Civil rights icon John Lewis leads voting effort in Dayton

Civil right icon, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (center) leads a group to the Montgomery County Board of Elections Friday for early voting after speaking at a rally at Sinclair Community College. At left is U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus. attended a get out the vote rally at Sinclair Community College in Dayton Friday.  LISA POWELL / STAFF
Civil right icon, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (center) leads a group to the Montgomery County Board of Elections Friday for early voting after speaking at a rally at Sinclair Community College. At left is U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus. attended a get out the vote rally at Sinclair Community College in Dayton Friday. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., came to Dayton on Friday to rally voters and transfixed a crowd of more than 200 with the story of being beaten by Alabama State troopers when he and other civil rights activists marched for voting rights in 1965 across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

“I thought I saw death. I thought I was going to die,” said Lewis, who endured multiple beatings and jailings during the 1960s as a civil rights activist.

“I’m so thankful that I lived to see the first African-American elected president of the United States of America,” Lewis said at the rally at Sinclair Community College. “I want to live to see the first woman elected president. That’s why we’ve got to vote like we’ve never voted before.”

He then led a march across the street to the Montgomery County Board of Elections so that people could vote early after he and other speakers called for voters to pick Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for president.

“I happen to believe that the vote is precious, almost sacred, in a democratic society such as ours,” Lewis said. “We cannot sit this one out.”

Earlier Friday in an exclusive interview Lewis criticized Republican nominee Donald Trump’s call for his supporters to go to the polls and watch other voters.

“People should be free to cast a vote without being harassed or intimidated,” Lewis said. “In recent years there has been intimidation, not just in the American south but in states outside of the south.”

Civil right icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis attended a get out the vote rally at Sinclair Community College in Dayton Friday. He was joined by U.S. Senate candidate and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Ohio House Democratic leader Fred Strahorn,  Rhine McLin, former Dayton mayor and current Ohio Democratic Party vice chair and Dayton civil rights leader Jessie Gooding.  LISA POWELL / STAFF
Civil right icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis attended a get out the vote rally at Sinclair Community College in Dayton Friday. He was joined by U.S. Senate candidate and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Ohio House Democratic leader Fred Strahorn, Rhine McLin, former Dayton mayor and current Ohio Democratic Party vice chair and Dayton civil rights leader Jessie Gooding. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

He said Trump is dividing America and “is not fit to be president. I have met every president since President Kennedy. Democrats and Republican presidents. He is not prepared to lead America through the 21st century.”

Seth Unger, Trump’s Ohio campaign communications director, responded by referring to the announcement on Friday by FBI Director James Comey that new emails that could be related to the Clinton email investigation had surfaced and were being reviewed.

“It’s hard to understand why any Ohioan would vote early for Hillary Clinton when every single day more questions arise about her emails and the newly reopened FBI investigation into her possible criminal and illegal conduct,” Unger said. “Congressman Lewis and Hillary Clinton have been defenders of the failed status quo in Washington for decades, while Donald Trump has a positive vision for our country and will drain the swamp to make America great again.”

Both campaigns will spend the final days of the election pushing to get-out-the vote.

Duiene Stanfield, 44, of Dayton attended the rally and voted after the march. She said it felt “liberating” to march with a civil rights icon like Lewis. She said her father talked about being in a march with Martin Luther King and so it was really special to also march with another civil rights hero.

“I felt like I was a part of something, something I can pass on to my children so they can understand,” Stanfield said. “Be a part of something, be a part of change, cast your vote, make a change, your vote truly does matter.”