Monday, July 20, 2020

Freedom Rider

It is sadly appropriate, given the violent nature of this country, that one of the avatars of peaceful demonstration, John Lewis, would experience so much abuse and threats to his life in his protests for racial equality.  Lewis, who died of pancreatic cancer at 80 this past Friday, was one of several black Americans who fought and marched for civil rights, and he was part of the generation that received its tutelage at the hands of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lewis (above) helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960 (he would chair it for three years beginning in 1963) while in college and helped organize meetings to plot and strategize demonstrations against segregation in the South at at time when doing that was literally asking for trouble.  His first brush with death came in 1961 in his native Alabama when he and other students. black and white, tried to ride an intercity bus while violating the rules that demanded that blacks and whites ride separately.  He was hit in the head with a wooden crate at the Montgomery bus station.  Lewis persevered, joining Dr. King's inner circle and marching for voting rights toward the now famous Edmund Pettus Bridge on the way to Selma, where Lewis and others were viciously attacked.  They were able to completed the march soon thereafter when Americans appalled at the violence showed up in Alabama to support the demonstrators.   
After working with various groups in support of voting rights, Lewis settled in Atlanta and entered politics and was elected to the Atlanta City Council in 1980, going on to gain a seat in the House of Representatives in  1986, representing Georgia's Fifth House district - which mixes white and black suburbia with much of black-majority Atlanta .  He held his House seat for the rest of his life, taking principled stands for equality and government help for the forgotten members of society.  He remained true to his non-violent values, such as when he led other House members a sit-in in 2016 on the House floor to demand action on gun control.  All the while, he preached love - love your enemies as well as allies and prevent hatred, envy and jealousy from corrupting the soul of America while we strive toward a more perfect Union.  Other activists may have given up on that novel idea, but Lewis remained true to it to the end, and we are all better for it.  RIP.  

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