I first heard of John Lewis when I was in college. Not from his speech at the March on Washington, which I did not hear. When he crossed the bridge in Selma and was beaten and then said that the President should send in the military to protect marchers seeking to vote (protecting voters – sound familiar?) I did hear that. My teen years were full of civil rights issues. Early on it was for school integration – and suddenly Americans everywhere saw in magazines, newspaper, and TV – the screaming crowds, their faces contorted by rage and hate and fear fighting against small children going to school. We saw the ‘colored’ signs on doors and water fountains and more.

Between the courts ruling for integration of schools in the 1950s and then Congress and LBJ reacting to the pressure of the demonstrators, the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.

By my mid-late teens the demonstrations were for voting rights. Same visuals plus police beating and turning almost rabid-looking dogs on men and women dressed in their Sunday best who were peacefully marching. Murders. violence, arson, and more murders – of little girls, Freedom Riders, and local blacks and the whites who joined them in attempting to enroll voters. John Lewis was there with MLK and Medger Evers, CT Vivian (who also died yesterday) and many more. Peaceful was the watchword and they were, the whites in view were often not. While there was plenty of discrimination in the North, these scenes in the South were most shocking to us. These marches and demonstrations and the reactions to them helped LBJ get the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. (Something we need to do again.)

The discord of the fights for civil rights for then ‘Negroes’ and women and other minorities divided the nation in many ways. In the 60s it became ‘sex,drugs, and rock’n’roll’ versus conservatives. 

From then to now, John Lewis was in the thick of the fight for equality and justice. He lived the life that Christians say Jesus preached but his morality was far more universal than one religion. He remained hopeful until the end.

Just a few weeks ago he was here in DC to visit the Black Lives Matter banner painted on 16th Street running right up to Lafayette Park and visible not only from the White House but from space.  He was actively protesting until only a few months ago – this time not only for voting rights but also for immigrant rights and American virtue. He has supported gun reform efforts, climate change demands and so much more. Yet he was clear-eyed enough to say – even as he was amazed as the child of share-croppers to see a black man elected President – that that election did not mean racism was gone or that we had achieved equality or justice. In the reaction, we have certainly gone backward on these issues in the last three years.

He always gave his time and support to young people and wrote several books for adults and children about civil rights. He mentored many young activists and encouraged more.

Personally when I hear ‘the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice’ I see him actively making it bend that way. I find his life inspiring personally – that we must keep bettering ourselves and our country, that we must have hope.  We must have HOPE.

And I have always loved his slogan about ‘good trouble’ – from the days when his parents worried about him and warned him he could get in trouble for his actions and beliefs. He made ‘good trouble’ his life plan. He encouraged us to do the same.

I am not surprised he died – his pancreatic cancer had been diagnosed at Stage 4, he was 80, we all die. But I am saddened at the loss personally and for our country.

Who is inspiring you these days?

Footnote: Interesting article on why America ‘saw’ Selma differently: https://theconversation.com/how-the-images-of-john-lewis-being-beaten-during-bloody-sunday-went-viral-143080