The longtime Democratic congressman from Georgia and civil rights leader -- who was brutally beaten at the hands of segregationists in the Deep South in the early 1960s -- described it to Early Show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez Wednesday as "a revolution of values, a revolution of ideas. I've been saying over and over again -- that the vote is the most nonviolent instrument that we have in a democratic society. And the American people used that vote ... to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States of America."
Asked if Obama is up to taking on the enormous problems facing the U.S. as he gets set to enter the Oval Office, Lewis responded, "This man, young, smart, gifted, leader, is prepared to lead the American people and be a leader among the men and women of the community of nations. He has a vision -- he is the right man. He is so gifted. He is so decent. And he's so calm and deliberate. I think he will be a great president. He personifies the best of a John F. Kennedy, a Robert Kennedy, a Martin Luther King Jr., a Lyndon Johnson."
Lewis marched with Dr. King, as did the Rev. Jesse Jackson, another veteran leader of the civil rights movement. Jackson observed to Rodriguez that Obama "stood (giving his victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park before a throng of more than 100,000) overcoming so much. ... I thought about those who suffered to make it possible -- the marchers, the murdered, the martyrs (seeking civil rights and the right to vote), many of whom are nameless and faceless. But in some sense, their suffering was redeemed last night with that victory.
" ... America is a work in progress. And last night, we saw that work in a more magnificent way expressed. ... (We're in) a crisis in trust. We don't trust a president. We don't trust a Congress we see as complicitous. We don't trust Wall Street. Barack emerges as this larger-than-life figure who can be trusted, who brings about hope and who now helps redeem America from our sordid past about race. Here's the guy who has the capacity ... to take America to the next level."
A sentiment echoed by Maya Angelou, the famous, best-selling poet and author.
She was bursting with pride when she told co-anchor Harry Smith Wednesday she was thinking of "all of us" as she watch Obama's speech late Tuesday night, "all of those who went before, who paid dearly. And all of us today. All of us.
"I'm so proud. I'm filled-- I can hardly talk without weeping. I'm so filled with pride for my country. What do you say? We are growing up! My God, I'm so grateful.
I believe in the heart of every American there's the desire to belong to a great country. And look at it -- not just powerful, not just might, not just things, not consumer goods. I mean, look at our souls, look at our hearts. We have elected a black man to talk for us, to speak for us. We, blacks, whites, Asians, Spanish-speaking, Native Americans, we have done it. Fat, thin, pretty, plain, gay, straight. We have done it! My Lord -- I am an American, baby!"
Why this man?
"Because he's intelligent, Harry. I don't mean intellectually clever, I mean intelligent. I mean what used to be called 'mother wit.' He has common sense that is, I'm sorry to say, most uncommon. Because he knows that, together, we can be somebody. And he is inclusive, as opposed to exclusive. I know that he knows he is the president of every black person, every white person -- he's the president of the bigots, and he must remember that."
Smith commented that Obama "said in his acceptance speech, 'For those of you who voted against me, I hear you, too.' "
"Exactly!" Angelou said. "That's what I mean."
Does she really believe it happened?
"Yes! Yes! Sitting in the waiting room to come on and talk to you -- Yes! This morning, I have not slept, really. I can't pull my nose out of the television. And I go from one channel to the next to the next. And I want to embrace everybody. I'm just so proud. And grateful."
Smith said Obama's victory reminds him most of Angelou's poem, "Still I Rise," and she agreed to recite some of it:
"It begins," Angeou said:
"You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Out of the huts of history's shame
Up from a past rooted in pain
A black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling, bearing in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak miraculously clear
Bringing the hopes that my ancestors gave,
I am the hope and the dream of the slave.
And so, Harry Smith, we all rise."
"And I rise," Smith recited the third-to-last line of the poem, in a poignant moment.
"Yes, we do," an emotional Angelou said.
"I rise," Smith recited the second-to-last line.
"Yes, we do," Angelou repeated.
"And I rise," Smith concluded.
Angelou's latest book is "Letter to My Daugher."
To read an excerpt, click here.