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USA: ’The World Has Lost a Legend’: Civil Rights Hero John Lewis Dies at 80

“It is up to us to pick up his mantle and carry on.”

Monday 20 July 2020, by siawi3


Saturday, July 18, 2020

’The World Has Lost a Legend’: Civil Rights Hero John Lewis Dies at 80

“It is up to us to pick up his mantle and carry on.”

by Jake Johnson, staff writer

Georgia Rep. John Lewis speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 2013 in Washington, D.C. commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. (Photo: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Georgia Congressman John Lewis, whose courageous activism throughout the 1960s in the face of beatings by white supremacist mobs and police helped galvanize the movement for civil rights, died Friday after a six-month fight with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Lewis’ family announced his passing in a statement Friday evening.

“He was honored and respected as the conscience of the U.S. Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother,” the statement reads. “He was a stalwart champion in the ongoing struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America. He will be deeply missed.”

Lewis was elected to represent Georgia’s 5th congressional district in 1987 after years of involvement with the campaign to dismantle Jim Crow and secure civil rights for Black people. Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders, was among the demonstrators brutally beaten by police during a peaceful march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965.

“The world has lost a legend; the civil rights movement has lost an icon, the city of Atlanta has lost one of its most fearless leaders, and the Congressional Black Caucus has lost our longest serving member,” the CBC said late Friday. “Despite more than 40 arrests, brutal attacks, and physical injuries, Mr. Lewis remained devoted to the philosophy of nonviolence in his fight for justice and equality.”

“John Lewis was a national treasure and a civil rights hero for the ages,” the NAACP said in a statement early Saturday. “We are deeply saddened by his passing but profoundly grateful for his immense contributions to justice. He used every waking moment of his 80 years to push this country toward more representative democracy and left behind a remarkable model.”

“It is up to us to pick up his mantle and carry on,” the group added, “and we urge the entire nation to join us.”


John Lewis on Love, Forgiveness, and the Seedbed of Personal Strength

Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul Lean toward the whispers of your own heart Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge But when it is your time dont be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice.

By Maria Popova

Weve got to be as clear-headed about human beings as possible, because we are still each others only hope, James Baldwin told Margaret Mead in their historic conversation about forgiveness. To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, poet and philosopher David Whyte observed a generation later in considering the measure of maturity an observation as astute on the scale of individuals as it is on the scale of society. How few of us are capable of such largeness when contracted by hurt, when the clench of injustice has tightened our own fists. And yet in the conscious choice to unclench our hearts and our hands is not only the measure of our courage and our strength, not only the wellspring of compassion for others, but the wellspring of compassion for ourselves and the supreme triumph of personhood. As we develop love, appreciation, and forgiveness for others over time, Anne Lamott wrote as she contemplated the relationship between brokenness and joy, we may accidentally develop those things toward ourselves, too.

Once in a generation, if we are lucky, someone comes about who in every aspect of their being models for us how to do that, how to be that how to place love at the center, the center that holds solid as all around it breaks, the solid place that becomes the fort of what is unbreakable in us and the fulcrum of change.

Photo: John Lewis

Among those rare, miraculous few was John Lewis (February 21, 1940July 17, 2020), who began his life by preaching to the chickens at his parents farm in southern Alabama and went on to teach a nation, a world how to step into that rare courage, that countercultural act of resistance in refusing to stop loving this broken, beautiful world. In every fiber of his being, he upheld that stubborn, splendid refusal as the crucible of justice, of progress, of all that is harmonious and human in us.

If Lewiss legacy is to be summed up in a succinct way, if his immense and enduring gift to the generations is to be bowed with a single ribbon, it would be these passages from his 2012 memoir Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change (public library):

Our actions entrench the power of the light on this planet. Every positive thought we pass between us makes room for more light. And if we do more than think, then our actions clear the path for even more light. That is why forgiveness and compassion must become more important principles in public life.

A century after Tolstoy wrote to Gandhi that love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills in their extraordinary forgotten correspondence about why we hurt each other and how to stop, Lewis writes:

Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with goodness. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time dont be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.

Complement with the young poet Marissa Daviss stunning love letter to the dual courage of facing a broken reality while refusing to cease cherishing this beautiful world, then revisit this lovely picture-book about the childhood experience that shaped Lewiss character and courage.


John Lewis, and the Theology of #GoodTrouble

July 18, 2020

by Jim Coppoc

What does it profit a great nation to conquer the world, only to lose its soul?

-Rev. and Rep. John Robert Lewis

There is no doubt that John Lewis was a deeply religious man. An ordained Baptist minister, Lewis was publicly vocal about his faith throughout his long and storied career, which famously began as a child, preaching to the chickens at his rural Alabama home, working desperately to overcome his shyness and his stutter. But Lewis was never one to leave his faith at home.

At 15, Lewis preached his first public sermon, A Praying Mother, based on the story of the prophet Samuel. By 17, Lewis had invested in the Civil Rights Movement and wrote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr to tell him so. By 18, Lewis had made his first visit to King. By 21, he was a Freedom Rider. By 23, he was Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and was regarded as one of the Civil Rights Movements Big Six leaders. And his biography from there is American legend.

In a recent interview with NPR, Lewis recalled his mother used to warn him to stay out of trouble:

But I told her that I got into a good trouble, necessary trouble, he said. Even today, I tell people, We need to get into good trouble.’

Generational PTSD and Spiritual Injury

John Lewis lived in an era of lynchings and beatings and church bombings and segregation and assassination. Much like today, with the extrajudicial police killings and the fallout from decades of racist legislation like the 1994 Crime Bill, this was a reality every young black man had to facea specter riding shotgun in every police encounter and stalking every aspect of social life.

And this violence is not without consequence. Kenneth V. Hardy of Drexel University has found through years of both research and therapeutic practice that racial oppression is a traumatic form of interpersonal violence which can lacerate the spirit, scar the soul, and puncture the psyche. In fact, just the experience of living while black in America can trigger ongoing, pervasive symptoms best described by psychologists as PTSD, and by those in ministry as spiritual injury. In essence, traumatic events beyond a persons control can wound their spiritual core just as deeply and their psychological core, and with extensively overlapping pathologies.

So what can be done to heal the generational psychological and spiritual injuries of racism and oppression?

One answer, according to psychologists, is activism.

The Healing Power of Activism

One of the reasons we have civil rights movements is to address the grief, anger and trauma that come from generations of racial (and other) inequity. Social scientist John Schute, for example, has examined the strength and purpose that can be gained from collective defiance and found that both personal and cultural healing can come from activism that addresses the cause of the trauma. Some have gone so far as to call this the Activism Cure, operating through a combination of building resilience and investing in something greater than yourself.

Historically, one of the best, most effective ways to accomplish this activism cure, especially in the context of the deep spiritual wounds of racial injustice, has been through nonviolent, faith-based, community resistance. Professor Paul Harvey of the University of Colorado, for example, a researcher of race, religion and civil rights, has concluded that faith, and particularly black Christianity [] is what empowered the rank and file who made the [Civil Rights] movement move. And when it moved, major legal and legislative changes occurred. Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr, the Director of the Center for Non-Violence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island agrees, citing many examples of how the church was the place where different social and economic groups came together and became united in the cause of justice. Lewis recalls this as well:

The prayers, the songs, the hymns fortified me, made me stronger, gave me the power and the ability, the capacity to keep moving, to pick em up and put em down. If it hadnt been for my belief in God Almighty, the civil rights movement and my own participation would have been like a bird without wings.

Lewis also wrote:

It was no accident that the movement was led primarily by ministersnot politicians, presidents or even community activistsbut ministers first, who believed they were called to the work of civil rights as an expression of their faith.

So What Now?

Perhaps the best way to honor Lewis life is to continue Lewis work. In his own words:

My philosophy is very simple: When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to stand up, you have to say something, you have to do something.

Although Lewis was himself Baptist, and did have his roots in the church, for him this work was just as powerful in the secular sphere as in the sacred. Recalling leaving seminary to make his career in the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis once said:

I think my pulpit today is a much larger pulpit. If I had stayed in a traditional church, I would have been limited to four walls and probably in some place in Alabama or in Nashville, Tenn. I preach every day. Every day, Im preaching a sermon, telling people to get off their butts and do something.

And that, Dear Reader, is #GoodTrouble.