Saturday, July 18, 2020

Remembering a non-violent icon on his passing: Requiescat in pace John Lewis

Some people love the world, but they don't love people. You have to respect the dignity and worth of every human being. Love everybody. - John Lewis, over twitter on March 5, 2015  

July 2, 1963, six leaders of the nation's civil rights organizations met at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York.
John Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020 after a long illness. He was the last living member of the Big Six civil rights leaders. The other five were: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr; Whitney Young of the National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph of the Negro American Labor Council; James L. Farmer Jr., of the Congress of Racial Equality; and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP.

He was a son of sharecroppers' who fought for civil rights using nonviolent means, and went on to a long career in Congress.

John Lewis in 1961
Imagine for a moment hundreds of young Americans threatened, attacked, imprisoned and responding with nonviolent resistance. This happened in the Freedom Rides initiated by the Congress of Racial Equality on May 16, 1961. Fifty years later they still gather to remember what happened and to tell new generations that they too can make a difference for the better. Twenty year old John Lewis was one of those young Americans putting his life on the line.
"Boarding that Greyhound bus to travel through the heart of the Deep South I felt good. I felt happy. I felt liberated. I was like a soldier in a nonviolent army" - Representative John Lewis, Freedom Riders trailer, American Experience, 2011
John Lewis helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was elected its chairman in 1963, making him one of the Big Six at the age of 23, and two years later he was leading a march over a bridge named after a Klansman in Selma, Alabama.

Two Minute Warning, Police readying to attack marchers in Selma on 3/7/65. Spider Martin
The Library of Congress described one of the first flashpoints in the Selma conflict began on March 7, 1965 with John Lewis and Hosea Williams leading marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that became known as Bloody Sunday:

On Sunday March 7, 1965, about six hundred people began a fifty-four mile march from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery. They were demonstrating for African American voting rights and to commemorate the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, shot three weeks earlier by an state trooper while trying to protect his mother at a civil rights demonstration. On the outskirts of Selma, after they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers, in plain sight of photographers and journalists, were brutally assaulted by heavily armed state troopers and deputies.
Thanks to press on hand the world saw in video and photographs the brutality visited upon nonviolent demonstrators that day who maintained their nonviolent discipline in spite of the brutal attacks on them by the local authorities in Selma. 

It would lead through a protracted struggle into a march from Selma to Montgomery on March 25, 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr. and would serve to usher in the 1965 Voting Rights Act for African Americans in the United States signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 5, 1965.

Back in 2014 Congressman Lewis spent three hours in an in-depth interview on C-SPAN talking about his life, and is available below.

Fifty years after Selma, Congressman John Lewis would meet with Cuban dissidents currently engaged in civil disobedience in Cuba inspired by his struggle half a century ago. The positive fruits of nonviolence knows no bounds.

Congressman John Lewis meets with Cuban dissidents in 2015
In 2015 Representative John Lewis, sat down with Cuban dissidents, Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez, Yris Pérez Aguilera and engaged them in conversation. These opposition activists were being accompanied by Eddy Acevedo, of Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen's office.

Civil rights icon and Member of Congress John Lewis (1940 - 2020)
Thank you Congressman John Lewis for your life of service, leadership, and example of nonviolent resistance that made the United States a better place. Thank you for showing us how to get into good trouble. 

Requiescat in pace John Lewis

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