But even after a thorough edit, Lewis’ words demonstrated how radical the civil rights movement truly was. Lewis and his peers didn’t just want to desegregate public spaces and acquire voting rights; they wanted to disrupt an entire system, knowing that Black Americans couldn’t be free in a country afflicted by unchecked police violence.
This “serious social revolution,” as Lewis put it, is still unfolding 57 years later.
“We come here today with a great sense of misgiving. It is true that we support the administration’s civil rights bill,” said Lewis, who that year had been chosen to serve as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. “We support it with great reservation, however.”
The source of this reservation was the fact that Title III, designed to grant the federal government the authority to rein in (among other things) police brutality, hadn’t been included in the proposed legislation.
“Unless Title III is put in this bill,” Lewis told the crowd in Washington, “there’s nothing to protect the young children and old women who must face police dogs and fire hoses in the South while they engage in peaceful demonstration. In its present form, this bill will not protect the citizens of Danville, Virginia, who must live in constant fear of a police state.”
Today, Lewis’ demands couldn’t feel more essential or familiar.
Fury is in the ether. And the uprisings flashing and flaring across the country echo Lewis’ emotional posture — his stirring refusal to wait for equality — at the 1963 rally.
“We are tired. We are tired of being beat by policemen,” the civil rights leader said, defiantly, 57 years ago. “We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again, and then you holler: ‘Be patient.’ How long can we be patient? We want our freedom, and we want it now.”