Congressman John Lewis will go rest this week after a lifetime of work to change America’s human divide. He leaves behind a much different racial and economic landscape especially for Black Americans.
On March 28, 1963, between 200,000 and 300,000 civil rights activists descended on Washington D.C. to demand social and economic equality. Congressman John Lewis was one of the six leaders that brought the Movement to the capital of the United States and take a major step forward on civil rights in the country.
The others were Dr. Martin Luther King, Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins. It was a historic gathering made more famous by the “I Have a Dream” speech offered by Dr. King to the multitude.
Lewis’ early life as a son of sharecropper parents in Troy, Alabama reminds me of the sharecropping time we endured on the T.D. Wilson farm in the Brazos River Valley between Hearne, Bryan and College Station, Texas. I remember my father, my mother and myself working very hard on those 40 acres only to end up with a measly return of $74.00 at the end of the harvest season.
John Lewis’ time in the civil rights movement was historic, made more so by his leadership in such activities as the original Freedom Riders made up of 7 Whites and 6 Blacks that rode together on Greyhound and Continental Trailways buses to combat segregation in the South. He is most famous for leading the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 7, 1963 where they were attacked by the police, badly injuring many including himself, after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
The event in that day, known as Bloody Sunday, was typical of the dangers and challenges faced by Black Americans under the thumb of White Americans in the South. Congressman Lewis liked to call activities under these conditions a “good trouble” to get into.
Before passing away, he was able to see America come together after the George Floyd incident in Minnesota to support his life’s work. He was able to see a new generation step to the forefront and embrace each other without regard to race, ethnicity or lifestyle.
John Lewis leaves us with ongoing historic and painful adjustments in our country because we are divided both at home and abroad. There is very much a changing of the guard in both America and the world.
This realignment is affecting relationships with our traditional friends and creating challenges from new economic, political and military powers that seek their place in the sun. There is truth to the motto, for example, that “If China and India are not in your present, you have no future.”
To effectively face that future America needs to come together to create a renaissance of ideas and resources beginning with those of our people that come from a genuine diversity of backgrounds.
In a sense, that is the message John Lewis leaves us as he departs to a better place. His legacy however, is seeking a greater echo that resonates with a new order of things.
The road map to our future is still in development. The Lewis legacy encourages a brotherhood in a united country.
Congressman John Lewis may be the last of the 6 great leaders of the Civil Rights Movement that fostered an approach to a level playing field for everyone. But the job is not complete as there are hearts and minds yet to be converted.