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Rep. John Lewis says video of George Floyd's death moved him to tears: "The madness must stop"

Rep. John Lewis on fighting for equality
Rep. John Lewis' message to protesters fighting for racial equality 10:58

"CBS This Morning" will examine the issues of racism and injustice, highlighting protests across the U.S. and exploring what it will take to enact lasting change. Tune in on Friday, June 4 at 8 a.m. ET to watch "Race for Justice."

Protests over the death of black Minneapolis resident George Floyd have continued for over a week, as cities across the U.S. see tensions boil between demonstrators and police. Congressman John Lewis, a prominent civil rights leader who was the youngest person to speak at the 1963 March on Washington, decried Floyd's death at the hands of a white police officer and said the horrific video moved him to tears.

Lewis himself had been repeatedly beaten and arrested at nonviolent protests in the 1960s, and offered words of inspiration to people demonstrating against police brutality today. He spoke to "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King Thursday, in his first network TV interview since the protests over Floyd's death began

Read their conversation below:

Gayle King: Congressman Lewis joins us now for his first network TV interview since the protests over the death of George Floyd began. Congressman John Lewis, it's so good to see you. I can't tell you, you are such a sight for sore eyes today. It's really good to see you. I want to start with getting your thoughts about George Floyd — the way he died, your reaction to that. And also your reaction to the news that we had yesterday that all four officers have been charged. 

Rep. John Lewis: The way this young man died, watching the video, it made me so sad. It was so painful. It made me cry. I kept saying to myself, how many more? How many more young black men will be murdered? The madness must stop. It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds and thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets to speak up, to speak out, to get in what I call 'good trouble,' but to get into it. And because of the action of young and old, black, white, Latino, Asian American and Native American, because people cried and prayed, people would never ever forget what happened and how it happened. 

It is my hope that we are on our way to greater change. To respect the dignity and the worth of every human being, and it doesn't matter the color or their background or whether they're male or female, gay or straight. We have come to a point, and said 'We are one people. We're one family.' We all live in the same house — not just American house, but the world house. 

King: I wanted to talk about the protests in particular because people were saying it's a turning point, it's a tipping point. Yesterday, Bishop T.D. Jakes said it's a turning point when you look at the diversity of the crowd. So I want to know — I know you've been watching, I understand you were moved to tears over the weekend looking at the protest — does this feel and look different to you? 

Lewis: This feels and looks so different. It is so much more massive and all-inclusive. To see people from all over the world taking to the streets, to the roadways, to stand up, to speak up, to speak out, to do what I call "getting in trouble." And with a sense of determination and commitment and dedication, there will be no turning back. People now understand what the struggle was all about. It's another step down the very, very long road toward freedom, justice for all humankind. 

King: What would you tell, congressman, young people and people, frankly, who were not so young about the best way to seek justice? You know, there's been a lot of controversy, a lot of talk about the looting. And we should stress that most of the protests were very peaceful, but there was some looting, there was some disruption. What would you say to people, about the best way to achieve justice? 

Lewis: During the '60s, the great majority of us accepted the way of peace, the way of love, the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence as a way of life, as a way of living. There's something cleansing, something wholesome about being peaceful and orderly, to stand up with a sense of dignity, and a sense of pride, and never hate. And Dr. King said over and over again, "Hate is too heavy a burden to bear." The way of love is a much better way. 

And that's what we did. We were arrested. We were jailed. We were beaten. But we didn't hate, and we helped change America. And I truly believe what's taking place now and will continue to take place during the next few days and weeks is going to take us much farther down that road to society at peace with itself. 

King: People who know you well, congressman, say that you still remain very optimistic. And I'm wondering how you're able to still be so hopeful based on all that you've experienced, both physically and emotionally. How do you do that? Because as you said, you were beaten. 

Lewis: Yes, I was beaten, left bloody and unconscious. But I never became bitter or hostile, never gave up. I believe that somehow and some way if it becomes necessary to use our bodies to help redeem the soul of a nation, then we must do it. Create a society at peace with itself, and lay down the burden of hate and division. Dr. King would say, violence and evil, it must stop someplace along the way, and we became disciples of the movement. Disciples of Martin Luther King, Jr., and of the great teacher, to do what we could to leave our society better than we found it. 

King: You know, President Trump is threatening military intervention to suppress some of the protests. What do you think about that? 

Lewis: I think it would be a serious mistake on the part of President Trump to use the military to stop orderly, peaceful, nonviolent protests. You cannot stop the call of history. You may use troopers, you may use firehoses and water, but it cannot be stopped. There cannot be any turning back. We've come too far, made too much progress to stop now or to go back. The world is seeing what is happening. We are ready to continue to move forward. 

King: And what do you think is the role of people who are not black, who want to support the movement? We're hearing a lot about that. 

Lewis: Well, we all are human. We all are a part of the human family. And it doesn't matter whether you're black or white, Latino, Asian American, or Native American, we're one people. We're one family. We all live in the same house, the world house. And as Dr. King said again, we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. If not, we'll perish as fools. And I think what's been going on the past few days is living truth that we all are connected, and nothing, not anything, is going to separate us. 

King: Congressman, I have to ask you about your health. You know, you had many people worried. You were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and you've been getting treatment. And so I want to know how you're doing. I also heard that for the first time you got to see your cats. You're being treated in D.C., you got to see the cats over the weekend. So I want to know how you're doing, what are your cats' names, and why they give you such comfort? How's your health? Start with that. 

Lewis: Well, my health is improving. 

King: Good. 

Lewis: I have a wonderful doctor and nurse, and everybody taking good care of me. I'm very hopeful and very optimistic. They're trying to get me to eat more. And I'm trying to eat more and regain my weight. And my cats are --

King: Please do. What are the cats' names? 

Lewis: I call them, well, we don't — we call them kitty, kitty cat, and they know each other. But when I went back home this past weekend, I was somewhat disappointed. I don't think they recognized me. 

King: All right. All right, Congressman Lewis. Thank you so much. Thank you for rolling with the punches this morning. You look great. And I agree, you can eat a little more, but you look great. We're so happy to have you here this morning.

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