Rep. Lewis: U.S. lacks 'moral leader'

On the 42nd anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination, a member of Congress who marched with King said that the country still lacks a "moral leader."

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was a young civil rights demonstrator in in the 1960s, heaped heavy praise on King.

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"We are missing the moral leader of America who had emerged not just the moral leader of America but of the world," Lewis said in an interview on CNN. "This man gave us hope in a time of hopelessness. He had the ability and the capacity to bring the dirt and the filth from under the American rug out into the open light in order for us to deal with it."

Lewis' comments came after he and other black members of Congress said Tea Party protesters shouted racial slurs at them while demonstrating the healthcare vote in Washington last month.

Many political leaders, including President Barack Obama, have called for a more civil discourse that does not encourage threats or hateful speech. Some conservatives, though, have accused the lawmakers of fabricating their claims, which has raised the ire of liberals.

At the same time, many supporters of the president have said that he has the potential to be that transformational leader. Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee said of its decision last October "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."

Lewis, an influential lawmaker, said when he switched his presidential endorsement from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign "I think the candidacy of Senator Obama represents the beginning of a new movement in American political history that began in the hearts and minds of the people of this nation."

Some black lawmakers have compared the incidents to the poor treatment African-Americans received during the civil rights protests of King's era.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said last month, "All of this is poppycock compared to what we experienced in the 1960s."

Lewis said that King taught his generation how to stand strong.

"He liberated us," Lewis said of King. "He pushed us. He told us how to stand up and how to fight. I remember him saying on one occasion, soul -- from the depth of his soul that you could stand up and not bend your back. When you stand up straight, no man, no person can ride on your back."