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Rest in Peace, John Lewis – You Earned It

America lost a true hero Friday. Born to sharecroppers near Troy, AL, John Lewis’ first time getting into what he called “good trouble” was walking to the library to check out books. He was told the library was for whites only and ordered to leave. Decades later, as a Representative in Congress (where he served 30+ years), he was invited to that same library to speak – and presented the symbolic library card.

As a young man, Lewis joined Martin Luther King, Jr., in the civil-rights movement, when it was unpopular – and dangerous – to do so. At the age of 23, he was one of the primary organizers of the March on Washington in 1963 and spoke there, along with King. Talk about a tough act to follow.

This Moderate would like to share a personal memory of John Lewis. In the early 2000s, I was on the leadership team of a GA nonpartisan environmental organization (the Sierra Club) in Atlanta. We were holding our annual chapter retreat at a campground in the north GA mountains.

We needed a keynote speaker, so somebody contacted Representative Lewis’ office and invited him. We were pleasantly surprised when he accepted, since the audience would be a couple hundred people (most were not his constituents, so he had little to gain), the site was a two-hour drive from his home in Atlanta – and we were dedicated to environmental issues, not civil-rights, poverty, or social-justice issues.

But he agreed to speak, anyway, at our evening banquet, and I had the honor of meeting him. He had that special knack of making everyone feel they were the only one in his presence – his way of showing respect by honoring everyone. He was gracious and modest, even though his place in history was ensured. He asked us to call him “John”, not “Representative” or “Mister” Lewis (although none of us did). One civil-rights colleague said he was the most quiet and humble among them – but when he spoke with passion, everybody listened.

He demonstrated that passion in encouraging us to continue fighting to protect the environment, because it was right and citizens have to “get in the way” of anything unjust or harmful. He understood, early in the environmental justice movement, that polluting industries often locate near minority neighborhoods, where residents don’t have influence to block them.

Lewis spoke for over an hour, and it was one of the most powerful, inspirational speeches I have ever heard (at a tiny, isolated campground). Afterward, he thanked US for inviting him and encouraged us to keep fighting for what we believe in – and never give up.

He then drove back to Atlanta, arriving late that night. But his presence, his passion, his dedication to ALL Americans fighting for what is right, never left us.

And hopefully, his spirit never will. But now that his physical presence is gone, the words of St. Paul resonate:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day…”

If anybody ever deserved those words, John Lewis did.

Want to honor his legacy? Contribute to campaigns and organizations fighting “the good fight”. Volunteer for them. Above all, VOTE.

 

 

Images: Google Images

John Lewis with quote – ABC News

John Lewis’ arrest – PBS

John Lewis speaking at March on Washington – Vox

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