John Lewis was more than just a Civil Rights leader, he became an American Icon. Icons tend to leave a big impression, that stand the test of time. Forrest Gump was the fictional movie of one man’s journey through American History: John Lewis lived that history.
As the son of a Alabama sharecropper he rose through the ranks but always stayed humble but firm in his conviction of doing what he felt was the moral high ground. He met Rosa Parks when he was 17 and he met Martin Luther King Jr. when he was 18.
As as Fisk University student earning his religion and philosophy degrees he organized sit-ins at lunch counters in Nashville TN and other public spaces. As a results he was beaten and thrown in jail many time. John called his ‘civil disobedience’ – “Good Trouble”.
He sat in a real ‘hot seat’, when he became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. As a results White Southern mobs would attack the riders, then Southern Cops would arrest the riders for trespassing and unlawful assembly. He was earning many bumps and bruises doing “Good Trouble” for social justice.
John Lewis as the Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Community (SNCC) was one of the Big Six leaders of the groups that organized the 1963 March on Washington. where Dr. Martin King Jr. delivered his “I have a Dream speech”. And at the age of 23, John Lewis was the last, and the youngest speaker at that historic event.
John Lewis came to the nations attention in March 1965 during the Selma to Montgomery marches for Black voter registration in Mississippi. As the 600 marchers crossed over the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Selma Alabama they were met by Alabama State Troopers who ordered them to disperse then discharged tear gas into the crowd. As the protesters ran the Troopers beat them with night sticks. As a results John Lewis suffered a crack skull. It became known as the “Bloody Sunday” protest. After witnessing the event US President Lyndon B. Johnson and the US Congress passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
He drew on his historical involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and made an annual pilgrimage to Alabama to retrace that 1965 Selma to Montgomery March. He even witnessed an event that he never thought he would never see in his lifetime. “The first African American President” Barrack Obama walking along the route with him.
John Lewis represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for over 30 years. He was know as a hard core liberal. The Atlanta Journal-Constitutional said that John Lewis was the only former Civic Rights leader who extended his fight for Human Rights and Racial Reconciliation into the Halls of Congress. He became know as the “Conscience of Congress”.
He even protested while in Congress. He protested after welfare reform was passed and said, “Where is the sense of decency? What does it profit a great nation to conquer the world but lose its own soul”. In 2006 and 2009 he was arrested for protesting against Genocide in Darfur outside the Sudanese Embassy. He protested for Immigration Reform and he protested for not allowing a vote on gun safety legislation in the aftermath of the Orlando Nightclub Shooting.
John Lewis was steadfast on matters that concerned the struggle. In 1988 the year he was sworn into Congress he introduced a bill to establish a National African American Museum in Washington. Every year for 15 years he presented the bill. The bill was finally signed by President George W. Bush in 2003 and the opening ceremony was September 25th 2016.
John Lewis left a written trail. In 1998 his autobiography was published “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement”. In 2002 a book was published for young people titled “John Lewis: From Freedom Rider to Congressman”. And in 2012 “Across the Bridge” was published. It illustrated the power of nonviolent in social movements.
In 2013 John Lewis became the first Congress member to appear in his own graphic novel. It was titled “March” which was followed by “March Two” in 2015 then “March Three” in 2016. In 2018, “Run” the sequel to the March series, was published and covered life after the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act.
Former President Barack Obama said that Lewis had an “enormous impact in U.S. history”. His body ‘laid in State’ at the US Capitol Rotunda for two days making him the first African American lawmaker to be honored in the Rotunda. Rest in peace, ‘Humble Servant’, you did good and you country thanks you..