Remembering John Lewis
Congressman John Robert Lewis was born outside of Troy, Alabama, on Feb. 21, 1940. Lewis had a happy childhood rooted in hard work, assisting his sharecropper parents. Although his childhood was full of love, the reality of his family’s meager means helped to create within John a distaste of racism, an awareness of economic inequality and provided him with a point of view.
The 1954 Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education provided a flashpoint in the young life of Lewis, then 14 years old. Frustrated that the deeply rooted Jim Crow culture in Alabama prohibited the advancement of his schooling, he was eager to participate and moved to action.
Lewis was much moved by listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s rousing speeches against racism and economic inequity. Hearing Dr King’s sermons and news of the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott inspired Lewis to act for the changes he wanted to see.
Historically, the Black Church has been at the center of the Civil Rights movement. So, in 1957, Lewis left Alabama to attend the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. There, he learned about non-violent protest and was at the vanguard of organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters.
He was arrested during these demonstrations, which upset his mother, but Lewis was committed to the Civil Rights Movement and went on to participate in the Freedom Rides of 1961.
In 1963, Lewis became chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Because of his tireless work Lewis became one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and he helped plan the March on Washington. Lewis, the youngest speaker at the event, delivered a powerful speech that declared, “We all recognize the fact that if any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about.”
Lewis left the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1966, but continued his work to enfranchise minorities. As was a theme of his life, Lewis ran for office in 1981, winning a seat on the Atlanta City Council. Furthermore In 1986, he was elected to the House of Representatives.
Before his death, he represented Georgia’s 5th District as one of the most respected members of Congress.
What we love about the life of Congressman John Lewis is that he modeled the notion of “being the change he wanted to see in the world.”
He did not merely react to the circumstances he was born into. But rather, he worked to create a world that is fair. He left the world a better place than he found it.
Congressman Lewis fought tirelessly for the life of others, not just his own.
The passing of Congressman Lewis will surely leave a gaping hole in the fight for Social justice. We pray that the next generation of leaders take time to research the lives of those we have paved the way.
We pray that his life inspires a new generation of leaders to take up the mantle. There is much more work to be done. Economic and racial disparity still exists. The problems facing us now are increasingly more nuanced.
If we can take something away from Congressmen Lewis, it’s the fact that dedication, goal setting and perseverance are the keys to change.
We believe this idea is crystalized in this quote from Lewis:
“Sometimes, you have to not just dream about what could be – you get out and push, and you pull, and you preach. And you create a climate and environment to get those in high places, to get men and women of goodwill in power, to act.“