Lewis: We all have a right to protest

Civil rights leader addresses activism in front of full house

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the top civil rights leaders of the 1960s, said he didn’t feel worthy to be on the “very special ground” of Kent State. As part of the 40th anniversary May 4 commemoration events, he delivered a speech yesterday to a packed Student Center Ballroom.

“We must never, ever forget that we all have a right in this country to protest for what is right,” Lewis said. “It is guaranteed and protected by the Constitution.”

Lewis, who grew up in the South, said he has “tasted the bitter fruit of racism.”

Inspired by the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis became a top civil rights leader through nonviolent activism.

He compared the deaths of three civil rights workers by the hand of the Ku Klux Klan to the deaths of Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State on May 4, 1970.

“Like the four young students here, these young people did not die in Cambodia,” he said. “They didn’t die in Vietnam. They didn’t die in the Middle East or Eastern Europe. They didn’t die in Africa or Central or South America.

“They died right here in our own country, and we must never, ever forget what happened here at Kent State, Jackson State or what happened to those three civil rights workers.”

He said Americans must stop discrimination, war and violence so that they may embrace the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Though he admits there has been progress, he said it is not entirely solved.

“It is strange to me,” Lewis said, “that we have learned to swim in the ocean like a fish, that we can fly in the air like a bird, that we can shoot a rocket to the moon, but we have not learned how to live together as brothers and sisters.”

He explained in order to live together, we must solve our problems peacefully. Otherwise, we are just causing more conflict.

“We will know that people around the world are not convinced by our bombs, by our missiles, by our guns,” he said. “They are inspired by our ability for nonviolent direct action to bring peaceful change.”

Lewis told the audience to follow the “spirit of history” to make sure nothing like May 4, 1970, ever happens again.

“You have a mandate to follow in the footsteps of those brave and courageous men and women who fought to make a difference,” he said. “You must make sure that generations to come do not forget. It is your turn.”

Contact student politics reporter Nick Glunt at [email protected].