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.