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Welcoming a civil rights icon to Dallas

EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON | 1/27/2014, 8:54 a.m.

United States Congress

Congressman John Lewis, one of the champions of the Civil Rights Movement who risked his life nearly 50 years ago to win voting rights for racial minorities in this country, will be the featured speaker at my 21st annual prayer breakfast which will be held on Feb. 24.

Lewis, who got down on his knees to pray just moments before armed Alabama state troopers viciously attacked him and others engaged in a peaceful march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, will share his experiences, his faith, and his journey with community leaders, and local religious and elected officials.

People around the world witnessed on television the brutal beatings of Lewis and hundreds of other peaceful marchers. Before going to the hospital to have doctors treat his fractured skull, Lewis appeared on television and pleaded with the nation’s leadership to guarantee equal protection under the law for racial minorities.

Four months later, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and also announced that the federal government would bring legal action against states that used poll taxes to deny minorities the right to vote.

I can think of no other person who is more qualified to speak at a prayer breakfast in Texas during a time when the state Legislature has drawn political maps that discriminate against minority voters. It is the same Legislature that has enacted a voter ID law that is designed to suppress the votes of students, the elderly and the disenfranchised.

A founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis has led a life that has been shaped by activism and prayer. On Capitol Hill, he is known as the “conscience of the Congress.”

Lewis was one of the organizers of the March on Washington in 1963. Only a 23 years old at the time of the demonstration, he was the youngest speaker to address the hundreds of thousands of people who attended the event. At the 50th anniversary celebration of the event held this past summer, he was the only surviving original speaker to address those who were in attendance.

Around the world and across this nation he is known as a champion of democracy. In 2001, Lewis was awarded the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Foundation. In 2010, he was the first recipient of the Liberty and Justice for All award presented by the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation. Two years ago, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for his outstanding contributions to justice and equality in our country.

Now, it is our privilege to have this great humanitarian come to Dallas. He will be coming to pray with us, to fellowship with us, and to call attention to the efforts of some to damage the political progress that so many of us have fought for in Texas. He is no stranger to the battles that confront us.

He knows that we are on the principled and correct side of the issues, and of history. It has been a privilege to work with him, and to stand with him for justice, fairness and equality during our time together in Washington.