Today, Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL) honored Ranking Member John Lewis (D-GA) with an original painting titled "Dreams of Freedom" by his wife, Elizabeth, depicting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his famous "I Have a Dream Speech" on the Washington Mall in 1963. At age 23, Lewis was the youngest civil rights activist to speak at the March on Washington.
"We are all better off, every one of us, regardless of our racial background, we are all better off today because of the work and the tenacity and the moral clarity and the courage in light of physical trauma that John Lewis, as a very young man, was willing to endure."
Chairman Roskam: "[Let me] take a point of personal privilege and acknowledge the Ranking Member, Mr. Lewis. You know it's often said that people look at the United States Congress today and they can be pretty discouraged and pretty overwhelmed by what happens up here. And I began to reflect on that a little bit and I have been, for the past several months, sitting next to a man who brings everything that is good about this process to the forefront--that is John Lewis. And when I took over the gavel of this Subcommittee, I knew he was the Ranking Member, and I knew he had an autobiography, and I read it. And I was fascinated by it. And the part that fascinated me, often times I put myself into the place of someone that I'm reading about in terms of time and place, and I began to think and I read about what John Lewis did in the summer of 1961. That is he took on an incredible physical and moral challenge to be one of the original Freedom Riders--that was to integrate the interstate bus system and all of those things around it.
"And I was thinking well what was I doing in the summer of 1961? The summer of 1961, I was comfortably in my mother's womb to be born later on in September of that year. And as I thought about it--and I had planned to do this before the events of Charleston--and now the events of Charleston have come upon us, and as I thought about it I've thought what a privilege to sit on a dais with somebody who worked so hard to improve the world for all of us. Because we are all better off, every one of us, regardless of our racial background, we are all better off today because of the work and the tenacity and the moral clarity and the courage in light of physical trauma that John Lewis, as a very young man, was willing to endure.
"And so I bought a copy, we have a copy for every member, "Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement', by John Lewis. And I would even go so far as to say that I bet you if you give him eye contact and corner him, he'll even sign the book for you. And I really commend it to you, because it's a work that is an inspiration. It's a work that I think can guide us all. And it's an invitation basically to come with a sense of clarity to say look we can take on these things. If John Lewis was able to be a part of taking on a very broken and dangerous system--that was legal segregation in the United States and was able to persevere through that, then surly we can take on and deal with a number of the challenges that are here before us.
"And so I am so deeply appreciative of his leadership and his clarity and I am very anxious for my colleagues to read this. Now, since you don't get a copy of your own book, I've got a gift for you. And that is this: my wife Elizabeth is an oil painter and she has painted a series of paintings and this has not yet been published or put out anywhere, but one of the paintings she has done is called "Dreams of Freedom.' And "Dreams of Freedom' is a portrayal of Martin Luther King's speech in 1963 and I know Mr. Lewis was there. I know he was inextricably linked to that time that was so pivotal in our history, the March of '63, and so I present this print to you of Elizabeth Roskam's oil painting, "Dreams of Freedom,' for you and I hope you will accept it with the spirit with which it's presented to you today, Mr. Lewis."
Ranking Member Lewis: "Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for those kind words. Thank you for making "Walking With the Wind' available to our colleagues. I thank you and your wife for this lovely, beautiful painting, "Dreams of Freedom', portraying Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. standing at the Lincoln Memorial delivering that speech. I was there. Twenty-three years old. Had all of my hair and a few pounds lighter. I spoke number six and Dr. King spoke number ten. And out of the ten people that spoke that day, I'm the only one still around. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for being you. And I will cherish this. I will debate, I have an executive session with myself, whether I put it in my office or take it to my house. And, just thank you so much."