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Politics / Issues

Civil Rights Icon John Lewis Visits St.Petersburg For Get Out The Vote Effort

Cathy Carter
WUSF Public Media
Longtime U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) joined former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg

Civil rights icon, U.S. Rep. (D-GA) John Lewis joined former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for several "get out the vote" events in St. Petersburg Wednesday.

At a Q & A town hall event at the University of South Florida, the longtime Georgia congressman said the negative tone of the current election cycle is the "worst he's ever seen." 

"Maybe our foremothers and our forefathers all came to this great land on different ships. But we're all in the same boat now,” he said. “So I think in America today, we need to humanize our politics."

Lewis urged students to pick up the mantle of public service.

He also stumped for Crist who is in a heated battle for the Congressional District 13 held by Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. David Jolly. According to St.PetePolls, Crist is currently favored 48 to 45 percent over Jolly.

During his visit, Lewis also shared stories of his long crusade for civil rights.

At 23, he was an architect of the historic March on Washington in August 1963.

Two years later at a voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, he was severely beaten in a confrontation now known as "Bloody Sunday."    

Lewis was arrested 40 times for his activism and was attacked repeatedly, but as he told the crowd, history has changed perspectives. He shared the story of a visit he received on Capitol Hill from an elderly white man and his son. The man confessed to beating Lewis at a protest many years ago.   

"They hugged me and the three of us cried together,” said Lewis. “I think we have to have the capacity, the ability, to forgive and to create what Dr. King called the 'beloved community' and to recognize and respect the dignity of every human being. That’s what the struggle was all about."

Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986 and is now senior chief deputy whip for the Democratic Party.

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