Tomorrow we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, January 16th, 2017. Today, we celebrate Civil Right movement icon, John Lewis.
Lewis has been the “Dean” of Georgia’s Congressional delegation, Representative from Atlanta, since 1987.
Lewis is a widely-respected symbol of non-violent resistance to racial injustice. Son of a share-cropper near Troy, Alabama, he is recipient of the National Council of La Raza Capital Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and many other accolades. He remains a steadfast disciple of Martin Luther King, Jr. and César Chávez.
Now – yes, you expected it, didn’t you? – Lewis is excoriated by Donald Trump, (nice, days before Martin Luther King Day). He tweets (and tweets, and tweets) that Lewis just “talks, talks, talks.” Why? Because Lewis suggests Trump was not elected “legitimately.” Why? Because of alleged ties to Russia and Russian hacking. Trump even openly congratulated himself for being an “asset” where Russia is concerned.
Some of us had anticipated Lewis’s brave declaration. Our minds reel as we follow the countdown to inauguration: a consensus of U.S. Intelligence agencies concedes Russia was involved in hacking and distorting U.S. elections; Trump admits his admiration of former head of the Soviet secret service (KGB),Vladimir Putin; the U.S. President-Elect is accused of multiple, possibly unconstitutional, conflicts of interest; Watergate-like committee hearings are underway. We long for a beacon of stability and hope.
We have such a model in Congressman Lewis. A man of faith, he has long been committed to strengthening what he terms the “Beloved Community” of America. First inspired by the Montgomery bus boycott and the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lewis became a dedicated activist for civil rights.
John Lewis, educated at Fisk University and the American Baptist Seminary, chaired SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) in the 1960s. He dared to participate in the famous “Freedom Rides.” After crossing the infamous Edmund Pettus bridge of Selma, Alabama, he was beaten by angry mobs. He was arrested for challenging unjust Jim Crow laws of segregation in the South.
Lewis was a leader then and a leader now. There are multiple reasons he is the senior Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party. They include his devotion to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act (recently weakened by Republicans).
But a more bipartisan Republican leader, Evan McMullin, praised Lewis’s “selfless patriotism.” He was joined by Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who opposed Trump’s disrespectful tweet, noting, gratefully, “John Lewis’s ‘talk’ changed the world. “
No one, no rude tweet, can diminish the gains made by Lewis through his activism and his governmental experience. But he is also a serious scholar, penning an award-winning book for children and an influential book, “Across That Bridge” (2012). It has been acclaimed as a guide for a “virtuous transformation” of the world.
The 1960s remain for America the apotheosis of progressive political expression. Now, 50 years later, we struggle to recapture the hope of freedom and the dream of justice sought by Dr. Martin Luther King, by César Chávez… and by John Lewis.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this guest column shows John Lewis, aged 23, speaking at the Lincoln Memorial during the historic March on Washington, August 28, 1963.