I was watching A Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert when the breaking news coverage came out on the night of July 17, 2020, on the passing of Congressman John Lewis. It’s sad, but at least we celebrate him, the last surviving speaker of the March on Washington of 1963. John Lewis, a student of non-violent protest, taught us the meaning of “good trouble” and fighting the good fight, giving his own blood in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, for the right to vote and civil rights. He was the “conscience of Congress” because he was about moral principles and equal justice.
I personally don’t like using the word “hero” because I think it’s an over-used word and I don’t think people know what it means anymore for quite awhile now. But, John Lewis always struck me as one of the few moral heroes, in a world where I question if “morality” is meaningful.
You could probably disagree with Lewis (a lot of people have, even on his own side), but he stuck with non-violence, compassion, and equity so much and for so long. I wonder if we will ever have more moral leaders like him.
See here for the NPR obituary on John Lewis. Gothamist had a good collection of links in its post regarding Lewis. The NY Times’s obituary by Katharine Q. Seelye, published July 17, 2020, updated July 21, 2020, was quite in depth.
Worth reading the NY Times editorial, “John Lewis Risked His Life for Justice,” published July 17, 2020, to remember what Lewis did and the legacy that’s left behind. The NY Times’ editorial reminds us that the US Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act, and Lewis urged Congress to restore it to protect the right to vote; he had said that voting is the most important non-violent tool.
As the editorial also notes:
“The passing of John Lewis deprives the United States of its foremost warrior in a battle for racial justice that stretches back into the 19th century and the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments. Americans — and particularly his colleagues in Congress — can best honor his memory by picking up where he left off.”
Political commentator Mark Shields observed, toward the end of the PBS NewHour segment on July 24, 2020:
“Well, one of the absolutely disarming qualities of Congressman Lewis was, whenever you ran into him, he would just grab you by the hand and said: ‘Hello, my brother. How are you?’ And I don’t know. Being called ‘your brother’ by John Lewis was sort of special, and no matter how many times it happened. [….] He was an incredible gentleman. He was an incredible leader, an incredible example. He left America so much better than he found it. And people talk about changing the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge to John Lewis Bridge, which is fine. What they ought to do is pass a Voting Rights Act, after the court decision in 2013, which naively thought this problem was over. We have seen the systematic denial of the right to vote, whether it’s cutting polling places, cutting hours, purging of lists, I.D.s, voter I.D.s. And that would be the testimony and memorial to John Lewis that would be appropriate, is a Voting Rights Act, a real Voting Rights Act.”
I have no real opinion on the naming of the bridge, but I do think we need to strengthen the Voting Rights Act.
I remembered being moved when Lewis staged the sit-in in Congress to demand gun control in 2016; he was always so hopeful in the face of seriously hard issues.
Some years ago, when Lewis’s graphic memoir (I can’t quite call it a “graphic novel” because it isn’t really a novel) “March” (Vol. 1) came out and he was in New York City for the book tour, I went to hear him speak. Lewis was just amazing, talking about how he defended his aide for reading a mere comic book, because even comic books had been a tool for the Civil Rights Movement; and then his aide talked him into writing together what became the March trilogy, as a way for future generations to understand what Lewis did.
In this interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, July 20, 2020, Lewis’s aide and co-writer, Andrew Aydin, best retold how he and John Lewis came to write “March”: specifically, others teased him for wanting to attend Comic Con after a campaign, and Lewis defended Aydin, by saying how a comic book did influence the Civil Rights Movement, which got Aydin thinking that a comic book about Lewis would be a way to communicate to young people today.
I still have to get Volume 3 of “March.” There are also lots of videos to watch and great stuff to read to recognize and appreciate Lewis’s legacy.
Fellow triscriber YC shared on Facebook this link, so I’m sharing it here on triscribe: Smithsonian scholars on the legacy of John Lewis. What a fascinating read. You can also do a search on triscribe and find more posts where I had shared links about Lewis.
So, on this day, July 26, 2020, it’s the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This morning, the body of US Rep. John Lewis made his final crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. See here for the NPR report and here for the NY Times coverage. I was really moved to see the ceremony on television.
Lewis’s body will lie at the Alabama State Capitol tonight, and on Monday, July 27, 2020, his body will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., for those who wish to pay their respects in a socially distanced manner, after an invitation-only ceremony.
Thank you, John Lewis, for what you did, and may we reach the better, more equal world that you fought for us. We still have long ways to go before we have a truly equitable American society and let’s keep trying to get there.