Tag Archives: Edmund Pettus Bridge

Remembering John Lewis, a true American hero. The best political ad of the year, by Lindsay Graham’s opponent. And a “pandemic sport” involving beer cans that’s wildly impressive

We don’t have that many civil rights icons left anymore, but losing John Lewis hurts. It hurts a lot.

Because among civil rights icons, and there are so many, Lewis was a giant. This was a young man whose words and rhetoric were so bold and inflammatory at the 1963 March on Washington, that Martin Luther King Jr., and other leaders took him aside once they saw his text and said, basically “Whoa, now, you can’t say all that!” (One line they had him remove was “In good conscience, we cannot support wholeheartedly the administration’s civil rights bill, for it is too little and too late. There’s not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality.”

John Lewis, who passed away late Friday night at the age of 80, lived an extraordinary life. From being beaten within an inch of his life while protesting in Selma, Ala., to marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge (he was a freaking KKK Grand Dragon, by the way, maybe we ought to re-name that bridge now, huh?) and to going on to a great career as a Congressman from Georgia,

Lewis lived every moment in pursuit of equality and justice, and risked his life countless times so millions of others would be able to live theirs better.

At the end of the day, is there any higher compliment you can give a person?

Lewis lived a life that began when America barely acknowledged the rights of African-Americans to vote, and lived long enough to see a black man get elected President. Of course we still have so much further to go, but that’s a hell of a thing.

The great Charlie Pierce of Esquire had, not surprisingly, the best Lewis obit I read over the weekend. The whole thing is here, but here’s an excerpt:

He was the bravest man I ever met. Heroes in war, most of them, know that the country will embrace them when they come home. They have that to sustain them in the worst circumstances. They already know they have a country worth fighting for. When John Lewis was riding buses, and using forbidden washrooms, and walking across the bridge, he didn’t have that on which to rely. In that violent, freighted time, he was a man without a country. His courage came from a different place.

It came not from being a man without a country, but from being a man demanding a country, and he wanted this one. It was the same fire that burned in the Founders, in the 54th Massachusetts on the beach before Battery Wagner, in the Tuskegee Airmen over Europe, and in the 183rd Engineers when they walked, horrified, into Buchenwald to liberate the survivors. It was the same fire that illuminated the Civil Rights Movement when he was young, and the new one that rose in the years before his death. It is the most American of desires to demand this country for your own, and to demand it fulfill the promises it made to the world. John Lewis had the most American soul I ever saw.

Saturday night, Shelley and I  watched the film “Glory,” which she had never seen and which is one of my all-time favorites.  It was a coincidence we watched it a few hours after Lewis died; I’d picked it a week earlier for Saturday night.

But it was impossible to watch it and not see, as Pierce alluded to, that there was a straight line from the 54th Massachusetts brigade immortalized in the movie, to John Lewis, marching across that bridge and fighting for freedom.

He was an incredible American hero. And he will be missed.

**Next up today, there hasn’t been a ton of mainstream media focus on Senate races in 2020 yet, because obviously coronavirus and police brutality/Black Lives Matter protests have eaten up most of the coverage, understandably.

But as usual there are going to be some fiercely-contested Senate battles, and maybe the hottest is in South Carolina, where an African-American named Jaime Harrison is running to take down the Trump toady to end all Trump toadies, Lindsay Graham.

This new ad from Harrison is just phenomenal. Tugging on the heart-strings and as inspirational as they come.

**And finally, I don’t know what to say about this video, except to say most gyms and fitness centers are closed, people are bored, and they’ve got to get their leg work in somehow.

This is damn impressive. It’s not a sport or maybe not even athletic, but it’s impressive.

I counted 47 cans he crushed in a row, with no slip-ups. I am in awe.

When reporters helped change the world

RaceBeat2

So two things combined this week to inspire me to write this post:

1. Like every other newspaper  journalist I know, I’ve been getting sick and tired of everyone telling us how irrelevant we’re becoming.

We’ve got blogs now, and Twitter, and the Internet, and who has time to wait for a newspaper anyway? goes the cry from the masses. Combine that with the hemorrhaging circulation and advertising being in the toilet, it seems everywhere you look, newspapers are gasping for their last breath.

And,

2. Today, August 28, is the 46th anniversary of the greatest speech of the 20th century, Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” oration in Washington, D.C.

So given those two things, I wanted to write about an amazing book I read last year called “The Race Beat.” It’s by two legendary journalists, Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, and it tells the previously untold story of the courageous journalists, black and white, who helped force the civil rights movement forward into the American consciousness.

By no means does this exhaustive but entertaining book give the journalists all the credit for the movement, but it absolutely does a service to the brave reporters who were on the front lines.

Reporters who had a conscience, yes, about the unconscionable treatment of blacks in the South, but also reporters who knew a good story and knew enough to follow it all the way through.

Typical of them was John Chancellor of NBC, who, the authors write “when faced with a flying wedge of white toughs coming at him” as he talked to a black woman after the Emmett Till lynching trial, pointed his microphone out and yelled “I don’t care what you’re going to do to me, but the whole world is going to know it.”

These reporters were on the front lines right alongside men like Ralph Abernathy and John Lewis, getting their heads bashed in and hosed down with water just like the rest.

Seriously, without reporters like Claude Sitton of the New York Times (who I had never heard of before this book was published, and now I count as a journalistic hero) and Simeon Booker of Jet Magazine, so much of the awful degradation and punishment of African-Americans might’ve stayed under the radar.

And the photographers of the era were equally important; Charles Moore of Life magazine shot some of the most iconic images that were then splashed across America’s coffee tables.

But by constantly confronting the Bull Connors and George Wallaces, and holding a mirror up to their racism, the reporters in the civil rights movement did my whole profession proud.

Of course, not everyone was on board; newspapers like the Birmingham News and others were still trapped in a time warp, refusing to acknowledge the changes going on.

But a small trickle of brave editors like Harry Ashmore at the Little Rock Gazette begat brave editors, and more and more media finally began to cover the civil rights movement, so that brutal attacks on innocent protesters, like the people crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama in 1965, would be seen and shoved down the throats of Northerners, forcing them to take notice and demand action just as their Southern brothers were doing.

Truly, this book should be essential reading for journalism students, or any students of American history. If you’re a writer like me, turning its pages will once again make you feel proud to be a part of this profession.

Even if you’re not a journalist, I urge you to check out this beautifully-written tale of courageous people , black and white, who by their words and pictures helped change the world for the better.

And now, just because it can never be heard enough …