John Lewis is talking about race in America.

"We need, all of us, rededication and new inspiration to advance the cause of racial cooperation, peace and harmony in America."This is his story, this is his song; he has been singing it nearly all of his life long.

This night, as we talked, neither of us could know that far away, in Jasper, Texas, three white men allegedly dragged a black man to his death behind a pickup truck. We would not know of it until the next day, when news reports began to tell the story.

That story is in the present, but it is a throwback to the past, a past John Lewis and I know only too well.

We met in the very early 1960s. First in Mississippi, again in Georgia, and then in many datelines long since forgotten, as the American civil rights movement gained momentum, crested with passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1964, then crashed with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

In those days he was point man for numerous nonviolent civil rights campaigns. He was challenging the United States to live up to its ideals.

He still is. He believes passionately in America as a land of the free, where a diverse, multiracial mix of citizens can live the dream of liberty and justice for all.

Lewis is a U.S. congressman now, has been for 12 years. A Democrat from Georgia, representing a district that includes most of Atlanta.

He remains committed to an America of inclusion and universality. Like King, Lewis hopes to advance the cause of all Americans, working together.

He still believes in the dream of one America, not divided along the fault-lines of race.

"But just to talk about it anymore has gone out of fashion," he says. "So many people don't want to think about, much less do anything about it." And this worries him.

In his profound and engrossing new book, "Walking With the Wind" (Simon & Schuster), he has written: "Talk is fine. Discussion is fine. But we must respond. We must act. Mother Teresa acted. She reached out to those who were left behind - the forsaken, the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick.

"And where did she find the strength, her focus, her fuel? She was asked that question back in 1975. Her answer was succinct. The fuel, she explained, is prayer. `To keep a lamp burning,' she said, `we have to keep putting oil in it.' "

That's one reason Lewis looks to America's churches and churchgoers for leadership.

Lewis is 58 now and thicker through the middle than he was when we first met. But his energy hasn't diminished. He often paces far into the night, worrying, thinking and praying about what can be done to help America.

I picture him pacing and praying as our conversation nears an end, and he repeats the closing theme of his book.

"There is an old African proverb: `When you pray, you move your feet.' As a nation, if we care for the Beloved Community, we must move our feet, our hands, our hearts, our resources to build and not to tear down, to reconcile and not to divide, to love and not to hate, to heal and not to kill. In the final analysis, we are one people, one family, one house - the American house, the American family."