|Rep. John Lewis: ‘This Reminded Me of Emmett Till’|
April 29, 2012
Rep. John Lewis: ‘This Reminded Me of Emmett Till’
By Megan Sims
Congressman John Lewis traces horrific racial attacks from historic civil rights movement until today.PHOTO: Shevry Lassister/Washington Informer
(TriceEdneyWire.com) - The strong racial tensions that America has been experiencing recently are nothing new for U. S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.); nor is it a surprise.
“[I’m] sad, troubled...This reminded me of Emmett Till. [And] it is my hope and my prayer that justice will be done,” the Congressman said of the Trayvon Martin case. “I don’t buy the feeling that we live in a post-racial society,” he said to applause. “There’re too many guns!...We need to talk about race and not wait until something happens!”
Lewis was speaking during a one-on-one in depth interview with Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes April 19. The event, “A Conversation with John Lewis”, sponsored by the Informer, featured the public interview as well as a book signing of Congressman Lewis’ autobiography, “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement”.
The passionate Lewis kept the crowd dangling on his every word as he recollected his humble beginnings on a sharecropper’s farm just outside of Troy, Ala. He even displayed his humorous side by talking about his responsibility with the chickens on the family farm.
“Those chickens taught me patience,” he said in a serious, but light-hearted tone. “[Actually] some of those chickens I used to preach to back in the 40s and 50s listened to me better than some of my colleagues,” he said to the laughter of the audience.
Lewis, a 25-year veteran of the U. S. House of Representatives, said he once aspired to become a preacher. Instead, he evolved into a seasoned civil rights leader during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
“I wanted to be a preacher,” he said. “But I got caught up in the Civil Rights Movement...the Civil Rights Movement became my church...[And] I was prepared to die.”
He was involved in the Nashville Sit-Ins, the Freedom Rides, and he is the last living keynote speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. As a young leader of the Student Non-Violent Campaign Committee, he participated in countless voter registration campaigns and civil rights protests, including the infamous “Bloody Sunday” of 1965.
Heavily influenced by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Congressman Lewis recalled taking on the segregated south, coming toe-to-toe with racial hatred. He was hit over the head by an Alabama state trooper during what has come to be known as the “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery, March 7, 1965.
Despite painful memories, the Congressman revealed the happiness he feels looking at how far things have come. He even talked about how the new MLK Memorial “meant everything” to him and to the sacrifices his mentor Dr. King made.
“I cried tears of happiness and joy to see the distance we’ve come,” he said.
Then there is the racially charged Trayvon Martin case that has captivated a nation and has many people choosing sides. The unarmed Sanford, Fla. teen was shot Feb. 26 by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Police initially refused to arrest Zimmerman until protesters took to the streets, resurrecting the case that police considered closed.
Congressman Lewis seemed deeply bothered as he spoke of the Trayvon Martin case. The audience erupted in thunderous applause at his fiery call to “talk about race” rather than wait until something happens.
In final words, he quoted Dr. King: “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will parish together as fools.”