The scripture, “We who are strong must bear the infirmities of the weak, and not seek to please ourselves,” defines the life’s work of the last surviving speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. Georgia Congressman John Lewis is a civil rights icon who played a key role during that march, and in the movement that changed America. On Feb. 24, Congressman John Lewis, will be in Dallas to speak at my 21st annual prayer breakfast.
During his speech 50 years ago, Congressman Lewis echoed the sentiments of that scripture. Congressman Lewis talked about the necessity of improving the lives of sharecroppers who worked for less than three dollars each day, and for maids who worked full-time but earned only $5.00 each week while cleaning the homes of others.
The then 23 year-old student, demanded that the Congress of the United States pass “meaningful legislation” that would give millions of people an opportunity to escape the ravages of poverty, find jobs, and become members of the middle class. He was not asking the government to give people a handout, but instead he asked for a level playing field so that all Americans could get a hand up.
Congressman Lewis’s speech, his work, and the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and so many others, led President Lyndon Baines Johnson to declare a “war on poverty” which, with the aid of a compassionate and wiling Congress, offered millions of American citizens an open hand so that their lives, and the lives of their children might improve.
These same fights for a livable minimum wage and equal pay for women are still being fought today, 50 years later. During his recent State of the Union address President Barack Obama, who was weeks short of his second birthday during the 1963 march, asked a joint session of Congress to give poor working class Americans a livable minimum wage, and to confront the blatant reality of income inequality in America that grows rapidly each day.
A recent written report stated that nearly 24 percent of all inner-city residents in Dallas live below the poverty line. The numbers are similar to those found in many of our larger cities, and rural areas. I know that you will agree with me when I say that the situation is unacceptable and must be addressed and rectified. This is an issue that my fellow Democrats in Congress and I are focused on.
In 1963, a youthful John Lewis marched for “jobs and freedom.” He is coming to Dallas because the reasons for the march are still uncompleted. No doubt he will use the same words that he articulated on August 28th, 1963 when he concluded his speech by saying, “Wake up America! Wake up”!”