The Strength of John Lewis

Michael A. Fletcher, writing at The Undefeated on the quiet strength of John Lewis.

I have always admired John Lewis. But early on, I have to admit, I held something back. His courage was unquestioned. His vision was unwavering. He shed blood for many of the rights that I, my family, and every African American, enjoys today.

Yet, I sometimes felt a pang of suspicion when I heard Lewis lauded as the conscience of the Congress. It was the same when I read about his annual sojourns with some of his congressional colleagues to his home state of Alabama, where in 1965 he and 600 other marchers were savagely assaulted by state troopers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge for daring to assert their rights as citizens.

The compliments, of course, were fitting and the tours were no doubt instructive. But it sometimes felt like the plaudits for the saintly Lewis, who died at 80 late Friday months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, flowed too easily. And when the praise was offered by people who gave comfort to those who once denied Lewis’ humanity or never supported his legislative priorities, it came off as insincere.

My apprehension was rooted in the mistaken notion that Lewis was not angry enough. Why did he not demand revenge for the unspeakable racism he fearlessly confronted? How could he accept an apology from former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a longtime segregationist who ordered the infamous Bloody Sunday attack? Or forgive the pathological Bull Connor, the former public safety commissioner in Birmingham? Why would he forge a relationship with former Klansman Elwin Wilson, who was part of a mob that in 1961 beat down Lewis and other Freedom Riders outside the whites-only waiting room at the Rock Hill, S.C. bus station?

Fletcher, Michael A. (2020, July 18). I Didn’t Understand John Lewis at First. The Undefeated. https://theundefeated.com/features/i-didnt-understand-john-lewis-civil-rights-leader-at-first/

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