Rep. John Lewis delivered a sharp rebuke of a controversial White House policy in the Weekly Democratic Address, alluding to a speech in which Martin Luther King Jr. warned “against the danger of building walls.”
Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement and the representative of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, delivered this week’s address at the request of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to mark the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis, a top Pelosi aide said. A copy of the speech’s transcript was first provided to BuzzFeed News.
Lewis said King was his leader, mentor, and friend who "convinced" three presidents to "understand that civil rights was a moral issue," and that King used that moral leadership to fight for the most vulnerable people in society. “In particular, I will never forget when Dr. King spoke in Berlin against the danger of building walls," said Lewis. "He reminded the global family — the global community — that God’s children were on both sides of the wall.”
He continued, “If Dr. King were with us today, he would continue to push our country to respect the dignity and the worth of every human being — no matter where they are born, no matter their race, age, religion, or gender identity.”
While there has been progress in the 50 years since King’s death, Lewis said there are now “new forces trying to take us back, trying to turn back the clock, trying to take us to a darker time.” “Times like these can seem overwhelming, but I ask you to recommit yourself to the way of love, the way of peace, and the way of nonviolence,” said Lewis.
King’s 1964 address in Berlin is among the less-cited speeches in the civil rights leader’s oratorical canon. King connected two societies struggling with social unrest: He led the audience through the evolution of what he called the “great social revolution taking place in the United States of America...the struggle to free some 20 million Negroes from the long night of segregation and discrimination.” He also described Berlin as “a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth.”
“Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey,” said King.
For his part, Lewis referenced a line in King’s speech in which King, referring to the Berlin Wall, said that “on either side of the wall are God’s children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact.”
President Trump commemorated King’s assassination saying, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters lest we perish together as fools. He reminded the country to 'love our neighbor as we love ourselves' and that America should 'denounce racism, inhumanity, and all those things that seek to divide us.'”
But Trump this week also ramped up the rhetoric on immigration. Trump railed against Democrats for what he said is their weakness on immigration and the border. At one event, in which he was scheduled to discuss tax policy, Trump instead threw his prepared remarks in the air — and proceeded to defend a speech he made describing Mexican immigrants as rapists.
"So we have to have strong borders. We're going to have the wall. We've already started building it. We have a billion-six,” said Trump. “We've started building it and fixing miles and miles of wall that's already up — and fence. And we're going to have our wall. And we're going to get it very strongly.”