Barack Obama Sits Down With John Lewis to Discuss MLK’s Legacy and the Power of Activism

“When you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something.”

Former President Barack Obama recently joined Rep. John Lewis and a group of high school students for a roundtable discussion on Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring legacy and the moral necessity of social justice movements today.

In a six-minute video released Wednesday, on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s death, Lewis revealed how he coped with the devastating news of King’s assassination. He also shared that one of his life’s greatest regrets was not having spent more time with King. “I thought he’d be around a long time,” Lewis said in a poignant moment.

Obama and Lewis also shared advice with a student who asked about the benefits and risks of being controversial.

“If you are speaking on behalf of social justice, then by definition there’s going to be some controversy, because if it wasn’t controversial, then somebody would have already fixed it,” Obama said. “Dr. King was controversial, but he studied and thought and crafted what he had to say.”

“I said to young people especially students, when you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, say something,” Lewis added.


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.