As I watched the funeral of Civil Rights activist Congressman John Lewis, I recall what is was like in the 1960s and why he stared down bigotry, hatred and injustice.
As a young child my father would carry us to town on Saturday along my with sister and brother. We would meet up with the other children and walk around town. I recall a group of us going to the court house use the restroom and get water to drink. As a young child, I didn’t fully understand why it was separate fountains and restrooms. All I recall is we could only drink from the fountain with the sign that read colored only and we could only use the restroom with the sign that said colored only.
On this particular day, it was steaming hot and I wanted some water. The water with the colored-only sign was hot and the stream was very slow, so I went to the fountain with the white only sign and got a drink of water. As I was drinking some water a deputy sheriff saw me and yelled “get away from that fountain and go to the other one.” As a 10-year-old child, you can only imagine how scared I was. I did not tell my father because I probably would have gotten a spanking.
I am thankful for Congressman John Lewis and the others for getting in good trouble, necessary trouble. Do not misrepresent what he stood for when he said “get in good trouble; necessary trouble.” He did not mean for you to start violent protest, destroying property or hurting people. He was trying to tell you to find a way to right a wrong. He substituted hatred and fear for love and hope.
At a young age the boy from Troy was the voice for those that could not talk and the feet for those that could not walk. He was willing to give up his life for a greater cause.
As I read the story of Bloody Sunday that occurred on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the troopers thought they won the battle but the nation’s three major television networks stunned viewers with graphic footage of the violence. Unarmed men, women, and children were attacked by uniformed men wearing gas masks and riding horses. Selma’s mayor at the time said “it looked like war.” A New York senator at the time called that assault on the marchers “an exercise in terror.”
Thank you Congressman John Lewis and others for the blood and beating you took on Bloody Sunday because your blood resulted in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965. The Voting Rights Act has been called the crowning achievement of the Civil Rights Movement. The act, in effect abolished poll taxes, literacy tests and other barriers to equal opportunity at the ballot box.
So if you want to honor Congressman Lewis, just keep moving. I don’t mean move to another town but most of all move to the ballot box. You do not have to guess how many jelly beans are in the jar anymore or how many bubbles there are in a bar of soap.
This man was so well respected three former Presidents attended his home going. President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama. Congressman Lewis was referred to as the Conscious of Congress.
“The Boy from Troy heard the voice of the Lord, saying, whom shall I send and who will go for us. The Boy from Troy said here am I; send me.”
Faye N. Tinsley