John Lewis and HisStory
Ambassador Andrew Young and Representative John Lewis organized and led a history-changing march across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965.
Ambassador Young has recently mentioned that, long ago, Jesus and his disciples had led a movement against “the whole Roman empire.”
Inspired my Jesus’ firm adherence to non-violence, Young and Lewis summoned a group of marchers together on March 7, 1965, to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, en route to the Alabama Capitol in Montgomery, where collectively they would urge the Alabama legislature to enable voter registration for black folk.
“You can overcome evil with good,” says Ambassador Young, in paraphrasing Jesus’ injunction to turn the other cheek in response to violent abuse.
“…but you can’t overcome evil with evil,”
And so many early civil rights crusaders did turn the other cheek, back in the day. And they suffered for it, but their willingness to suffer and sacrifice ultimately inspired a groundswell of moral and political support to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
After that groundbreaking, bridge-crossing . . . John Lewis’ leadership found its full course: “Lewis was able to shift gears from direct action to reconciliation and progress,” said Andrew Young recently of John Lewis.
Ambassador Andrew Young recently shared a memory of back in the early days, before the Movement had gathered steam. Black folk would be singing together, while they were gathered in Christian worship and declaration:
“And before I’d be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free.”
In commemoration of a great American patriot, John Lewis, I’ll share with you a snippet of history, which is included in my recent novel, King of Soul. In chapter 4, we find a group of believers gathered together in mourning the death of an earlier pioneer of civil rights, Medgar Evers, 1963 . . .
On Sunday morning, Aleen and her husband Bo took their children to Mt. Zion AME church. A shroud of heaviness hung upon the gathered people of God, dampening the joy that their weekly gathering customarily dispensed, and hindering the Spirit’s work of divine healing and reconciliation among them. All across Mississippi and beyond, the murder of Medgar Evers was casting a pall of grief. Departing from his usual routine, Pastor Reggie asked the choir to ignite their worship in a manner different from their usual jubilation. He requested a song that would draw God’s people, by the Spirit, into a solemn reflection upon the suffering and injustice of this life as exemplified by Jesus on the cross, and the eternal life made possible by his victory over death through Resurrection.
And so the choir, clad in purple and black robes, began to sway, humming the tune before its words were manifested in melody, moaning, laboring in the Spirit to bring forth a full expression of God’s grief, and their grief, at the death of the Son of Man, and those who, like Brother Medgar, have entered into his eternal dwelling-place.
Oh, Freedom, Oh, Freedom,
Oh, Freedom over me.
And before I’ll be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free.
Following in Medgar Evers’ path of martyred dedication to truth and freedom, John Lewis has gone home to freedom, having left a legacy of courageous freedom for his people and for all of us in this troubled world.
He was no slave, being buried in his grave, after that last funereal procession over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He was a courageous American pioneer for justice.
Now we should re-dedicate that bridge in Selma as the John Lewis Bridge.