WHEN: Today, Tuesday, January 19
WHERE: CNBC.com's Speakeasy with John Harwood
John Lewis, 75, has been a Democratic member of the U.S. House for nearly three decades. But he became an American hero two decades earlier as an important ally of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement. At 23, he was the youngest person to address the crowds gathered for the 1963 March on Washington; two years later he was beaten bloody by Alabama law enforcement officers as he led a march for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Ahead of the 2016 King holiday, I sat down with Lewis in his hometown of Atlanta, at Paschal's Restaurant, the original version of which was a key meeting place to plot strategy for leaders of the civil rights movement.
A partial transcript from Speakeasy with John Harwood featuring Congressman John Lewis follows. All references must be sourced to CNBC.com:
JOHN HARWOOD: Congressman, thanks for sitting down with us.
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: Delighted to be sitting down with you.
JOHN HARWOOD: So we're in the new version of Paschal's. Take us back to civil rights days. You, Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, when you guys would get together at Paschal's and talk about next steps in your movement, set the scene for me.
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: Yeah, Paschal's, old Paschal's, was the meeting place. It was – some of us called it the Paschal's Precinct. Some of the great decision was made at Paschal's. Whether to participate in a march from Selma to Montgomery were made at Paschal's. To plan the March on Washington, we met at Paschal's.
JOHN HARWOOD: Did Martin Luther King have a signature meal that he always ordered?
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: Well Dr. King loved Southern food. You had the fried chicken. You had the smothered chicken. Barbecue ribs. He loved all food. He loved to eat. I remember on one occasion when we were traveling through the South, and he said, "Let's stop and get something to eat. If we get arrested and go to jail, we will go on a full stomach." See, I'm leaving the fried chicken for you today.
JOHN HARWOOD: I'm guessing that it wasn't too often that you ordered salmon at that old Paschal's.
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: No, at the old Paschal's we never had salmon.
JOHN HARWOOD: I went back and looked at your speech at the March on Washington. I believe you were 23 years old?
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: I was 23 years old, I had all of my hair –
JOHN HARWOOD: Yeah.
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: And I was a few pounds lighter.
JOHN HARWOOD: Yeah. You were talking about how the movement didn't really have a political party. The party of Javitz is also the party of Goldwater. We have much more clarity between the parties these days. We're much more polarized. Is that better? Is that progress?
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: Well, we made progress. That cannot be denied. We came together. It was a coalition of conscience. So the question is whether we can rebuild that coalition of conscience within the Congress. Within the larger American community.
JOHN HARWOOD: You said that, "politicians live in a world that's defined by immoral compromises." You can hear the exact same thing from members of the Tea Party today. They say that their leaders are compromising with Democrats and selling them out. That politics is immoral not delivering for them. Do you identify at all with those Tea Party Republicans who have much different politics from you, but how they feel?
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: I understand their feeling. And I think we should recognize people attitudes. Their feeling. But I don't agree with them. We come from two different worlds. We must not give up. We must continue to work and try to move toward what we call in the Civil Rights Movement the building of the beloved community.
JOHN HARWOOD: The current chapter of the voting rights debate – do you see it with the same black and white clarity that we look back on '63 and '65 and say it was very clear? Right and wrong was very clear?
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: Oh, I do. I do. Because I think even today, people don't want all these people participating. They don't want the low income people. They don't want students. People of color. We got to open up the process and let everybody come in.
JOHN HARWOOD: And what about the argument that you hear that that opens the door to fraud. That opens the door to people voting who shouldn't be voting.
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: It's unfounded fear. We shouldn't be afraid. Open up the process and let everybody participate. One man, one vote. We shouldn't be afraid of the American people. We should embrace the changes for the future.
JOHN HARWOOD: Congressman, thanks so much for doing this.
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: Oh, thank you, sir.
JOHN HARWOOD: Great pleasure.
CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS: Thank you. Thank you very much.
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