POLITICS

Civil Rights Icon John Lewis: Without Selma, Obama Would Not Be President

02/15/2015 01:26 pm ET | Updated Feb 19, 2015
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon who had his skull fractured by police when he led a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, 50 years ago, said on Sunday that there was a direct connection between that march and President Barack Obama.

"I don't think as a group we had any idea that our marching feet would have such an impact 50 years later," Lewis said in an interview on "Face The Nation."

"If it hadn't been for that march across Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, there would be no Barack Obama as president of the United States of America," he said.

On March 7, 1965, Lewis, then the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, led about 600 protesters across the bridge before they were stopped by police. Minutes after officers told the demonstrators to disperse, they attacked Lewis and the protesters with tear gas, bullwhips and clubs.

Obama will visit Selma next month to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which eliminated many of the tactics that were disenfranchising black voters.

Despite the progress since Bloody Sunday, Lewis said that the country still had more work to do on race relations. He said that the country had let the tensions surrounding the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown -- an unarmed black teen fatally shot by a police officer -- "drift away." If the country passes on confronting the complex racial issues raised by Ferguson, Lewis said, there will be similar incidents in the future.

"We can make progress, we can deal with the issue of justice, we can deal with the issue of police and communities," he said. "You bring communities and law enforcement and not sweep the issues under the rug."

Lewis added that FBI Director James Comey made a "profound statement" last Thursday when he acknowledged that law enforcement officers carried racial biases.

Even with those challenges, Lewis said that he still thought the United States could achieve a colorblind society.

"Sometimes I feel like crying, tears of happiness, tears of joy, to see the distance we've come and the progress we've made," Lewis said. "When people tell me nothing has changed, I just feel like saying, 'Come and walk in my shoes. I will show you. I will take you to those places.'"

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 2015 was the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. It is the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

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