John Lewis, my Phi Beta Sigma fraternity brother, in my opinion was just what this article reads: an American hero.
Lewis passed away July 17 after a six-month battle with cancer at 80 but lives on through the good things for which he stood. The son of sharecroppers, he rose above poverty to walk the hall of Congress.
He was honored and respected as the conscience of the U.S. Congress. He was a disciple of Martin Luther King Jr. and participated in lunch counter sit-ins and joined the Freedom Riders in challenging segregated buses, preaching nonviolence.
At 23, he was a keynote speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington. He was arrested more than 40 times while demonstrating against racial and social injustice. Lewis selected nonviolent actions as the preferred means to fight the unfairness of the Jim Crow South.
Lewis continued fighting for equality when he was elected to the 5th Congressional District in Georgia for more than 30 years. He referred to his organized protests and sit-ins as “Good Trouble.”
Lewis also believed in forgiveness. He once described an incident when, as a young man, he was beaten badly by members of the Ku Klux Klan after attempting to enter a “white waiting room.”
“Many years later, in February 2009, one of the men that had beaten us came to my Capitol Hill office; he was in his 70s with his son who was in his 40s and he said, ‘Mr. Lewis, I am one of the people who beat you and your seatmate on a bus.' He said I wanted to apologize. Will you accept my apology?”
After accepting his apology and hugging the father and the son, the three “cried together.” Lewis said, “It is the power in the way of peace, the way of love." The congressman said, “We must never, ever hate. The better way is love."
Lewis was a decent, humble, kind and generous man, but more than anything he was a fearless man. So, how can America best remember John Lewis? Get out and vote in every election.
A friend asked me, “Do you think Lewis is an equal with Martin Luther King Jr.?” My response: An unequivocal yes.
LOUIS NICK JOSEPH