Our nation lost a giant of a man, an icon to many and an elected representative who stayed in touch with the people he represented.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, of Georgia, was bold and ambitious even as a high school student in Troy, Alabama. He wrote to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., because he wanted to get involved in the civil rights movement after seeing what was going on in Montgomery with the bus boycott and the stand taken by Rosa Parks. He didn’t want to sit idly by. To his surprise, he got a letter from King, who sent him a round-trip Greyhound bus ticket so they could meet in Montgomery, Alabama.
In a National Public Radio interview earlier this year, Lewis recalled what happened. “Dr. King said, 'Are you the boy from Troy?' And I said, 'Dr. King, I am John Robert Lewis.' I gave my whole name. But he still called me the ‘boy from Troy.' "
That “boy from Troy” went on to be on national and world stages with King and others. He was the youngest of the “Big Six” March on Washington organizers, an august group that included King, James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality, trade unionist A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Whitney Young of the National Urban League. Too often we forget the entire name of that event, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Lewis had an impact: Bob Tucker, a New Orleans civil rights activist who was arrested in Atlanta in the 1960s when he and other Clark College students staged a lunch counter sit-in, continued his activist ways in New Orleans before moving into city leadership and political circles. He looked at Lewis as “a very special brother who enjoyed planet-wide respect and admiration.”
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans, considered Lewis a mentor, in the U.S. Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus. In a statement, he called Lewis a “fearless fighter” who had a “dogged determination that made way for long lasting, meaningful change in this country.”
Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins called Lewis “a real hero” and “a man of great character who did what was right and stood for justice even if it wasn’t a popular stance at the time.”
Lewis was one of our nation’s most forceful speakers and among those who could eloquently articulate the needs of the less fortunate, who need more attention.
We honor Lewis for his courage and putting into action the idea of speaking truth to power, for leading by example and showing how to move protest to seats of power and for showing us that moving forward and moving up doesn’t mean we have to leave behind those who helped us along the way.
Rest in power, sir. You’ve earned your rest.