Lewis is a Connection to King's 'I Have a Dream' Speech

The crowd fell silent when Congressman John Lewis spoke.

By SHARE

Updated on 8/28/08 at 9:40

DENVER— After a musical interlude, the crowd fell silent just before 5pm MDT when Congressman John Lewis started speaking. Lewis began by saying that he was present 45 years ago to the day when Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial at the end of the 1963 March on Washington. His presence connects us all to that history, and even those of us in the press corps have been listening pretty intently. The thought occurred to me that very few others of the 20,000 or so people here—Invesco Field is just starting to fill up—were at that place. Very few elected officials or politicians participated in the March on Washington. President Kennedy was conspicuously away from Washington that weekend. Only a handful of members of Congress attended. George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO, did not attend; Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers did. Forty-five years have passed, and probably half of the people who participated in the March are no longer alive. Today it is unthinkable not to celebrate a March that almost no one prominent in public life wished to be associated with back then.

On the floor at Invesco I saw Jesse Jackson, Sr., who did not speak at this convention, as he has at every convention starting in 1984. But Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. did speak. I approached Jackson and he recognized me. I asked for his reflections. I'll try to transcribe his words as best I can: "I was at both of them, the march on Washington in 1963 and this convention. [The] 1963 [event] was in a war zone. This is a celebration. Kennedy surrounded the march with the National Guard. There was only a single bathroom, a single public toilet in the city. It was only a month from the Birmingham bombings. That is what makes today's event more marvelous. This is a better America. In 1963 King spoke, in 2008 Barack is being nominated. That is America growing. This is a better America." I asked him how many who were at the 1963 march were here tonight; he agreed that there weren't very many.

Both Lewis's speech and Jackson's words sent chills down my neck. How we've changed!