Civil rights leader John Lewis spurns effort to stiffen voting policies

By William K. Alcorn

and David Skolnick


Tightening requirements for voter registration is a deliberate, systematic effort by Republicans to win the presidential election before it takes place, said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a longtime nationally recognized civil rights leader.

By 1963 at age 23, Lewis was considered one of the top leaders of the civil rights movement. He was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the March on Washington in August 1963.

Lewis, elected U.S. representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District in 1986, was the keynote speaker at Friday’s meeting of the Youngstown-Warren Black Caucus at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center on South Avenue in Boardman.

Speaking before the caucus, Lewis said it is unbelievable — after all the fights and efforts in the early 1960s to make voting simpler and easier, and passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — that this is happening.

“We made so much progress over the years. This is a step backwards. It’s not a Southern issue; it’s a national issue. Citizens must say, ‘Not on my watch,’” he said.

Earlier Friday, Lewis said outside the Mahoning County Board of Elections that voting should be “as simple as getting a glass of water.”

People died and were beaten fighting for the right to vote for all citizens, he said. Lewis said he received a concussion after being hit in the head by a state trooper during the March 1965 march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery.

“Don’t let anything stop you from voting,” he said at a news conference outside the elections board on Oak Hill Avenue in Youngstown, and he stressed the importance of early voting, which begins Tuesday.

Lewis is senior chief deputy whip for the Democratic Party in the House, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a member of its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, and ranking member of its Subcommittee on Oversight. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Medal of Freedom, presented to him by President Barack Obama.

Also speaking at the event, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, praised Obama for the economic stimulus package that helped save the Lordstown General Motors complex and get V&M Star started.

He said, through Obama’s efforts, Youngstown is the hub of a new public-private national additive manufacturing creative center. It will transform manufacturing in the United States and be a magnet for people to come to Youngstown and make investments, he added.

“What I’m most grateful for is that the president has taken the needed short-term actions, such as with V&M, and laid the groundwork for the new economy,” Ryan said.

Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner was recognized at the event, and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Yvette McGee Brown was honored as the first black woman to sit on the state’s highest court.

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