for you to shift and kind of get on board this train. you've been on the right side of history for virtually everything else. you need to be on the right side of history for this. >> the choice was painful for him. but in the end, lewis gave his full support to the obama campaign. >> i love bill clinton. i love hillary clinton. but something is happening in america. something is unbelievable. >> i, barack obama, do solemnly swear. >> barack obama does not become president of the united states without a john lewis. >> lewis developed a strong bond with president obama. >> i can kind of tell when president obama is really listening to somebody, he really listens to john lewis. >> he is known as the conscience of the united states congress. still, speaking his mind on issues of justice and equality. >> despite honors like the 2010
medal of freedom, those who worked with lewis say he wears his fame lightly. >> in public life, there are a lot of people that seek to get to the front of the room immediately. not john lewis. it's, for me, pretty astounding. >> first thing that strikes you is his humility. he doesn't come off as this sort of grandiose figure. he comes off as a humble, decent, kind soul. >> part of what makes john humble is that he knows who he is. and he knows that he has sack ray niced f sacrificed for the greater good. >> although he still carries scars from the movement, lewis is still willing to engage with those that hurt him. >> one of the police came to this office many years later and said, mr. lewis, i've been a member of the klan. i'm one of the people that beat you. but i want to apologize. will you forgive me?
his son started crying. he started crying. and i cried with them. that is the power the way of peace, the way of love. the power of the philosophy of nonviolence. >> he epitomizes what the nonviolent movement's all about. it's about soul force. it's the force of the human spirit. >> as a bridge between the civil rights era and a new generation, lewis found a way to share his experiences, when he told his young staffers about a comic book from the movement. >> this little comic book. martin luther king jr. and the montgomery story. sold for 10 cents and arrested in nashville, tennessee, almost every single one of us had a copy on us. >> i started thinking why isn't there a john lewis comic book? i had never heard the story of
sncc. i had never heard the full depth and breadth of john lewis's story. why didn't anybody tell me that i, as a young person, had so much power? >> he kept saying to me, congressman, you should write a comic book. and i said, oh, maybe. but he wouldn't give up. and i finally said, yes, if you do it with me. >> the first part of their graphic novel, called march, came out in 2013. wearing an outfit just like the one he wore at the bridge in selma, lewis met his new fans at comic-con. the third book won a national book award in 2016. the first time a graphic novel had ever won. >> i remembered going down to the public library, trying to get library cards. and we were told that the libraries were whites only and not for coloreds. and to come here, receive this award, this honor for this is too much. thank you.
>> in another sign of how far he and the nation had come, john lewis celebrated the 50th anniversary of the selma march with an african-american president. retracing those fateful steps over the edmund pettus bridge. >> his napsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, and a book on government. all you need for a night behind bars. john lewis led them out of the church, on a mission to change america. >> this city, on the banks of the alabama river, gave birth to a movement that changed this nation, forever. our country will never, ever be the same because of what happened on this bridge. >> coming up. >> we're going to continue to push. to pull. to stand up.
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in my younger days, i got arrested and went to jail 40 times. i've since been in congress another five times, and i may get arrested and go to jail again. >> during his 30-plus years in congress, john lewis has joined protests on darfur, apartheid, and immigration. >> he'll join a march or a demonstration or whatever in a minute because that's where he had his start, and that's still in his blood. >> i tell my colleagues in the congress, do something. you cannot afford to be still. >> congresswoman katherine clark decided to do something after 49 people were killed at the pulse nightclub in orlando in june
2016. she wanted to force a vote on gun control legislation, but the leadership wouldn't allow it. so she turned to lewis for ideas. >> john said in his very quiet way, we have to do something dramatic. and then he paused and said, we have to do a sit-in. and when john lewis recommends that you do a sit-in, the only answer is yes, any way that i can help. >> congressman lewis stepped onto the house floor on june 22nd. >> we're calling on the leadership of the house to bring common sense gun control legislation to the house floor. give us a vote. let us vote. >> then lewis and his group began an unprecedented sit-in to try and force a vote. >> they are not trying to actually get this done through regular order. no, instead they're staging protests. they're trying to get on tv. >> the chair wishes to make an announcement regarding the decorum in the house chamber.
>> the republican leadership shut off c-span to try and block the protesters' access to the public. >> fortunately we had members who picked that up with facebook live, periscope, other social media tools. >> what made it so powerful was that there was an attempt to actually broadcast it to the nation even when c-span wasn't running it. >> lewis and his colleagues kept the protest going for 25 hours. >> and i'm here today to say john lewis, we join you in getting into good trouble on behalf of the american people. >> we never did get the vote that we wanted, but i think seeing someone like john lewis saying, this issue is important enough for me to stop the business of the house of representatives is profound. >> john lewis taught me that sometimes you might be powerless
to stop an injustice, but you can never, ever be silent because ultimately the opposite of justice is not injustice. it's indifference. it's inaction, and it's silence. >> we're going to continue to push, to pull, to stand up and, if necessary, to sit down. >> the protests helped lewis connect with a new crop of younger activists. >> i think that that moment for john lewis was in many ways an introduction to a new generation. >> many of these young people remind me of what we were like at the age of 18 and 19, and i tell them over and over again, whatever you do, do it in an orderly, peaceful, nonviolent fashion. >> lewis reached out to the new civil rights movement that had grown in recent years in response to videotaped police violence against
african-americans. >> never give up. never give in. never become bitter or hostile. >> while they may not always be on the same page, i think he has a clear respect and admiration for their desire to insert themselves into the struggle. >> when you see young people, see football players kneeling, they're trying to make it real. they're trying to make it plain to wake people up. >> after the shock of donald trump's election, john lewis decided he needed to wake people up. >> harsh and frankly stunning words for president-elect trump from a prominent democrat and civil rights figure. >> i don't plan to attend the inauguration. >> john lewis was one of the first to actually stand up against this presidency. >> i don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president. >> with the perspective of his days in the deep south, lewis was especially incensed when trump nominated senator jeff sessions for attorney general.
in the 1980s, sessions had prosecuted civil rights workers who were registering voters in alabama. >> i didn't think he was the person to be the attorney general of the united states, to be enforcing the voting rights act. >> i think he felt that the country had tried to push america back to where it was when he was growing up in troy, alabama. >> in a highly unusual move, senator cory booker asked lewis to join him in testifying against the nomination. >> i'll tell you, it was one of the moments of my life where i'm sitting next to my hero and testifying with him. >> we need someone who is going to stand up, speak up, and speak out for the people that need help, for people who have been discriminated against. >> even though sessions was ultimately confirmed, lewis was lauded for his fortitude in testifying. >> what he did was an extraordinary thing. i think he understood that. but i think it was an indication
of how strongly he felt that we had made substantial progress during the obama years and that progress was going to be put at risk. >> john lewis is not about popularity. he's about purpose. >> more than 50 years after his first protest, the boy from troy remains undaunted. >> i come here to say to you, don't let anybody, anybody turn you around. >> he's a person who could rest on his laurels and still be a historic figure, and yet in the 21st century, he is as committed to the work as he was in the 20th century when he was a young man. >> we must say wake up, america. wake up. >> we have a moral obligation, a mission, and a mandate to say something, to do something. >> i think the model of john lewis is i'm going to put myself right in the middle of the fight for justice because this country has still not achieved itself. the pathway of progress is still under construction.
you've got to roll up your sleeves and continue the work. >> you know, i'm fired up. i'm fired up. i'm ready to march. . . # . >> they want to destroy america as we know it. they hate america. >> there are painful injuries to so many american citizens. >> the unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history. >> i think those statues belong in museums. they don't belong in public places. >> tonight,