“I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.”
These are the words of congressional representative and civil rights legend, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who died on Friday, July 17.
He has been called “the conscience of the Congress.” It makes sense, as he was beat by state troopers on Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, while protesting for voting rights.
It was March 7, 1965, and known as “Bloody Sunday.” Images of the attack moved persons to swiftly pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Last year, I walked across that bridge and was carried away by visions of my ancestors, well dressed and determined to be seen not as prejudice would have it to be but as they truly are.
I could hear the sound of their feet as sweat beaded and fell across my brow. They were here and because of their presence, we will “march on ‘til victory is won.”
There is talk of renaming the bridge after Lewis. The bridge is presently named after a Ku Klux Klan leader and confederate soldier. It would be another step in the right direction.
He knew early on where he should stand and where he was supposed to be. Beaten and arrested during demonstrations, he kept showing up and speaking out.
He was not deterred and wasn’t “gonna let nobody turn (him) ’round.”
Even as the nation attempts to go backward, his words propel the next generation forward.
He started young as an activist, and after the murder of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd so have so many other Americans.
He was 23 years old when he spoke at the March on Washington for jobs and freedom with Martin Luther King Jr. and others. He was the last living speaker and now that his voice is gone, I wonder what courage sounds like.
At 80 years old, U.S. Rep. Lewis remained the same – passionate, determined, convicted by his calling to “equal justice under law” as inscribed on the United States Supreme Court building and embodied in his movements.
Often speaking of his humble beginnings and the fight for civil rights, his responses were emotional and palpable.
He was connected to the struggle for equality in ways I aspire to be, in ways that Howard Thurman spoke of so mystically.
“One of the central problems in human relations is applying the ethic of respect for personality in a way that is not governed by special categories,” Thurman wrote in his book, “The Luminous Darkness.”
Lewis aimed to do just that.
The sociopolitical construct of race was not a reason and offered no rationale for which to deny persons their inherent dignity and to live as they had been created, freely and without restraint.
U.S. Rep. Lewis held nothing of himself back, still fighting and championing causes that reminded us to do what is right, just and fair.
His body carried the memory, and every time we looked at him, we could not forget what he had done for all of us. So, we listened when he told us to “get in trouble.”
He was clear it was not easy to do, as distractions and deterrents would prevent us.
The way of good trouble is not clearly marked, well paved or a straightway. This is why you have to “find a way to get in the way.”
His was a life of “good trouble, necessary trouble.”
U.S. Rep. Lewis, you have inspired generations to be good troublemakers. Thank you for your witness and for guiding us along the way.
We hope you can see us now.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis walks through the crowd after his speech at the Atlanta March for Social Justice in 2017. Photo: Daniellem4848 / Wikipedia.com (https://tinyurl.com/y2u5cru6). Cropped.