Congressional Record: September 8, 2005 (Extensions)
Page E1812-E1813



                            HON. JOHN LEWIS

                               of georgia

                    in the house of representatives

                      Thursday, September 8, 2005

  Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, as the nation celebrates the 40th 
anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the conflict on the Edmund Pettus 
bridge, the 40th anniversary of the signing of Voting Rights Act, and 
the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott this year, I think 
it is fitting and appropriate that we take a moment to acknowledge the 
vital role that the press played in the success of the Civil Rights 
  I have often said that without the media the Civil Rights Movement 
would have been a bird without wings. I am not certain where we would 
be today as a nation, if the American public had not been made to 
acknowledge the struggles we faced in the American South. The non-
violent protests of the sixties used peaceful means to demonstrate the 
senseless injustice of de facto and de jure segregation, the inhumanity 
and indignity of the Jim Crow South, and the extraordinary persecution 
American citizens suffered trying to exercise their constitutional 
rights. Without the media's willingness to stand in harm's way and 
starkly portray events of the Movement as they saw them unfold, 
Americans may never have understood or even believed the horrors that 
African Americans faced in the Deep South.
  That commitment to publish the truth took courage. It was incredibly 
dangerous to be seen with a pad, a pen, or a camera in Mississippi, 
Alabama or Georgia where the heart of the struggle took place. There 
was a violent desperation among local and State officials and the 
citizens to maintain the traditional order. People wanted to keep their 
injustice a secret. They wanted to hide from the critical eye of a 
disapproving world. They wanted to flee from the convictions of their 
own conscience. And they wanted to destroy the ugly reflection that 
nonviolent protestors and camera images so graphically displayed. So 
when the Freedom Riders climbed off the bus in Alabama in 1961, for 
example, there were reporters who were beaten and bloodied before any 
of us were.
  And as they were attacked, I saw in them a resolve grow within them 
that was similar to what those of us in the Movement experienced. I 
have often said that the first time I was jailed, I felt so free. This 
Nation had dealt me its worst blow, and I had survived. I knew then 
that I was committed to the struggle for the long-haul. There were many 
reporters who felt that same curious strengthening when they too were 
attacked and beaten. Instead of scaring them away, those injustices 
created the opposite effect. It bonded them to the Movement, and it 
steeled their commitment to publish all that they saw.
  There are so many moments poignantly depicted for posterity by 
television and newspaper camera men. It is easy to recall many of these 
now legendary images--Rosa Parks sitting on a bus in Montgomery in 
1955; the bombing of the Greyhound bus outside Anniston, Alabama during 
the Freedom Rides in 1961; Gov. Ross Barnett of Mississippi and Gov. 
George Wallace in Alabama denying the entrance of black students to 
state universities in 1963 and 1964; the speeches on the steps of the 
Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington in 1964; and the 
seminal speech President Lyndon Johnson made before a joint session of 
Congress encouraging the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
  There are so many historic moments that were covered by the press, 
but there are two, which I count as turning points for me. The first is 
often heralded as the official beginning of the modern-day Civil Rights 
Movement, that is the photograph of a mutilated 14-year-old boy named 
Emmett Till who was killed in Money, Mississippi during a summer 

[[Page E1813]]

Till's mother Mamie Till Mobley decided not to have a closed casket 
funeral, but she wanted to leave the casket open and let people see the 
horrifying injustice that had been done. Jet magazine carried 
photographs of Till's body and Look magazine published an interview 
with Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam who admitted to the murder.
  I will never forget the way that image affected me. Something changed 
inside of me and inside of many people across America when we saw the 
body of Emmett Till. I was only a teenager at the time, but I knew that 
somehow, someway the injustice of segregation had to come to an end.
  Within a year of the Till murder, when I was 15 years old and the son 
of a sharecropper in rural Alabama, I heard the words of Martin Luther 
King, Jr. broadcast on an old radio. He was talking about the 
Montgomery Bus Boycott, and I felt somehow that he was speaking 
directly to me. That radio broadcast changed my life because that day I 
knew it was possible to strike a blow at racial segregation and 
discrimination in America. Those moments captured by the media changed 
my destiny.
  The Civil Rights Movement is deeply indebted to the courage, the 
strength, the integrity, and the talent of print and broadcast 
journalists who overcame their fear and decided to tell the American 
story. America is deeply indebted to these moment-by-moment, modern-day 
griots who hold up a mirror image of our society for us to see. Without 
a free press, this Nation would not be, could not be a beacon of 
justice and equality that has inspired men, women, and children 
worldwide to try to build a better world.