As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma march I want to take a moment to reflect on the life and career of John Lewis, one of my personal heroes.
“Registering to vote is an act of commitment to the American ideal. It is patriotic. The Federal Government must decide whether it wants to let Southern Negroes register. It must make that choice this summer, or make us all witnesses to the lynching of democracy.”
John Lewis was a young college student when he got his start as an activist in the Nashville Student Movement. Lewis was often viewed as the prodigy of the movement as he was the youngest of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement by a full decade.
As a co-founder and an early chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis first became a national figure during the Freedom Rides of 1961. It was during this endeavor to desegregate public facilities in the South that Lewis was beaten so badly many feared his death was imminent.
Continuing his leadership of SNCC, Lewis was one of the speakers at the legendary 1963 March on Washington. SNCC worked throughout the South to develop Freedom Schools that trained nonviolent activists and 1964’s Freedom Summer efforts at registering potential Black voters.
Lewis was also one of the leaders of the Selma, Alabama march now referred to as “Bloody Sunday” because of the brutal beating Lewis and many other nonviolent protestors received at the hands (and clubs) of the Alabama State Police. It is this march we celebrated last weekend.
As the sixties came to an end, Lewis became deeply involved in electoral politics. Initially, he became a prominent advisor for Robert F. Kennedy’s Presidential campaign in 1968. For the last quarter century, Lewis has served his country as a member of Congress from Georgia.
In some respects, Lewis is considered the conscience of the national Democratic party. It was Lewis' decision to switch his support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary that opened the floodgates of superdelegates declaring Obama their preferred candidate.
Lewis continues to fight for human rights to this day. His efforts to pursue justice have extended well beyond his original pursuit of racial equality to include a whole host of social concerns. Still, he is widely perceived as the most important living link to the Civil Rights Movement.
I continue to be grateful for John Lewis. You should be too.