Memories of the 'Dream' Speech and John Lewis

08/29/2013 02:46 am ET | Updated Oct 28, 2013

I missed Martin Luther King's stirring "I have A Dream" speech 50 years ago because my CBS News colleagues and I were covering the war in Vietnam. If King's speech resonated with the American people, it did not go far enough in the deep South. Two years later on the first Sunday of March 1965, when I had returned to the United States and was re-assigned to cover the civil rights movement, I was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, following several thousand black and white Americans who had streamed out of the Brown Chapel in Selma, chanting the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We Shall Overcome."

They were destined for Montgomery, the Alabama state capitol, to emphasize the right of all citizens to have their voting rights guaranteed. But just as the marchers paused to pray, they were assaulted by club-wielding state troopers, beating them mercilessly to the ground. One of the victims was their gallant leader, the chair of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, John Lewis. He suffered severe head injuries and might have died had he not been rushed to a Selma hospital. I completed the march on what was called "Bloody Sunday" and our coverage as well as that of the other networks was seen around the world. ABC News even interrupted a screening of the film "Judgment at Nuremburg" with Burt Lancaster, Spencer Tracy and Judy Garland, in order to show the drama in Alabama. The following day I co-anchored the CBS News radio coverage on the steps of the state capitol, and only hours later was on the state highway following up the murder of a Detroit volunteer named Viola Liuzzo, who was among the demonstrators.

Fifty years later, I am proud to remember John Lewis, not only as a prominent civil rights leader and Congressman from Georgia, but as a friend with whom I re-visited Selma to commemorate the historic march with Dr. King. Few people, including us reporters trailing the march, were aware of an ambulance there in the event of more violence befalling the participants, in particular, King. His assassination was soon to come.

Now, so many years later, I always ask myself what planet are the Supreme Court Chief
Justice and his fellow judges, the white congressmen in the South, Texas and the Midwest living on to question the validity of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and ignore the noble history that unfolded a half century ago. Their racist intent to reverse the legislation signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson is so patently obvious that it is an insult to the American people.