Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia gave an emotional speech on the floor of the House on Thursday, pleading for the Confederate flag to be banned from the Capitol complex.
“I must tell you, my heart is heavy. I’m saddened by what has happened here in America,” Lewis, a key figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the only living speaker from the March on Washington in 1963, said.
In his speech, Lewis compared the “colored” and “white” signs that hung above bathroom doors and water fountains to the current nationwide debate over the Confederate flag.
“During the height of the civil rights movement, we broke those signs down," he said. "They are gone. And the only place we would see those signs today would be in a book, in a museum, or on a video."
“We need to bring down the flag. The scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in every corner of American society.”
Lewis spoke to a memory he had of marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and seeing law enforcement officers wearing the Confederate symbol on their helmets.
“I don’t want to go back,” he said. “And as a country, we cannot go back.”
The flag has been at the focus of intense debate since the racially-motivated massacre of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month. Lewis said the flag simply has too deep a connection to both slavery and segregation for it to be justifiably flown.
“I don’t want to see our little children, whether they are black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American, growing up seeing these signs of division,” he said. “Hate is too heavy a burden to bear. We need not continue to plant these seeds in the minds of our people.”
This week, the South Carolina House passed a bill to remove the Confederate flag from its Statehouse. Once Republican Gov. Nikki Haley -- a vocal advocate for taking down the flag -- signs the bill, the flag will be removed.
Photo Credit: thegrio.com, jacksonville.com