Sad Caturday Reads: John Lewis Has Died

 Good Morning!!

Today is a sad day. Civil Rights leader and Congressman John Lewis has died.

Kathryn Q. Seelye at The New York Times: John Lewis, Towering Figure of Civil Rights Era, Dies at 80.

Representative John Lewis, a son of sharecroppers and an apostle of nonviolence who was bloodied at Selma and across the Jim Crow South in the historic struggle for racial equality, and who then carried a mantle of moral authority into Congress, died on Friday. He was 80.

His death was confirmed in a statement by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Mr. Lewis, of Georgia, announced on Dec. 29 that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and vowed to fight it with the same passion with which he had battled racial injustice. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said.

On the front lines of the bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, with blows to his body and a fractured skull to prove it, Mr. Lewis was a valiant stalwart of the civil rights movement and the last surviving speaker at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

More than a half-century later, after the killing in May of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis, Mr. Lewis welcomed the resulting global demonstrations against police killings of Black people and, more broadly, against systemic racism in many corners of society. He saw those protests as a continuation of his life’s work, though his illness had left him to watch from the sidelines.

“It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds of thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets — to speak up, to speak out, to get into what I call ‘good trouble,’” Mr. Lewis told “CBS This Morning” in June.

“This feels and looks so different,” he said of the Black Lives Matter movement, which drove the anti-racism demonstrations. “It is so much more massive and all inclusive.” He added, “There will be no turning back.”

More on Lewis’ history:

Mr. Lewis’s personal history paralleled that of the civil rights movement. He was among the original 13 Freedom Riders, the Black and white activists who challenged segregated interstate travel in the South in 1961. He was a founder and early leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which coordinated lunch-counter sit-ins. He helped organize the March on Washington, where Dr. King was the main speaker, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

John Lewis, foreground, being beaten by a state trooper during the voting rights march in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965.Credit…Associated Press

Mr. Lewis led demonstrations against racially segregated restrooms, hotels, restaurants, public parks and swimming pools, and he rose up against other indignities of second-class citizenship. At nearly every turn he was beaten, spat upon or burned with cigarettes. He was tormented by white mobs and absorbed body blows from law enforcement.

On March 7, 1965, he led one of the most famous marches in American history. In the vanguard of 600 people demanding the voting rights they had been denied, Mr. Lewis marched partway across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., into a waiting phalanx of state troopers in riot gear.

Ordered to disperse, the protesters silently stood their ground. The troopers responded with tear gas and bullwhips and rubber tubing wrapped in barbed wire. In the melee, known as Bloody Sunday, a trooper cracked Mr. Lewis’s skull with a billy club, knocking him to the ground, then hit him again when he tried to get up.

Televised images of the beatings of Mr. Lewis and scores of others outraged the nation and galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson presented to a joint session of Congress eight days later and signed into law on Aug. 6. A milestone in the struggle for civil rights, the law struck down the literacy tests that Black people had been compelled to take before they could register to vote and replaced segregationist voting registrars with federal registrars to ensure that Black people were no longer denied the ballot.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: John Lewis, civil rights hero, Georgia congressman, dies at 80.

Before the sit-ins and freedom rides, before nearly dying at the hand of an Alabama state trooper at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and before ascending to the top ranks of Democratic politics, John Lewis wanted to be a preacher.

As a young boy tending to his family’s chickens in rural Pike County, Ala., the future Georgia congressman would assemble the landfowl onto their roosts and recite Bible verses to them nearly every evening. He even conducted funeral services and the occasional baptism.

SNCC chairperson John Lewis at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Lewis’ central role in the civil rights movement put an end to his pulpit dreams. But his moral clarity and unwavering commitment to nonviolence and the “beloved community” – a democracy of racial, social and economic equality – infused every chapter of his life. It also earned him the respect of a nation that early-on feared his presence….

John Robert Lewis was born Feb. 21, 1940, to sharecroppers Willie Mae and Eddie Lewis in Troy, Ala., at at a time when the Deep South was the epicenter of legalized racism and discrimination. He was one of 10 children.

In that atmosphere, Bob Lewis, as he was called, was given an early and tough life lesson by his parents: there was little to be gained and much to lose in rebelling against the system.

“They would say, ‘That’s the way it is. Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way,’” Lewis said later.

But the “Whites Only” signs he saw, from water fountains to the best seats in the movie theater, ignited a slow burn inside him. Even in places where no placards hung, like the voter registration office at the county courthouse, he understood that the unspoken apartheid rules applied. The impression that made on the young boy was so deep that Lewis seldom went to movie theaters even years later when he could have chosen any seat he wished.

Again there’s much more about Lewis’ life at the link.

The New York Times Editorial Board describes how as a young man, Lewis challenged the more moderate Civil Rights leaders of the day: The Radical Resistance of John Lewis. Willingness to risk his life for civil rights was essential to the quest for justice. On Lewis and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee:

These young demonstrators chose to underscore the barbaric nature of racism by placing themselves at risk of being shot, gassed or clubbed to death during protests that challenged the Southern practice of shutting Black people out of the polls and “white only” restaurants, and confining them to “colored only” seating on public conveyances. When arrested, S.N.C.C. members sometimes refused bail, dramatizing injustice and withholding financial support from a racist criminal justice system.

This young cohort conspicuously ignored members of the civil rights establishment who urged them to patiently pursue remedies through the courts. Among the out-of-touch elder statesmen was the distinguished civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall, who was on the verge of becoming the nation’s first Black Supreme Court justice when he argued that young activists were wrong to continue the dangerous Freedom Rides of early 1961, in which interracial groups rode buses into the Deep South to test a Supreme Court ruling that had outlawed segregation in interstate transport.

Mr. Marshall condemned the Freedom Rides as a wasted effort that would only get people killed. But in the mind of Mr. Lewis, the depredations that Black Americans were experiencing at the time were too pressing a matter to be left to a slow judicial process and a handful of attorneys in a closed courtroom. By attacking Jim Crow publicly in the heart of the Deep South, the young activists in particular were animating a broad mass movement in a bid to awaken Americans generally to the inhumanity of Southern apartheid. Mr. Lewis came away from the encounter with Mr. Marshall understanding that the mass revolt brewing in the South was as much a battle against the complacency of the civil rights establishment as against racism itself.

By his early 20s, Mr. Lewis had embraced a form of nonviolent protest grounded in the principle of “redemptive suffering”— a term he learned from the Rev. James Lawson, who had studied the style of nonviolent resistance that the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi had put into play during British colonial rule. The principle reminded Mr. Lewis of his religious upbringing and of a prayer his mother had often recited.

In his memoir “Walking With the Wind,” written with Michael D’Orso, Mr. Lewis explains that there was “something in the very essence of anguish that is liberating, cleansing, redemptive,” adding that suffering “touches and changes those around us as well. It opens us and those around us to a force beyond ourselves, a force that is right and moral, the force of righteous truth that is at the basis of human conscience.”

The essence of the nonviolent life, he wrote, is the capacity to forgive — “even as a person is cursing you to your face, even as he is spitting on you, or pushing a lit cigarette into your neck” — and to understand that your attacker is as much a victim as you are. At bottom, this philosophy rested upon the belief that people of good will — “the Beloved Community,” as Mr. Lewis called them — would rouse themselves to combat evil and injustice.

This is a very sad day in America. We need young leaders like John Lewis now, as with every day that passes we move closer to the death of American democracy.

18 Comments on “Sad Caturday Reads: John Lewis Has Died”

  1. dakinikat says:

    His leadership will be solely missed but his legacy will live on. He was a National Treasure. We are losing way too many of them at a dark time when their lives illuminated a better and higher path and we could use their beacons.
    Rest in peace and justice. You have not just passed a torch. You lit millions from yours.

  2. Enheduanna says:

    It’s a very sad day for Georgia and the country. I don’t think any other member of Congress was so loved as John Lewis. I cried last night and I’m still crying. I remember seeing “colored” signs when I was a little girl, so maybe having lived through some of that makes it more immediate. He was so right – we are all victims of systemic racism, the haters and the oppressed. I hope we can fulfill his dream some day. We must never give up.

    A life well lived, Mr Lewis!

    • quixote says:

      Yes. I hadn’t heard this quote from him before: “the capacity … to understand that your attacker is as much a victim as you are.” That especially is medicine we need in these times of performative outrage. And the words about the redemptive quality of anguish. And that it brings out the good sides of people to fight injustice. What a loss.

      • NW Luna says:

        Reminds me of one of the tenets of Buddhist philosophy — that the attackers, whose minds are roiling with poisonous hatred, do not have freedom from suffering. No one can be happy when filled with the acid of hatred.

        Though not all anger is seen as harmful. There is the recognition that some anger, such as at injustice, and if not leading to hatred, can spur needed action — “good trouble.”

        John Lewis’s death is an enormous loss. His life is an inspiration.

  3. Enheduanna says:

    Saw this over at Hullabaloo – Lewis dancing to “Happy” …:

    Didn’t he say something about dancing with the angels?

  4. dakinikat says:

    Biden is now getting the same Intel Daily Briefs as Trump. Biden is reading his unlike Trump.

    • NW Luna says:

      The briefers must be delighted to deal with an intelligent human.

      • quixote says:

        Plus he presumably got them for 8 years as veep, so he has experience in processing them. I would hope this means that he’d actually try to save the world if the Dump was pushing the jump-off-the-cliff button?

  5. NW Luna says:

    Trump’s usual BS of accusing the Dems of doing what he does:

    Trump has argued that the presumptive Democratic nominee is a harbinger of chaos and destruction

  6. NW Luna says:

    He wants us to die.

    Administration opposes new funds for testing, tracing and CDC in virus relief bill

    The administration is also trying to block billions of dollars that GOP senators want to allocate for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and billions more for the Pentagon and State Department to address the pandemic at home and abroad, the people said.

    • quixote says:

      Really trying to get things in position aren’t they? Let the pandemic run wild, have Barr’s Army sow chaos in all those nasty anti-Dump cities, make vote-by-mail as useless as possible.

      I wonder if any Repub senators are having second thoughts about not getting rid of this disease while they still could?

  7. T says:

    BB, thank you for this wonderful post in tribute to John Lewis.

  8. NW Luna says:

    Damn right, Oregon!

    The Oregon attorney general filed a lawsuit late Friday night alleging that the federal government had violated Oregonians’ civil rights by seizing and detaining them without probable cause during protests against police brutality in the past week.