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Equal Rights: Are We There Yet?

When John Lewis was growing up in Alabama, he was not allowed to eat at many restaurants or drink from the same water fountain as white children. His parents were not allowed to vote. "I couldn't even go to the county public library and check a book out," Lewis said. "The library was for whites only."

That was more than 30 years ago. Today, John Lewis is a lawmaker in the U.S. Congress. "If someone had told me in 1963 that one day I would be in Congress, I would have said, 'You're crazy!'" Lewis told Scholastic News. Lewis's life shows how much things have changed for African Americans. These changes have not come easily. For years, Lewis and thousands of other blacks have worked hard for equality.

FIGHT FOR EQUAL RIGHTS

African-Americans were freed from slavery in 1865. But they were still not treated fairly in many parts of our country. Many people would not hire blacks for jobs or sell them homes. Blacks could not use many public buildings or even ride in the front of a bus in some places.

In the 1950s and 1960s, that began to change. Blacks were tired of being treated so unfairly. They wanted the same civil rights that whites enjoyed. Thousands of blacks joined together to demand these rights. Many whites joined with them. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other great leaders made speeches and led marches.

In 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., for the most famous march of all. They asked the government to give blacks equal rights. Many important people, like John Lewis and Dr. King, made speeches that day. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," Dr. King said.

STILL A DREAM?

After the march, many laws were passed to give blacks equal rights. One law said that restaurants and other public places must serve people no matter what color they are. Another law made it easier for blacks to register to vote.

Today, these laws help make sure blacks and whites get treated equally. But many people say this country still has a long way to go. Many blacks are still treated unfairly because of their race. Last August, Americans held a new march in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the achievements of the civil rights movement. They also wanted to remind everyone that all people must be treated equally. "I think there is still a distance we must travel," John Lewis told Scholastic News. "I'd like to see an open society where we can forget about race and color and see people as people."

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