Rep. John Lewis delivers emotional floor speech on the Confederate flag
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Rep. John LewisJohn LewisCongress losing faith in Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi Obama to urge rejection of 'authoritarian politics and policies' in speech Florida's Darren Soto fends off Dem challenge from Alan Grayson MORE (D-Ga.), one of the key figures in the civil rights movement, gave an emotional plea on the House floor Thursday to ban the display of the Confederate flag.

Hours earlier, House GOP leaders pulled an Interior Department spending bill from floor consideration due to an intraparty division over whether the Confederate flag should be allowed in certain national cemeteries. And the House effectively punted on whether to ban the display of Confederate images around the Capitol complex.

“I must tell you, my heart is heavy. I’m saddened by what has happened here in America,” Lewis began.

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Lewis, who is the only living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, compared signs indicating facilities for “colored” and “white” people to the current struggle over taking down the Confederate flag. The Georgia Democrat served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was the youngest of the most prominent civil rights activists during the 1960s.

“During the height of the civil rights movement, we broke those signs down. They are gone. And the only place we would see those signs today would be in a book, in a museum, or on a video,” he said.

The Confederate flag, he said, should similarly be relegated to history.

“We need to bring down the flag. The scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in every corner of American society,” Lewis said.

“I don’t want to see our little children, whether they are black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American, growing up seeing these signs of division,” he added. “Hate is too heavy a burden to bear. We need not continue to plant these seeds in the minds of our people.”

Lewis recalled encountering hostile law enforcement officers wearing the Confederate symbol on their helmets while marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Selma, Ala., in 1965 with other civil rights activists.

“I don’t want to go back. And as a country, we cannot go back.”