Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

The American House and MLK's Dream

BOND: You talk a great deal or I've heard you talk a great deal about the American House. What's the American House?

LEWIS: Yeah. I believe in that concept. I believe that we all live in one house. We all live in one house. So if we all live in one house, we all are one family. The American House is a house at peace with itself, where we care for each other. We don't forget about each other. Like in the past few weeks and past month or so, it seems like we have been saying, "You know, too bad, you're poor, you're a minority, you're just left out and you're left behind." But in the real American House, in that true American House, no one is left out or left behind, that we care about each other, we push and we pull for each other. That is the dream. That is the vision, and -- that we can somehow in some way create a house or build a house where each member of the family can live and be at peace with him or herself.

BOND: You mention the word "dream," and, of course, that reminds everybody so much of Martin Luther King's dream and we're always asking ourselves, particularly on his birthday every year, how close are we to realizing the dream? Now, here, so many years after his death in '68, where are we now?

LEWIS: We have come a distance. We've made some progress. But I think we're still a tremendous distance from making the dream of Dr. King a reality. We have ended, for the most part, what I would call official or legal segregation and discrimination, but in actuality, the gap, the disparity, is still -- is so wide, the gulf is so deep, and I think what happened on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi in recent days tended to dramatize and make it so clear that we still have a great distance to go. But it comes to people having the necessities of life, just the basics.

BOND: What does it take for us to realize the dream? It's been a preoccupation of some Americans for many, many years and many, many Americans have spent a lot of time and energy, yourself included, working on this. What does it take to move us further?

LEWIS: Well, I think we have the resources, but I'm not so sure from time to time whether those of us at the highest level of our national government have the will to make those resources available. You know, many years ago, many many years ago, A. Philip Randolph and Dr. King and others talked about a Freedom Budget, and you're talking about billions of dollars to make whole the lives of people. And now we're talking about $250 to $300 billion to rebuild a part of America. You're talking about infrastructure but also to help rebuild the lives of people.

Maybe -- maybe years ago, if we had done some of the things that Dr. King and A. Philip Randolph and others of those called on us to do, during the mid '60s and the late '60s, we would be so much further down that road or up that road. It's New Orleans now, but New Orleans is a reflection of almost every urban center in America. There're just people that have been left out and left behind.