Washington (CNN) – On the morning of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial dedication, a longtime Georgia congressman and the last surviving speaker from the March on Washington said King was not only a instrumental figure in American culture—but in him, as well.
“I saw segregation. I saw racial discrimination. I tasted the bitter fruits of racism,” Rep. John Lewis said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And he made me a different person. And today I can say I don't have any bitter feelings or have any anger or hatred (toward) human beings.”
The monument’s dedication was originally set to coincide with the anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in August but was postponed due to Hurricane Irene.
Lewis, the youngest speaker at the famous 1963 rally on the National Mall, was a leading figure in the civil rights movement and chaired the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
“It is unbelievable that 48 years after the march, that we're going to dedicate – that we’re going to unveil this unbelievable monument to a man who was never elected to a public office, a man of peace and of love, a man of non-violence,” Lewis told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.
The ceremony comes amid recent debates over the role of race in politics, as Georgia businessman Herman Cain has jumped to the top tier of the GOP presidential race, thus raising the possibility of two African Americans vying for the 2012 election.
Cain has made headlines along the way, arguing that African Americans often hold themselves back so they can use racism as an excuse for “not being able to achieve what they want to achieve.”
But Lewis said that while he hopes African-Americans never use racism as a reason to prevent upward mobility, he said the country still faces racial problems.
“We cannot deny that the scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in American society,” Lewis said. “We’re not there yet. We still have miles to travel as a society and as a people.”
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