Congressman John Lewis, speaking in South Florida Monday, recalled his civil rights struggles alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., and called for Americans of all backgrounds to "look out for each other."
Lewis, who has served in Congress for three decades after working for years to end racial segregation, delivered the keynote speech for the city of Miami's MLK Day breakfast.
"We all must become participate in the democratic process," he said. "When you get old enough to register to vote go and register to vote. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent instrument or tool in a democratic society and we must use it."
Lewis was one of the organizers of 1963’s March on Washington, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He was involved in working closely with leaders such as King, Rosa Parks and James Farmer among others.
The Miami appearance came days after a firestorm erupted over comments he made regarding President-elect Donald Trump. On Friday, Lewis sat down with NBC’s Chuck Todd and questioned Trump’s legitimacy as president, adding that he plans to join with other Democrats in boycotting Trump’s inauguration.
The president-elect responded to the comments on Twitter, saying in part that Lewis should “spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to Mention crime infested)."
Trump's comments, which also dismissed the civil rights icon as a man of "all talk" and "no action," have been condemned by some members of both parties.
Lewis did not address Trump by name on Monday.
Instead he talked about his experience growing up poor in rural Alabama and learning how to preach by talking to chickens on his family's farm.
"They tended to listen to me much better than some of my colleagues listen to me in the Congress," he joked.
Lewis also talked about his experiences fighting for civil rights alongside King and of being beaten by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
He described meeting with one of his attackers years later, who came to apologize with his son.
"I said, 'Sir I accept your apology. I forgive you," Lewis recalled of the former Klan member. "His son started crying. He started crying. They hugged me. I hugged them back."
Lewis referenced King in saying that he has learned that "hate is too heavy a burden to bear."
"We must never, ever hate. The way of love is a better way," he said.
But Lewis added that people have a "moral obligation to do something" about injustice and "not be quiet."
At the breakfast, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he wished Lewis would reconsider his boycott of Trump's inauguration and attend. But he was also critical of Trump's response.
"I don't agree with him (Rep. Lewis) that it's an illegitimate result, but I do believe, as I said in the middle of the campaign in October, that foreign intelligence agencies and a foreign government wanted to influence public opinion in America and create chaos and instability in our electoral process. Of that I have no doubt," Rubio said.