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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Tuesday Americans will start celebrating Black History Month, but Sunday, the 15th annual North Carolina Black History Month celebration jump started the month.

Rep. John Lewis, the special guest at the event, is often referred to as “one of the most courageous persons in the Civil Rights Movement ever produced.” Lewis represents Georgia’s 5th Congressional district.

Rep. Mike McIntyre, who hosts the event each year, says he tries every year to honor the unique contributions that African-Americans make.

“John Lewis epitomizes that, and we couldn’t have had a better speaker today,” McIntyre said. “He’s someone who lived and breathed the Civil Rights Movement in standing up for those equal rights for all Americans.”

Lewis was one of the planners and keynote speakers of the march on Washington in 1963. Wilmington City Council member Ronald Sparks said he feels especially honored to have Lewis as the special guest.

“He goes way back to the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement and if it weren’t for people like him, I wouldn’t be here today,” Sparks said.

Though America has come a long way since the day he marched on Washington, Lewis said young people must be educated on the violent history of the Civil Rights Movement.

“We have to tell the story over and over again because young people today were not even born,” Lewis said. “They were not even a dream.”

African-American elected officials from all levels of government throughout southeastern North Carolina attended the event.

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