John Lewis. Then, Now and Forever

John Lewis at the podium in the House Sit-In. From Wikipedia.

In 2001 an agent of Hyperion Books reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in writing an essay for Caroline Kennedy’s curated sequel to her father’s Profiles In Courage. The subject to be profiled was John Lewis the civil rights activist. I needed a quick backgrounding before returning a call to the publisher and had just typed “John Lewis” into the search engine, when my son, then eleven, looked over my shoulder and gasped.

“John Lewis? The Freedom Rider?”

His expression was one of awe and incredulity.

“You know about John Lewis?” I asked, equally incredulous.

I got a scornful look in return. Of course he did, (He was at that time a Judeo-Christian kid in a racially diverse private school in New York City.) He proceeded to tell me about the Civil Rights march from Selma and how crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge John Lewis and others were struck again and again by state policemen but they didn’t hit back. And still they won.

I found it remarkable that any member of a generation encouraged to salivate over devastating weaponry, a man like John Lewis — soft-spoken, retiring, unarmed and dedicated to peaceful resistance — would still command such respect.

I thought about that again yesterday watching Congressman Lewis lead a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives attempting to force a vote on gun control. Who dares to touch it? He is the only member of either house of Congress who commands the moral authority to challenge the gun-lobby. If he stages a sit-in on the House floor for a week, a day or even an hour then he’s proven that he still has the power to rally powerful passive forces. And, believe me, the Millennials will know who’s won.

(My profile Of Congressman Lewis appeared in Profiles in Courage for Our Time. Hyperion, 2002. You may read an excerpt, by clicking on this link.)