On the 4th of July, Remember John Lewis’ Warning About Jan. 6th.


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By Gevin Reynolds and Jeff Nussbaum, The Root

The late Congressman was prescient about the perils of extremist rhetoric.

Congressman Lewis speaks to a crowd in Washington, D.C. at the “Let Freedom Ring” commemoration event in 2013 (Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Moments before standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial at the 1963 March on Washington, John Lewis frantically re-worked his remarks in response to organizers’ fears that his words were too incendiary. Among the many changes Lewis made, he replaced the line,

We will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own scorched earth policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground,


We will march through the South, through the streets…But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today.

Lewis recognized that words can act as both a precursor and a permission structure for action, and chose his carefully. Now, as the world digests what we learned about a former president’s actions from the January 6 hearings, we are reminded of just how destructive the results can be when our leaders fail to demonstrate the same wisdom and restraint Lewis did that day. That is why we—one of us a former intern for John Lewis, the other a former speechwriter for President Biden—think it’s time for the nation to pay a lot more attention to the words that have so often preceded violence in this country. Leaders must recognize the power of their words to sow hope or hate; to defend institutions or diminish them.

Keep reading to learn more about the impact of a president’s words.

For more examples of a president’s power, consult this list of the five presidents who made life worst for Black Americans.

Don’t forget to check out the ABHM breaking news archive every day of the year.

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