And he has been for a long time. Today’s New Yorker article by David Remnick testifies to some of the reasons why.
John Lewis and the Meaning of Legitimacy
By David Remnick
Only a heedless few, including the President-elect, would attempt to dismiss a man who remains nearly alone in his capacity to tell the story of race in America.
The link above should take you to Remnick’s essay. Meanwhile:
John Lewis came to the military college in my small hometown here almost two years ago to accept a civil rights award. Many of us townsfolk went to Virginia Military Institute’s big sports arena to witness the event, so proud that even in this Southern mountain town, we have come a ways.
Not far enough yet, as Lewis himself has made clear. But on Saturday, about 700 people marched peacefully through our town in memory of Martin Luther King’s message to the nation, and in an expression of community and inclusiveness. It was that, and more. The next evening — last night — several hundred of us were privileged to hear Diane Nash give the MLK Day address at our other college, Washington & Lee University.
There’s irony here — Robert E. Lee is buried on the W&L campus — but we want to get past that. Ms. Nash — who as a college sophomore decades ago was a chief organizer of the Freedom Rides — spoke about her life, about Dr. King and her association with him, and about how the civil rights movement in her view was created and carried out by people who refused to accept oppression. She spoke of “agapic energy,” the energy that enables you to get past hating your opponent and to target the institutions and beliefs that keep oppression in place.
This was just one day after both the CARE Initiative march honoring King and the by now customary showing of Confederate flags were captured by the New York Times in a video — https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/us/parades-lexington-virginia-martin-luther-king-jr-robert-e-lee.html. That didn’t faze Ms. Nash, who is entirely equal to facing down a flag and much more. But for us who remain behind, it was a reminder that we’re not in that “place just right” — not just yet.
And so, John Lewis. Once again this man who has walked so many miles for freedom and justice — who has walked with the wind and against it and has never faltered — once again this man, in the fullness of his years, is talking with his feet. He is not attending the inauguration of a man who has mocked the disabled, women, and people of all races other than his own.
Here’s an excerpt from Remnick, quoting Lewis:
Testifying at Sessions’s confirmation hearing, Lewis said, “Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’s call for law and order will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up back then.”
“We’ve made progress, but we are not there yet,” he continued. “There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward. As the late A. Philip Randolph, who was the dean of the March on Washington, in 1963, often said, ‘Maybe our forefathers and our foremothers all came to this great land in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.’ It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you, but we need someone who’s going to stand up and speak up and speak out for the people that need help, for people who are being discriminated against.”
So we still have work to do. And Ms. Nash has the recipe, which she shared last night with students, professors and townspeople: Investigate. Make your plan. Hit the streets. Keep at it. And love your enemy, because the energy of love is the most powerful and the only reliable force we have going for us. Agapic energy. Onward.