It is only right that I make this next brother my first acknowledgement in Black History Month. If you were to Google “black activists + Nashville, 1960s,” this man’s name would be mentioned in the article links. Who is he? I’ll give you a hint. He co-authored March: Book One, last year’s Nashville Reads’ selection. That’s right! Today’s acknowledgement goes to Congressman John Lewis, a man of the 1960s and 2000s.
There’s so much I could say about this man, but I’m going to start and end with straight facts. I’m a firm believer in action being the most reliable component when judging a person’s character. So get a hold of these facts about Congressman Lewis.
Fact is Congressman Lewis wasn’t deterred from his academics during the segregated madness. He graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville. He earned a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy at Fisk University. While there, he helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC organized student activism during the Civil Rights Movement. So when you hear about Nashville sit-ins and boycotts in the ‘60s know that SNCC was behind them.
“The hundreds of students in that room were dead set to sit-in the next day. We weren’t about to wait….We were young, free, and burning with belief,” said Congressman John Lewis on Nashville sit-in students' response to the North Carolina students' first sit-in and the lack of bail money for protestors.
Did I mention he served as the Chairman of the committee, too?
Fact is Congressman Lewis didn’t stop there. He participated in the Freedom Rides across the South that demanded desegregated interstate bus terminals across the South. This was not an easy task as there were vicious mobs at every terminal to greet them with bombs, clubs, gases and other dangerous objects. To put this into perspective, a bus bombing occurred during the Freedom Riders Movement. The bombing made Nashville sit-in students’ Diane Nash, John Lewis and others travel to Montgomery practically impossible by bus. The Greyhound bus company did not want to carry the Riders to Montgomery. State police protection promises were made before Greyhound agreed. The Riders were promised protection they did not receive.
“A private plane would fly over the bus, and there would be a state patrol car every fifteen or twenty miles along the highway between Birmingham and Montgomery -- about ninety miles," recalled Freedom Rider John Lewis. State patrols aborted the Riders at the Montgomery city limits. Congressman Lewis was beaten. Also, Tennessee native John Seigenthaler was beaten unconscious by the mob and left in the streets for a half hour.
Fact is he spoke at the 1963 March on Washington. He is credited as the youngest speaker at that event. He was one of many to spearhead the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. The voting rights movement can’t be discussed without mentioning Congressman Lewis.
Fact is I say he is a man of the 2000s because he continues to fight for human rights and equality to date. In 2016, he held the House floor by leading a sit-in, demanding Republicans to address gun violence. In 2017, Congressman Lewis did not hold back his opinions on then president-elect Trump. He vocalized exactly what he felt about him.
“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president. I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected,” stated Congressman Lewis, “You cannot be at home with something that you feel is wrong.”
He did not attend the inauguration, making it the first he’s missed since his election to Congress in 1986.
He’s went on to receive numerous awards and honors. He’s the recipient of the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor granted by President Obama. Last year, he was awarded the Nashville Public Library Literary Award, which promotes books and literacy while honoring authors and their achievements.
Fact is he’s a powerful human that took out the time to create the change he wanted to see in the world. He voluntarily did all of these things at a time when change was not favorable. And to be frank, extremely dangerous. For that, Urban Threads acknowledge you Congressman John Lewis.
Check back here next week for my second acknowledgement. Follow me on social media for more Black History Month events in town, acknowledgement updates and more.
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