Love him or loathe him, Georgia Congressman John Lewis has died from pancreatic cancer and will be sorely missed by the people who believed in the way of peaceful but persistent protest. After more than three decades in the United States Congress, railing against poverty, racial inequities – and, finally, the current president – Lewis, is silent.
Old-guard Democrats, who remember Lewis locking arms with Martin Luther King and taking a moral and physical beating for his early civil rights activism, which on several occasions, nearly cost him his life, lost an icon. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was swift to respond in a statement: “Today, America mourns the loss of one of the greatest heroes of American history: Congressman John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress.”
And perhaps at one time, that moniker was relevant. Lewis was quick to say: “I believe in forgiveness; I believe in trying to work with people” – until the brash and boisterous Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.
President Trump immediately ordered flags to half-staff, and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted: “Rep. John Lewis was an icon of the civil rights movement, and he leaves an enduring legacy that will never be forgotten. We hold his family in our prayers, as we remember Rep. John Lewis’ incredible contributions to our country.”
As of Saturday morning, the president had not commented publicly. Bluntly, Lewis and Trump did not have any kind words to say about one another.
Lewis the Younger Man
The son of sharecroppers, born February 21, 1940, in Troy, AL, Lewis in early years witnessed a Jim Crow America. And he had an innate calling to preach for – as he would say – the “good Lawd.” Lewis practiced his sermons on the barnyard animals – namely the chickens he cared for – and overcame his childhood stutter. He mimicked his own experiences he learned while attending church – baptizing, marrying, holding funerals, and eulogizing his flock. His younger siblings called him “Preacher.”
But Lewis, growing up and into the late 1950s and 1960s, turned his attention to activism. Intrigued and inspired by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., he would help form protests, arrange lunch-counter sit-ins, and became part of the organized protest group, Freedom Riders, to protest the practice of segregated busing, prevalent in the South. He nicknamed his organized demonstrations as “Good Trouble.”
By 1963, at the age of 23, “Preacher” was a featured keynote speaker at the incredible March on Washington. In 1965 he was front and center on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL, where his peaceful protest resulted in a fractured skull and a desire to do more. As Lewis said much later in his life, “I gave a little blood on that bridge. I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death.”
Lewis turned his experiences into a career move and from activist became a councilmember in Atlanta – which he quickly turned into a congressional seat in 1987, where he stayed firmly planted until his death. He focused on issues of poverty in America, educating and inspiring younger generations to do better. He also put an unbeknownst talent to use and wrote a series of graphic novels about his experiences during the civil rights movement.
Once inside the log-jammed halls on Capitol Hill, Lewis was somehow content to vote with his party, rarely embracing any bi-partisan effort. Although his party remembered his fight against inequality with reverence, his bravura was out of style as the Obama administration ushered in a progressive agenda. Lewis was swept up in a much different way to improve racial justice in prisons, secular systems, and corporate America. What Lewis had fought for, and nearly gave his life for, was gone. He became a relic of the past: an experience to be praised but not mirrored by today’s Democrats.
The Fight and Light Went Out of Lewis
As America battles the abject destruction by Black Lives Matter and Antifa, the man who stood up in the 1950s and 1960s has no place in the current turmoil – but that is precisely the leader the nation needs now. He once opined, “It is the power in the way of peace, the way of love. We must never, ever hate. The way of love is a better way.” Sad to say, that man was lost a long time before God called his “Preacher” home.
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