Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who spoke at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 during the same March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, asked Arkansans Sunday (Aug. 19) to vote for State Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, for Congress.
Lewis spoke briefly at Philander Smith College in Little Rock before introducing Tucker, who is running against U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, for the state’s 2nd Congressional District seat.
Lewis said he had followed Little Rock’s Central High crisis in 1957, when nine black students integrated the all-white school amidst resistance from whites in the community and Gov. Orval Faubus. One of those students, Elizabeth Eckford, was at Sunday’s campaign event. Lewis said he visited Pine Bluff and Forrest City in the 1960s.
“This state has made tremendous progress, like my native state of Alabama and the state of Georgia, and we have some wonderful elected officials,” he said. “And there are forces in Washington today and other parts of America that want to take us back. We’ve come too far, we’ve made too much progress, and we’re not going back. We’re going forward. … We are one people; we are one family. We all live in the same house, the American house.”
Lewis, 78, was arrested more than 40 times as part of the civil rights struggle. During his speech, he recounted some of his experiences. African-Americans were denied opportunities to register to vote. In 1965, he was attacked by Alabama state troopers while leading a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The attack left him with a concussion, and for a time he thought he would die. A group of nuns provided care for him and other victims of the attack. On another occasion in 1964, three civil rights workers investigating the burning of a black church were arrested and murdered.
“That’s not happening today,” he said. “We all can register. We all can vote, and we must get out and vote like we’ve never ever voted before. … We must save our country, save it for our children, and those unborn, for generations unborn. I’ve come here with everything that I have to support Clarke Tucker.”
Tucker spoke after Lewis, calling him a “personal hero” of his.
He said he had been diagnosed with cancer a year ago this week. When he awoke after being anesthetized, his crying wife told him a tumor had been found.
“And the notion of having access to care with a pre-existing condition without going bankrupt or dying became a lot less abstract for our family,” he said.
He said running for Congress had been a difficult decision that was spurred when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act. It would have replaced the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, but it failed in the Senate. After watching Republican House members, including Rep. Hill, celebrate their passage of the bill in the White House Rose Garden, he said, “you understand that we’re at a crossroads here for the soul of our country. And when you realize that, you understand that for the sake of your children you have to run.”
Tucker said he would work to reform the criminal justice system if elected.
“You understand that if people have an addiction or a mental health issue, that mass incarceration doesn’t keep us safe,” he said. “(It) ruins lives and hurts families. It inflicts the disease of intergenerational poverty, and it costs billions of dollars in the process.”
Hill’s campaign released a statement prior to the event.
“Congressman Lewis is a great American and a good man,” Hill said in the statement. “I have enjoyed getting to know him in Congress, particularly during the time we spent on our visit to Selma in 2015 to honor the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery. I hope while he is in Little Rock that he also has time to stop by Central High to observe the good work he and I collaborated on last year to expand the school’s National Historic Site boundary.
“Despite our bipartisan work together, it is no surprise that he supports my opponent in the upcoming election. Congressman Lewis and he both share very similar ideas for how to run the government, including increasing taxes and increasing the size and scope of the federal government. Arkansans are excited about our economy growing at an inspiring pace and don’t want to revert back to the failed progressive economic policies that for years Democrats in Washington have foolishly embraced.”