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Rep. John Lewis reflects on Obama-Lincoln-MLK ties

10:52 AM, Jan 21, 2013   |    comments
Rep. John Lewis. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Catalina Camia, USA TODAY

Rep. John Lewis, a leading figure in the 1960s civil rights movement, hopes the sight of President Obama being inaugurated on the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday doesn't turn him into a waterworks.

"I'm going to do everything I can to keep from crying," Lewis, D-Ga., told USA TODAY's Marisol Bello. "Four years ago, I just cried and cried."

Lewis was a Freedom Rider and president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1965 when he was beaten by police during a march for voting rights in Selma, Ala. That day became known as Bloody Sunday, and Lewis, his skull fractured in the scuffle with Alabama state troopers, appeared on TV to make an appeal to President Lyndon Johnson before going to the hospital to get his wounds treated.

Obama awarded Lewis, who has represented an Atlanta district in the U.S. House since 1987, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Obama hailed the man known as the "conscience of the United States Congress" for his courage and commitment to social justice.

Lewis told USA TODAY that Obama's second inauguration is especially poignant because the president will take the oath Monday on two Bibles: one used by President Abraham Lincoln at his inauguration in 1861 and another that King used during his travels. If today's date weren't already about history, Lewis said, then the link from Lincoln to King to the nation's first black president gives the inauguration a little something extra.

"Lincoln freed the slaves, and King freed a nation," Lewis said.

USA TODAY

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