Interview with John Lewis
QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM?

John Lewis:

Well, SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and I think Bayard Rustin and Mr. Randolph, I think we represented something somewhat different. We represented a, more of a mass movement. The NAACP had played a tremendous role in the movement. It played a superb role, but it had a long history of taking most of the efforts to the courts, and they were not really ready, in my estimation, to support a mass march. Some of the people felt that it would be embarrassing to the Kennedy Administration and were very cautious about identifying with any idea of having a march on Washington. I remember the first meeting that we had in Washington in, in June of 1963 with—President Kennedy was at that meeting, that Mr. Randolph said something like, "Mr. President, the masses are restless, and we're going to march. We're going to march on Washington." President Kennedy didn't understand that, and he was a little frightened by it, and he was troubled. And I think some of the other participants, some of the other leaders there that represented, say, the Urban League, the NAACP, and one or two of the officials of the Administration didn't understand what Mr. Randolph was saying. But he said it, and restated the case like only A. Phillip Randolph could do, and he did it well. He was highly and well-respected, I think, particularly by this, the people in SNCC, the people in CORE, and, and the people in SCLC, because of his early leadership as a, you know, he was looked upon as a, as a militant, as a radical of a, of another period. In spite of his age, he was very young and ready to go and demand all of the things that black people needed and wanted at that time.