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Wednesday 13 December 2017

US civil rights veteran finds 'dream' job

Congressman John Lewis at the US Ambassador's residence in Phoenix Park yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Congressman John Lewis at the US Ambassador's residence in Phoenix Park yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke

Daniel McConnell, Political Correspondent

He was the warm-up speaker for Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech in 1963, and has been a leading civil rights campaigner for more than 50 years.

Congressman John Lewis was so impressed with Ireland when he arrived to begin a four-day visit that he made a playful bid to become the next US Ambassador here.

Mr Lewis, the only living member of the 'Big Six' of the American civil rights movement, will travel to Dublin, Derry and Belfast during his trip.

And it was at a gathering in the US Ambassador's residence in Phoenix Park that Mr Lewis (74) made a light-hearted pitch for a job which has been vacant for over 16 months.

"I feel very honoured and privileged to be here on this little piece of real estate. I know (it's) some time since you had an ambassador here, well I can serve as ambassador," he said to warm applause. His bid may have been in jest, but there is deepening criticism among the Irish-American community in the US at the failure to appoint a successor to Dan Rooney.

Leading a delegation from the Faith and Politics Institute, Mr Lewis said he would "return to Washington more determined than ever to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill" which would deal with the undocumented Irish.

Mr Lewis also spoke at a gathering at the Department of Foreign Affairs, hosted by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore last night.

Also part of the delegation was Montgomery police chief Kevin Murphy, who was honoured by US President Barack Obama at the St Patrick's Day reception in the White House last month.

Mr Murphy attracted widespread praise last year when he gave his badge to Mr Lewis, and apologised on behalf of the force for failing to protect him and other civil rights campaigners who were beaten when they arrived at the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station in 1961.


Irish Independent

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