Fifty years ago he stood beside Martin Luther King Jr. as the youngest speaker at the March on Washington.
On Wednesday, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., stood with congressional leaders, commemorating the golden anniversary of the historic civil rights day. The only surviving March on Washington speaker, Lewis emphasized how the "urgency" for civil rights in 1963 remains necessary in 2013.
"We have come a great distance, but we are not finished yet," Lewis said Wednesday in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall. "It is a struggle of a lifetime to build a beloved community."
Amid} over a section of the Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court struck down last month, Lewis highlighted the "intimidation and fear" freedom fighters had to battle in the 1960s to vote. The movement always ascribed to the same philosophy: peace and nonviolence, Lewis said.
"People came to the march like they were on their way to a religious service," Lewis said.
Participation in the march far outnumbered what Lewis said he expected. And the marchers all shared a common goal, Lewis said.
"We saw hundreds of thousands of people pouring out of Union Station," Lewis said. "Celebrities were there, but mostly there were countless and nameless ordinary people. ... They wanted to bear witness to the truth that we are one people, one family."
As Congress breaks for the August recess - the reason Congress isn't commemorating the march near its true anniversary, August 28 - Lewis encouraged his colleagues to "take a moment" to remember the event's significance.
"We are at our best as a people, as a Congress, when we understand our differences do not divide us," Lewis said. "We must have a sense of urgency to use the power granted to use to help end human suffering."