By Allison Nekola – Co-Editor-in-Chief
Congressman John Lewis, a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Freedom Rider, and the youngest speaker at 1963’s March on Washington, skyped with students on October 8 in Rosen Auditoruim to discuss the impor- tance of voting and the fight for voting rights in modern America.
Lewis was born in segregated Alabama and risked his life several times for the sake of equal voting rights for African-Americans. Dur- ing the skype session, Lewis took students back in time to describe the heinous conditions African-Americans faced, just for the right to have a say in the government of the country they were born into.
“I grew up in rural Montgomery,” Lewis said. “My mother, my father, my uncles and aunts, [and] my teachers could not register to vote solely because of the color of their skin.”
He was inspired by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and their acts of peaceful protest for a more equal America. Even as a young man, Lewis was deeply disturbed by segregation. “I didn’t like racial discrimination. I didn’t like the signs sayin’ white waiting, colored waiting…white boys, colored boys,” Lewis said. “I wanted to do something about it.”
Though his family was weary of his intent to fight against this social injustice, by the age of 17 he met Rosa Parks and by 18, Martin Luther King Jr.
“It changed my life,” he said. “It sent me on a path to get involved.” He went to Tenne- see to gather with other like-minded students where they “studied peace, the way of love, [and] the way of non-violence.”
He encouraged students to vote and take advantage of the right millions of people died and fought for. Lewis reminded the audi- ence that their voice does matter and the Civil Rights Movement wouldn’t have been possible if people didn’t believe in their ability to make change happen.
“[In 1961] I told my students, those signs are gone, they will not return,” Lewis said. “The only places you will see those signs are in a book, in a museum, or a video.”
His point was clear, as a society “we have to keep moving forward, we have come too far to go back.”
The crowd was silent, but their facial expressions revealed just how much Lewis’s words moved them.
“We have a mission and a moral obligation to get a vote, not just for ourselves but for gen- erations that are molding,” Lewis said. “If we want to change things in a peaceful, nonviolent fashion, we need to vote.”