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(1963) John Lewis, “We Must Free Ourselves”

John Lewis, then the 23-year-old Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was asked to speak at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.  When A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders saw the draft of his speech which was critical of both the U.S. government and the tactics of older civil rights leaders,  they insisted that he modify his speech to make it less confrontational.  The infighting between Lewis and his supporters and the leaders of the March continued until the final moments before the SNCC leader arrived at the rostrum and gave a version more comfortable to his critics.  The original unedited version of Lewis’s draft, not the speech he actually delivered,  appears below.  

We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of.  For hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here.  They have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages … or no wages, at all.

In good conscience, we cannot support the administration’s civil rights bill, for it is too little, and too late.  There’s not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality.

This bill will not protect young children and old women from police dogs and fire hoses, [for] engaging in peaceful demonstrations …

The voting section of this bill will not help thousands of black citizens who want to vote. It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama, and Georgia, who are qualified to vote, but lack a 6th Grade education.  “One man, one vote,” is the African cry.  It is ours, too.  (It must be ours.)

We are now involved in … revolution.  This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who build their careers on immoral compromise and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic, and social exploitation.  What political leader here can stand up and say, “My party is the party of principles”?  The party of Kennedy is also the party of  Eastland.  The party of  Javits is also the party of

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