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John Lewis Attacks Republicans on Voting Rights

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rep. John Lewis (Ga.) delivered a blistering critique of new GOP-backed voter identification laws, weaving in his personal civil rights story to emphasize to a packed convention crowd, “we have come too far together to ever turn back.”

On the final night of the Democratic National Convention, Lewis called it “unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting.”

“They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the votes,” Lewis said. “I’ve seen this before. I’ve lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.”

Lewis referenced new voting laws and rules in Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. It was a pointed attack by one of Congress’ most revered Members who experienced, firsthand, the battle for civil rights in the 1960s.

“Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar — all to keep them from casting their ballots,” Lewis said.

He recalled his first visit to the Queen City as one of the “Freedom Riders” in 1961 — the same year President Barack Obama was born. He described the beating he endured trying to enter a whites-only waiting room 30 miles south in Rock Hill, S.C. Even though his attackers left him “in a pool of blood,” Lewis and a fellow rider declined to press charges.

After Obama’s election in 2008, Lewis heard from one of his attackers.

“He gave me a hug. I hugged him back, and we both started crying. This man and I don’t want to go back; we want to move forward,” Lewis said. “Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back? Or do you want to keep America moving forward?”