A Presidential Tribute To John Lewis

The incumbent in the White House chose not to honour the late John Lewis as he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol, but that incumbent is irrelevant in this case.  More relevant are the words of former President Barack Obama who wrote a beautifully touching tribute to Mr. Lewis, and so I share President Obama’s words with you today …


My Statement on the Passing of Rep. John Lewis

ObamaWRITTEN BY

Barack Obama

Dad, husband, President, citizen.

America is a constant work in progress. What gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further — to speak out for what’s right, to challenge an unjust status quo, and to imagine a better world.

John Lewis — one of the original Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of Georgia for 33 years — not only assumed that responsibility, he made it his life’s work. He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.

Considering his enormous impact on the history of this country, what always struck those who met John was his gentleness and humility. Born into modest means in the heart of the Jim Crow South, he understood that he was just one of a long line of heroes in the struggle for racial justice. Early on, he embraced the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as the means to bring about real change in this country, understanding that such tactics had the power not only to change laws, but to change hearts and minds as well.

In so many ways, John’s life was exceptional. But he never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country might do. He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey towards a more perfect union.

I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders. When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made. And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family. We will miss him dearly.

It’s fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum was at a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists who were helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Afterwards, I spoke to him privately, and he could not have been prouder of their efforts — of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office. I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books.

Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.

John Lewis: The Last Of The True Heroes

Last night, right around midnight, as I had just finished writing and scheduling my Saturday Surprise post and was in the process of responding to comments, a breaking news flash crossed my screen that took my breath, caused me to utter aloud, “NO!”, and broke my heart.  Congressman John Lewis had died.

John-Lewis-quoteThere are few people alive today who deserve the title ‘hero’ in every sense of the word.  John Lewis was one such person.

When President Obama awarded John Lewis the Medal of Freedom in 2011, he said …

“Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.”

obama-lewis John Robert Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama, on Feb. 21, 1940, one of 10 children of Eddie and Willie Mae Lewis. According to “March,” his three-part autobiography in graphic novel form, he dreamed from a young age of being a preacher. He was in charge of taking care of his family’s chickens and would practice sermons on them: “I preached to my chickens just about every night.”  But life had other plans for young John Lewis.

John Lewis was the last of the most relevant civil rights leaders from the 1950s and 1960s.  In 1955, Lewis first heard Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio, and, when the Montgomery Bus Boycott (led by King) began later that year, Lewis closely followed the news about it. Lewis would later meet Rosa Parks when he was 17 and met King for the first time when he was 18.  By the time he came of age, his path was chosen.

I could not possibly list all of Mr. Lewis’ accomplishments in this single post, but I would like to highlight a few.

As a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, Lewis first became a part of the Civil Rights Movement, organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters that eventually led to the desegregation of Nashville’s lunch counters.

John-Lewis-lunch-counter-sit-in

Lewis was arrested and jailed many times in the nonviolent movement to desegregate the downtown area of the city. He was also instrumental in organizing bus boycotts and other nonviolent protests in the fight for voter and racial equality.

John-Lewis-early-arrest

In 1961, Lewis became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. There were seven whites and six blacks who were determined to ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans in an integrated fashion. At that time, several states of the old Confederacy still enforced laws prohibiting black and white riders from sitting next to each other on public transportation.  The Freedom Ride was initiated to pressure the federal government to enforce the Supreme Court decision in Boynton v Virginia (1960) that declared segregated interstate bus travel to be unconstitutional.

In the South, Lewis and other nonviolent Freedom Riders were beaten by angry mobs, arrested at times and taken to jail. At 21 years old, Lewis was the first of the Freedom Riders to be assaulted while in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He tried to enter a whites-only waiting room and two white men attacked him, injuring his face and kicking him in the ribs. Nevertheless, only two weeks later Lewis joined a Freedom Ride that was bound for Jackson.

“We were determined not to let any act of violence keep us from our goal. We knew our lives could be threatened, but we had made up our minds not to turn back.”

Lewis was also imprisoned for forty days in the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County, Mississippi, after participating in a Freedom Riders activity in that state.  But John Lewis was not a quitter.

In Birmingham, the Riders were mercilessly beaten, and in Montgomery, an angry mob met the bus, and Lewis was hit in the head with a wooden crate.

“It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious.”

In February 2009, forty-eight years after he had been bloodied in a Greyhound station during a Freedom Ride, Lewis received an apology on national television from a white southerner, former Klansman Elwin Wilson.

In 1963, Lewis was named one of the “Big Six” leaders who were organizing the March on Washington, the occasion of Dr. King’s celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis also spoke at the March. Discussing the occasion, historian Howard Zinn wrote:

“At the great Washington March of 1963, the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis, speaking to the same enormous crowd that heard Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, was prepared to ask the right question: ‘Which side is the federal government on?’ That sentence was eliminated from his speech by organizers of the March to avoid offending the Kennedy Administration. But Lewis and his fellow SNCC workers had experienced, again and again, the strange passivity of the national government in the face of Southern violence.”

John-Lewis-Edmund-Pettus-Bridge

John-Lewis-Edmund-Pettis-BridgeIn 1965, at age 25, Lewis marched with Dr. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery, and was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, where he was beaten by police and knocked unconscious.  When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. Lewis’s skull was fractured, but he escaped across the bridge to Brown Chapel, the movement’s headquarter church in Selma. Before Lewis could be taken to the hospital, he appeared before the television cameras calling on President Johnson to intervene in Alabama.  Lewis still bore the scars on his head from the incident.

John-Lewis-CongressIn 1986, John Lewis was elected to the House of Representatives from Georgia’s fifth district, a seat he would win and hold until his death last night.  He was reelected 16 times, dropping below 70 percent of the vote in the general election only once. In 1994, he defeated Republican Dale Dixon by a 38-point margin, 69%–31%. He ran unopposed in 1996, from 2004 to 2008, in 2014, and again in 2018.

Throughout his 34 years in Congress he fought for human rights, for civil rights … for your rights and mine … for our children’s and grandchildren’s.  He spoke out loud and clear in favour of LGBT rights, national health insurance, gun regulation, and has often been called “the conscience of Congress.”

“My overarching duty as I declared during that 1986 campaign and during every campaign since then, has been to uphold and apply to our entire society the principles which formed the foundation of the movement to which I have devoted my entire life.”

Coming from another, that might be considered just political rhetoric, but from John Lewis, truer words were never spoken.  He not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk for his entire life.  The world is a little darker place today without John Lewis in it.  RIP John Lewis … you are missed already.

 

One Hero In Congress …

Today I am tired of writing about Trump & Co.  I have started two posts, one about the G-20 summit, and another about some strange goings-on among the White House staff his week.  Both remain ‘works-in-process’ at this point, not because I got bored with them, but because I realized I was disgusted by everything pertaining to Trump and the administration, Congress and their boot-licking legislation, and the whole works.  So, I was just flipping through some friends’ posts on Facebook, hoping to gain a fresh perspective, when I came across this:

john-lewisAnd that led me to the thought of writing about somebody in Congress who is not driven by greed, not led by fear of Trump, but a true representative of We The People.  While it is true that there are others in Congress who have more of a conscience than the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, in my opinion, there are none to compare with Representative John Lewis.

Most of you probably know at least a bit of Lewis’ history, but please bear with me as I quickly recap for any who may not.

john-lewis-2John Lewis, one of the most notable heroes of the Civil Rights movement, began his career as an activist in 1959, at the age of 19, by organizing student sit-in demonstrations, bus boycotts, and non-violent protests for voter and racial equality.  Then in 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, becoming one of the original thirteen Freedom Riders. Lewis risked his life on those rides many times by simply sitting in seats reserved for whites. He was also beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South.

John-Lewis-SNCCLewis’ was elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963, at only age 23!  As such, he became a member of the Big Six, leaders of six prominent civil rights organizations, and the organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King gave his I Have A Dream Speech.

5 minutes 17 seconds, and worth every second!

On August 28, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the march, John Lewis along with President Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter addressed a crowd at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Also present were Caroline Kennedy and Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, the daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Other participants included the parents of Trayvon Martin, Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker.

 

Perhaps Mr. Lewis’ most notable moment came in 1965 when he helped organize the now-famous voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and was among 600 demonstrators attacked by police. This day became known as Bloody Sunday, and 58 people were taken to a local hospital, including Mr. Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull.

John-lewis-skullJohn Lewis won the House seat for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District in 1986.  He has since been re-elected 15 times, and has dropped below 70 percent of the vote only once. He is one of the most liberal members of the House, and one of the most liberal congressmen ever to represent a district in the Deep South. On May 21, 2006, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said Lewis was the “only former major civil rights leader who extended his fight for human rights and racial reconciliation to the halls of Congress.” In the same article, they referred to Mr. Lewis as the ‘conscience of Congress’.

Though now 77 years old, Lewis’ passion for justice has not dimmed.  In June 2016, he staged a sit-in demanding House Speaker Paul Ryan allow a vote on gun-safety legislation in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Speaker pro tempore Daniel Webster ordered the House into recess, but Democrats refused to leave the chamber for nearly 26 hours. He is no fan of Donald Trump, having compared him to George Wallace at one point during the campaigns last year.  In a Meet The Press interview one week before Trump’s inauguration, he stated, “I don’t see the president-elect as a legitimate president. I think the Russians participated in having this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I don’t plan to attend the Inauguration. I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians, and others, that helped him get elected. That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not the open, democratic process.” Trump, naturally, responded with ugly tweets.

There is so much more to be said about Congressman Lewis, but if you want to know more, there are many good books out there, including his own autobiography, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, originally published in 1998 and re-issued in paperback in 2015.

John-Lewis-Barack-Obama-medalIn 2011, John Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, and on January 6, 2016, it was announced that a future United States Navy underway replenishment oiler would be named USNS John Lewis. He has won so many awards that I cannot possibly list them all.

Lewis was the only living speaker from the March on Washington present on the stage during the inauguration of Barack Obama. Obama signed a commemorative photograph for Lewis with the words, “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.”

In response to his earlier tweet, one of his followers tweeted the following: Katy Otto ‏@exfkaty to tweet. “You are one of a small handful of politicians that gives me hope for this country. Thank you immensely for your service.” I second that, Ms. Otto. In my opinion, Representative John Lewis is a hero both of the past and the present, and possibly the most conscionable of the 535 members of Congress.

Trump Takes On A Civil Rights Hero

lewis-nowJohn Robert Lewis is a hero of the Civil Rights Movement. He was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, served as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organized voter registration efforts that led to the pivotal Selma to Montgomery marches, was one of the “Big Six” leaders who organized the March on Washington, coordinated SNCC’s efforts for “Mississippi Freedom Summer,” a campaign to register black voters across the South. He is best known for the role he played on March 7th, 1965, known as “Bloody Sunday”, when he helped lead over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. At the end of the bridge, they were met by Alabama State Troopers who ordered them to disperse. When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. Lewis’ skull was fractured.  This, folks, is the man of whom Donald Trump said:

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”

When I read this, my jaw dropped, I felt a flow of blood rush into my head, and I didn’t know whether to scream or cry.  In the end, I stomped my foot, cussed a blue streak and sat down to write this post.

Representative John Lewis has performed more action, done more good for the cause of civil rights, supported more humanitarian causes in one decade than Trump ever has or ever will in his lifetime.  I am not alone in my outrage.

“Definition of bad strategy: trump saying 50 year fighter for civil rights John Lewis is “all talk” over Martin Luther King holiday weekend.” – Political analyst Matthew Dowd

“The 5th is hardly the hellhole of Trump’s imagination. Have visited CDC there. Also has GA Tech and Emory. It is sad to run down Atlanta.” – Michael Gerson, Washington Post writer and former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

“I disagree with what @repjohnlewis said, but I honor the man he is. Honesty; integrity; courage-these are qualities you just can’t buy.” – David Axelrod, political analyst and author

The fact is that Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District includes parts of wealthy suburbs like Buckhead; the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Hardly what I would call horrible and falling apart.

What did Rep. Lewis do to draw the wrath of Don?  He said, “I don’t see this President-elect as a legitimate president. I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong.”  He then said that he does not plan to attend the inauguration next Friday, the first he will miss since he was first elected to Congress in 1987, 30 years ago.

lewis-2While some may disagree with Rep. Lewis’ comment, none can disagree that he has earned the respect of us all many times over.  In addition to his extensive civil rights legacy, he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986, and has been re-elected with a minimum of 75% of the vote 14 times, running uncontested in six of those fourteen elections.  John Lewis is one who is definitely not afraid to speak out and stand up for what he believes in.  He has been arrested more than 45 times, most during the civil rights era of the 1960s, but he has also been arrested five times since becoming a Congressman for protests involving Apartheid, the genocide in Darfur, and protesting for immigration reform.  As I said, the man stands by his convictions.

At least four other Congressmen and women plan to boycott the inauguration as well:  Barbara Lee of California, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois.

lewis-trumpTrump showed yet again that no one who crosses him — no matter how revered or respected, as Lewis is among both parties in Congress — will necessarily be spared his ire. Some speculate that fighting with Mr. Lewis distracted attention from a Senate investigation, announced the day before, that will look at possible contacts between Mr. Trump’s campaign team and Russia. In addition, Mr. Trump’s poll numbers have slipped into uncharted depths for an incoming president, with a Gallup poll released on Friday finding that about half of Americans disapprove of Mr. Trump’s transition effort. His approval rating currently stands at 44%, down from 48% one month ago, and in sharp contrast with President Obama’s approval rating of 83% on the week of his inauguration in 2009.  Gallup Poll data