John Lewis, at the age of 80, has died, and one result is remembrances of his life, his courage, his Christian faith, his sacrifices and his dedication to nonviolence as one of the foremost civil rights leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries. Peace and love resided in his heart, it is said, and the Black Lives Matter protesters should listen, should forsake arson, vandalism, theft, injuring others, spreading ruin and defeating their cause.
The group’s adherents should instead become John Lewis.
Growing up with segregation
Lewis lived through times when the abuse and oppression of Black Americans was much harsher, crueler and painful than today, times when none could even dream of having a Black president, for instance. Especially in the South, Black people could not vote, ride on a bus with whites, eat in regular restaurants, stay in most hotels, go to public schools with whites or get into white colleges. Segregation ruled, and there were physical threats to deal with.
Even as a very young man who first wanted to be a minister, Lewis became a leader of a civil rights group and befriended Martin Luther King Jr., protested and demonstrated and was beaten time and again. He had his skull fractured. He had his face bloodied. He took risks that could have gotten him killed. He was arrested 45 times.
But when he learned of the rise of the Black power movement and its acceptance of violence, he said no, no, no, that is not right. Jon Meacham, a superb journalist and author who has written a biography of him, says he was deeply of the faith, that he was led by the Gospels. He believed meekness would inherit the earth, and no, he was not always meek, but love was Lewis’ foremost strategy: kindness, calmness, joy, humility, patience and putting the good of others first in everything he did.
Guess what? On issue after issue after issue, he and others like him won, getting major, liberating legislation enacted into law.