Lewis reflects on receiving Medal of Freedom
February 15th, 2011
04:43 PM ET

Lewis reflects on receiving Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) came into the James S. Brady Briefing Room after receiving the nation’s top civilian honor today. Surrounded by reporters, the civil rights icon described the honor as “unreal.”

He recounted his efforts during the civil rights movement, when endured more than 40 arrests and countless beatings.  “I didn’t give up, I didn’t give in, I kept the faith, I kept my eyes on the prize,” he said solemnly. “It’s worth every step, every sit-in, every beating, every arrest.”

Nearly 50 years later, the man who was at times left for dead  was seated along-side athletes, musicians, poets, and even a former president. Today he was one of just 15 to be honored by the President of the United States.

“Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind,” Mr. Obama said. “An American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.”

The room of dignitaries rose to its collective feet in a hearty standing ovation.

When asked what it was like to receive such an award from the first African American president, Lewis said he felt blessed. “I started thinking about the first time I came to Washington in May of 1961 to go on the freedom rides. Then I came back here in June of 1963 to meet with President Kennedy, with Dr. King and several others. And I just kept thinking, ‘I wish Dr. King were here,’” he said.

With the medal around his neck, Lewis added the civil rights fight is not yet over. “The issue today is to see that all of our children –all of our young people – it doesn’t matter if they’re black or white or Latino or Asian American or Native American – get the best possible education.”

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soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. ket

    wow and the consevatives wanna take america backwards. aint no stoppin us (united states) now.

    February 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  2. Joe

    What a great man! Glad he is being recognized. We have come far, but evidenced by the behavior of many since our first African-American President took office, we have a ways to go.

    February 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  3. Thank you Congressman

    Your moral courage in the face of the hatred & danger you faced is respected & appreciated. And thank you President Obama for rightly presenting an award where it was due.

    February 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  4. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    We can thank Lewis for his fight for civil rights but let's never forget the millions of whites that fought with us and still do so.

    February 15, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • LooneyBin

      I'm glad you mentioned this. MLK's dream of becoming a post-racial society is not a tug-of-war where one side must win and the other must lose. It is a cooperative effort that requires understanding and compromise from everyone. Fostering allies in the majority is absolutely vital in securing rights and equality for the oppressed.

      February 16, 2011 at 1:32 am |
  5. mtrought

    I am so thankful for you John Lewis, you will be placed in the hall of heroes who has made the USA what it is today and nation of less hypocrisy, hatred and bigotry. And, yes, we need to educate the kids of all races that integration will be the key to the survival of the human race

    February 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  6. Peter

    I heard John Lewis speak at a college graduation. Truly inspirational. His book, "Walking with the Wind", is a great read and reveals some of the horrific treatment Blacks had to endure during the '60s to obtain their civil rights. Lewis is a genuine hero.

    February 15, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  7. R Pascal

    Great man, great American! I'm so glad he has been given recognition at this level!

    February 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  8. Hussein Mberwa

    Rep Lewis, Thank you for all the sacrifices you made, you are a great man who deserves such a great honor. Thank you Sir!!!

    February 15, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  9. Tx Democrat

    Congratulations, Congressman Lewis. You are so deserving of this this honor. Thank you for confronting the ulgy face of racial hatred and biogtry during those horrible years. We are so gratful you didn't give up, you didin't give in, you kept the faith and you eyes on the prize. Although the fiight still continues we are al least in a better place than before thanks to you, Dr. King and others. We salute you Mr. Lewis for your bravery , courage and your determination.

    February 16, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  10. Gaylon Barrow

    Iagree wholeheartely with this award. Someone said not to forget there Are many whites also fighting for equality. If you want to forget this, then the word racial goes both ways. I've hear it said in most every comment made toward certain people who did not deserve IT. Sarah Palin comes to mind. I do not know what SHE COULD Have done to you, but it is plain FOR I have HEARD THE Same comments over and OVER AGAIN. PLEASE SAY SOMETHING NEW. FIRST PLACE SHOW YOU BELONG IN EQUALITIY FOR LEAVING THE HATRED ASIDE. THESE PEOPLE HAVE DONE NOTHING TO YOU. IN FACT NO ONE HAS DONE ANYTHING TO YOU. YOU are just like us poor whites. We strive to make A LIVING EVERYDAY. ONE EVEN SAID WE'RE ON OUR WAY NOW. WHERE TO. TO OPRESS WHITEY. iF THIS IS THE CASE THEN YOU'VE LEARNED NOTHING. I PRAY FOR YOU. FOR YOU'RE A MISERABLE BEING.

    February 16, 2011 at 3:27 am |
  11. Jay in NC

    John Lewis always enjoyed sowing the seeds of hatred and division. There is no need for his brand of hostility in modern politics. Twenty four years in office is way too long. If you want to understand why our country is in dire straits then take a look at the incumbents. Thankfully Lewis' old style preacher cantor has fallen out of favor with the rest of the nation. If only the locals would elect someone with a modern attitude we could get this country moving.

    February 16, 2011 at 4:50 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      When your side stops issuing CDs with title like "Barack the Magic Negro", and stop putting up catroons that depict the First Lady morphing into a Gorilla, then he'll probably stop. As far as enjoying sowing seeds of hatred and division, I doubt he enjoyed getting the crap kicked out of him by ignorant thugs, but he did what was necessary to move this country forward. BTW, if you want to complain about his tenure in office, urge the GOP to kick Boehner, Paul, and other GOP fossils out: at least Lewis has opted to earn his paycheck by combating ignorance like yours.

      February 16, 2011 at 8:15 am |
      • Jay in NC

        My side? The world is much more complicated than black and white, left and right. I do not agree with this man simply because of his voting record and his use of divisive racial statements. Does the fact that you like John Lewis mean that you liked it when they depicted First Lady Laura Bush as a monkey? What about the kill Bush posters? Where do you stand on that issue? Making assumptions is what racism is all about.

        I do not like any politician, left or right, that makes a career out of spending our money. John Lewis has a habit of waisting money on ill conceived government solutions. His time is up. It is time for a new congress that can move this country forward!

        February 16, 2011 at 9:55 am |
      • Chad from Tampa

        "Barack the Magic Negro" was a Op Ed column by liberal journalist David Ehrenstein of the LA Times in March of 2007. Again, that article was written by a liberal journalist. Ironically it was a pro-Obama article. Don't get caught up in the mainstream media, look it up for yourself.

        February 16, 2011 at 9:57 am |
      • The Real Tom Paine

        @ Jay and Chad: Jay, you were attacking him specifically in terms usually employed by country-club bigots. I don't approve of disrepect towards anyone occupying the WH because I actually repect the position, and especially dislike attacks on spouses and families. You did not answer my question regarding GOP members who also make a career of public service, but what it ulitmately comes down to is are they doing the job they were elected to do by their constituents? I am worried that we have so many people who only vote when they are angry, and are only engaged by bomb-throwers on the right or the left. Mr. Lewis served this country well ina noble cause: would you tell a soldier to retire because he had 20 years of service, or would you value that experience and insight?

        Chad, as you may remember, one of Michael Steele's competitios for the RNC Chairmanship in 2008 sent the CD as a Christmas gift, and it was promoted on Rush Limbaugh's show. I do remember the original article you mentioned, and I found the title needlessly provocative. As for the "mainstream media" comment, I make a point of avoiding aphorisms and talk show bullets that show up on networks like MSNBC and FOX, so please don't assume that I am taking my information from one source. The divisions in our society are created largely by information spun by people intent on building an audience, not by the average person. I can make my own decisions, and I respect your right to do so as well, so please do not denigrate my intelligence or my point of view.

        February 16, 2011 at 10:17 am |
      • Jay in NC

        Tom, you and John Lewis have something in common. When you have lost the argument you resort to calling the person a bigot. As far as the GOP members, why are you complaining, they were elected, right? I think that they are not soldiers so yes I would tell them to leave office. Anyone black, white, left or right. We need real change not the same old government. Maybe an Egyptian style revolution. The type of revolution Barry supported.

        February 16, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  12. The Real Tom Paine

    Jay, frankly I was not under the impression I was in an arguement, but a discussion between people with different points of view. I respect the results of the election, which were hardly a surprise, as did most people This is in stark contrast to Egypt, which no one ever disputed was a dictatorship. My remarks on the subject of government were directed at Jay, since he seemed to denigrate the service of people who have been in office for what he feels are an inordinate amount of time. We have elections, which people need to vote in, not just complain about after the fact. We don't need riots, because we have a system that works. It worked in favor of the GOP in 2010, and who knows what will happen in 2 years? I would much rather see divided government that forces compromises than having ideology rammed down my throats by either side. I agree we need real change, adn it begins with people who participate on a regular basis, people who don't see conspiracies, but people bound and dtermined to deal with the problem responsible and see that their choices ahve real consequences and take responsiblity for those policy choices. That is not a left or right issue, but an American one. Can we agree on that?

    February 16, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  13. xxxphantomxxx

    Wrong Claudia from Houston those caucsions you fondly speak of are nothing but back stabbing hypocrites "do research" it wasn't "caucsions" that helped any one it was African Americans by themselves that got their rights, NOT caucasions they have done nothing but kill, steal, and pillage that all they know how to do that is all they will ever do.

    February 28, 2011 at 11:02 am |