(Editorial) The Legacy of John Lewis: Civil Rights and Social Change
Updated: Jan 9
Author: Tim Yudong Zhang
Editor: Will Anderson
Credit: Tributes to John Lewis, Carib News
“Because of you, John.”
On January 20th, 2008, during the inauguration of the first African-American President of the United States, an African-American Congressman was witnessing at this moment with tears in his eyes.
When Georgia Rep. John Lewis endorsed Obama for president in 2007, he said, “something is happening in America and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap.” After this giant leap made possible by over 69,498,516 American voters, Lewis approached newly-sworn-in President Obama on inauguration day and asked him if he would sign a commemorative photo of the event. President Obama wrote: “Because of you, John.”
Credit: President Obama and John Lewis, The Guardian
John Lewis’s legacy lives on today. He was a warrior for civil rights in the south and across America, preaching, marching, protesting, and eventually, serving the country by entering public office.
On the day of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech, Lewis was there. As one of the “Big Six” leaders who organized the March on Washington, twenty-three-year-old Lewis also gave a speech.
“To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient,” Lewis said that day. “We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again. And then you holler, “Be patient.” How long can we be patient? \We want our freedom and we want it now. We do not want to go to jail. But we will go to jail if this is the price we must pay for love, brotherhood, and true peace.
“I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete…By the force of our demands, our determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in the image of God and democracy. We must say: ‘Wake up America! Wake up!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.”
John Lewis was passionate about giving African Americans equal rights compared to their white counterparts. While taking part in one of the first-ever Freedom Rides across the South, Lewis was beaten by angry mobs, arrested, and thrown in jail. Yet, he didn’t fight back. When Lewis was smashed in the head with a wooden crate and left bleeding and unconscious at a bus stop, he didn’t fight back.
John Lewis was passionate about giving African Amercians equal rights compared to their white counterparts. While taking part in one of the first-ever Freedom Rides across the South, Lewis was beaten by angry mobs, arrested, and thrown in jail. Yet, he didn’t fight back. When Lewis was smashed in the head with a wooden crate and left bleeding and unconscious at a bus stop, he didn’t fight back.
On March 7th, 1965—“Bloody Sunday”—Lewis led a nonviolent match across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. After making it across the bridge, the marchers began to kneel and pray. As they began, tear gas filled the air and mounted state troopers swept in to beat back the marchers. Lewis’s skull was fractured, yet, he didn’t fight back.
Because of John Lewis’s commitment to civic engagement, he was able to make a difference at a time when African Americans were more than often facing discrimination and racial hatred. It is because of people like John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson, and Rosa Parks that African Americans' rights are greatly advanced.
Let us learn from these great men and women. Together, we can realize social change for marginalized minorities.