march on washington
July 18, 2020

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who died Friday at age 80, famously gave a speech at the March on Washington in 1963. At just 23, he was the youngest civil rights activist to deliver an address to the crowd that day, which is best remembered for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Lewis' remarks also left a lasting impression, though historians have noted the final edition differed from the speech he wrote at several points.

The reason for the changes was because the Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C., at the time — Philip Hannan — received a copy of the speech ahead of time and found it came across as too incendiary. Prof. Angus Johnston, a historian at the City University of New York who specializes in the history of student activism, went into great detail Saturday about the changes King, A. Philip Randolph, and other movement leaders made to Lewis' speech before he stepped up to the podium. A few examples include scrapping a line about how the Kennedy administration's civil rights bill had nothing in it "that will protect our people from police brutality," as well as an entire section that began with Lewis arguing that "we cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of of the Declaration of Independence."

Johnston notes that the final speech, regardless of the changes, is "amazing" and "bracing even today," but the pre-edited version is certainly worth reading. Watch Lewis' full speech below, read both versions here, and check out Johnston's Twitter thread for a full explanation of what was altered and why. Tim O'Donnell

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