AIKEN - Sometimes, U.S. Rep. John Lewis wants to grab those who say nothing has changed in the civil rights struggle.
"I feel like saying, `Come and walk in my shoes, and I will show you things have changed,"' the Georgia Democrat said Friday during the 20th Freedom Fund Dinner presented by the Aiken branch of the NAACP. "We have made progress and that cannot be denied. So we have to build on that progress."
Leaders of the Aiken branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People wanted someone born in the civil rights movement to speak at their 20th annual dinner at Mount Anna Baptist Church. They invited Mr. Lewis, who agreed to come and make his first visit to Aiken.
The Democrat from Atlanta spoke about his time as one of the young leaders of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights crusade, when he organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, participated in the Freedom Riders movement and spoke at the historic March on Washington in 1963. He helped bring about the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Mr. Lewis, a Congressman since 1986, said in an interview Friday he supports the NAACP's call for a continued boycott in South Carolina until the flag is completely removed from the capitol grounds.
"It is a symbol that tends to divide us. It is my hope that the NAACP and the people of South Carolina can come to the point where they will able to put the issue of the flag behind them," he said.
The Confederate flag is also a big issue for the Rev. David Walker, the president of the NAACP's Aiken branch. The theme of Friday night's dinner was "It's time."
"Basically what we are saying is that it's time in South Carolina to end the Civil War and bring down the Confederate flag," he said. "It's time to stop police profiling. It's time to give quality education to all our people regardless of color. It's time that zero tolerance in our school systems means zero tolerance for all kids and not just a select few."
The annual dinner funds more than 95 percent of the organization's annual budget, which pays for events such as health fairs, after-school programs and college scholarships for high school seniors.
During the night, the Rev. Walker was given the Willar Hightower Sr. Membership Award for securing the most memberships in the last year. Appreciation awards went to Friendship Baptist Church, Smith Hazel Community Center and NAACP member Leroy Myers, who is chairman of the organization's Adopt-A-Highway committee.
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 648-1395.