In Honor of Representative John Lewis, The Conscience of Congress: A Thumbnails Special Edition

Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah/Executive Office of the Mayor via AP.

To honor the extraordinary legacy of US Representative John Lewis, who died at age 80 this past Friday, July 17th, we are presenting a special edition of Thumbnails featuring articles about the civil rights icon. We are astonished when we learned he was 17 years old when he met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, putting him on the path to a life-long battle for civil rights. At age 23, he shared the stage with Dr. King when he spoke at the March on Washington in 1963, and he was barely 25 when he was beaten as he marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965. 

From his earliest days to his very last, he espoused equal rights through non-violent means, especially through voting. He stood up for Black Lives Matter and was a beacon of light in our country. His latest Voting Rights Act was among his most intense efforts at the time of his death. In a twist right out of a movie, both he and civil rights icon Reverend Dr. C.T. Vivian were "called home" on the same day in Atlanta. They had fought side-by-side and were even jailed together in their fight for equality. Rev. Dr. Vivian was 95 years old. They both advocated "Good Trouble." VOTE — Chaz Ebert

1. 

"How the Black Lives Matter Generation Remembers John Lewis": According to the Associated Press.

Lewis, the Black civil rights icon who some called the ‘conscience of Congress,’ died Friday. In one of his last public appearances, he posed for a picture in June, standing on the Black Lives Matter Plaza mural painted just outside of the White House amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd. For the Black Lives Matter generation, the connection to Lewis is deeper than many may realize. As a young man, through clouds of teargas and a hail of billy clubs, Lewis nearly lost his life marching against segregation and for voting rights. As a Georgia congressman, Lewis was generous with his time, taking meetings and sharing stages with activists who, from Sanford, Florida, to Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore to Minneapolis, also withstood teargas — as well as rubber bullets, pepper spray and arrests — in their own protests against racism.He didn't have to stand with us, he chose to,’ Malkia Devich Cyril, the founder and senior fellow of MediaJustice, which advocates for open and democratic media and technology platforms, told The Associated Press. ‘That's real leadership.’”

2. 

"Watch Rep. John Lewis' last interview with Al Roker on 3rd Hour of Today": Courtesy of Today's Yi-Jin Yu.

“In his final appearance on the 3rd hour of TODAY, Lewis, 80, shared his reaction to activists and protesters who marched across the country in the wake of George Floyd's death while in police custody. ‘I said to myself, seeing like I've been down this road before, that I've been so moved and so inspired by hundreds and thousands of people — Black, white, Latino, Asian American, Native American, men, women, people of different backgrounds, from all over America and from around the world. It gives me hope that as a nation and as a people, we're going to get there, we're going to make it. We're going to survive and there will be no turning back.’ The Democratic representative said he was saddened at the time but wouldn't give up hope for the future. ‘(Floyd's death) made me so sad. It made me cry to see what was happening to this person of color, but to any human being. I think it sends a message that we will not give up on justice, we will not give up on fairness, that we will continue to press, and press on for what is right, for what is fair, for what is just.’”

3.

"John Lewis: Good Trouble": Dawn Porter's new documentary received a rave review from Steve Davis at the Austin Chronicle.

This richly deserved tribute to the indefatigable John Lewis, the pioneering civil rights activist and longtime Georgia congressman, is yet another sobering reminder that the fight for social and racial justice in this country is a struggle that seemingly never ends, one a nonetheless ever-optimistic Lewis has doggedly waged all his adult life. Even today, at the way-past-retirement age of 80, he remains a moral compass on Capitol Hill at a time when so many there have sold their souls to the devil. This hard-working, 17-term member of the House of Representatives spends much of his time these days battling the evil and regressive campaign of minority voter suppression and disenfranchisement in his home state and elsewhere. At one point in the documentary, he jokingly boasts he’s been arrested 45 times, and it’s evident he’s willing to go to jail again to advance that or any other worthy cause. As ‘Good Trouble’ quickly demonstrates as it follows this tireless octogenarian on his daily rounds, John Lewis is never one to rest on his laurels.”

4. 

Photos courtesy of Rev. Harold Middlebrook

"The US loses two icons of the civil rights movement in one day": CNN's Faith Karimi reports on how Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian, who fought for civil rights and were jailed together, died on the same day. See also: WJHL reporter Kristie Crawford shows how Knoxville civil rights leaders are remembering Lewis and Vivian.

John Robert Lewis died at age 80 after a battle with cancer. Rev. Cordy Tindell ‘C.T.’ Vivian died at age 95 of natural causes. They died a day before the birthday of the late Nelson Mandela -- another renown champion of racial equality. Both men were the epitome of ‘good trouble’ -- Lewis' favorite saying and approach to confronting injustices without violence. They worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the forefront of the historic struggle for racial justices in the 1960s. At the height of the push for justice,  that led to key changes. After years of arrests, confrontations and unyielding demands for justice, they received the highest civilian honor from the nation's first Black President. […] At age 25, Lewis also helped lead a march for voting rights on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where he and other marchers were met by heavily armed state and local police who attacked them with clubs, fracturing Lewis' skull. Images from that ‘Bloody Sunday’ shocked the nation and galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.”

5. 

"The Right Way to Honor John Lewis: Restore and Extend the Voting Rights Act": Impassioned commentary from Jeanne Theoharis at The Intercept. 

Given how widespread voter suppression is across the U.S., we need a new formula that applies to every state, and makes each state’s voting rules suspect. All changes should be inspected for how they will impact voter participation. We need automatic voter registration, early voting, and Election Day as a national holiday. Further, we need national legislation restoring voting rights to current and formerly incarcerated people. Incarcerated people are counted for reasons of political apportionment within the municipalities in which they are incarcerated — a modern three-fifths compromise, as the towns where prisons are located get more representation, while the people incarcerated typically can’t vote. In many states, even when people have served out their sentences, they are deprived of their right to vote through felon disfranchisement laws or new kinds of poll taxes. The day before Lewis and Vivian died, the Supreme Court refused to let Florida felons who completed their sentences vote in a primary without first paying fees, fines, and restitution. A poll tax was deemed legal by the Supreme Court last week.”

Image of the Day

Photo by Bob Andres.

John Lewis poses with Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on the day that the city dedicated its street renamed as John Lewis Freedom Parkway in 2018. Click here to read how "John Lewis left footprints across metro Atlanta," as detailed by Pete Corson of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Video of the Day

This excerpt from Kathleen Dowdey's 2017 documentary, "John Lewis: Get in the Way," posted on YouTube by PBS, explores the historic Nashville sit-ins. 

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