John Lewis: In His Words and Of Him


Instead of what I had planned for this week, I decided to compile the many things that I’ve heard about and from John Lewis and share them with you.

One of the reasons for this was the realization that while I adored and admired John Lewis for a very long time, I was unaware of his esteemed place in history. I knew about the Edmund Pettus Bridge and I knew he was a “civil rights icon”, but I did not comprehend the vast expanse of what that actually means.

A few weeks ago, I began to read The Children by David Halberstam. I’ve had it in my library for some time and just hadn’t gotten to it, but it begins at the beginning with the young people in Nashville, Tennessee, with John Lewis and others.

I read it and had only gotten so far when Congressman Lewis passed away. I’ve said before that he was one of those people, those heroes, those strong voices that I thought would never leave the earth. He may be gone, but his voice will live on.

In retrospect, growing up in New York I would have thought we’d have a better understanding of the Civil War, its causes and its outcomes, but I’m saddened to realize that I learned more about Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis than I did about John Lewis, Jim Lawson, and Diane Nash. At fifty-three, I am rectifying that.

John Lewis is an American hero. Hero and iconic are words that don’t live up to the lived life of John Lewis. He embodied peace and love, and as I type out these words I hear his voice in my head, and I hope to hear his voice for the rest of my life.

What follows are the words of some from his celebration of life service as well as three videos that I would encourage you to watch, although watching the entire service would be a valuable use of your time.

May John Lewis rest but may we not rest until we reach his beloved community with equality, liberty, and justice for all.

It was providential.
“We were called there.”

–in reference to all of them being in Nashville at the same time in the same place in 1959/60 – Lawson, Lewis, Vivian, Barry, Lafayette, Nash, Butler, Bevel – all of them.

John Lewis created/sustained the non-violent movement of America (not CRM)

Words are powerful.

“John Lewis had no choice in the matter.”

“He was called to do whatever he could do; get in good trouble, but stop the horror.”

LBJ and the legislation:
Head Start
Federal loans
Anti-poverty programs
Civil rights bills 64/65
Voting Rights bills

We the people of the USA
“We need the Constitution to come alive – – we hold these truths to be self-evident.”

We will not be quiet as long as any child dies in their first year of life
We will not be quiet as long as the largest poverty group in our nation are women and children
We will not be quiet as long as our nation continues to be the most violent culture in the history of humankind
We will not be quiet as long as our economy is shaped not be freedom but by plantation capitalism and control rather than access and liberty and equality for all.

A singular journey [from Nashville to now]

Forces of wickedness must be resisted:
Plantation Capitalism

Driven the truth of the life force

Dismantle the wrong in our midst, to allow for the space for the new earth and the new heaven to emerge

“Seeking equality, liberty, justice, and the beloved community for all.”

– Thoughts from Rev. James Lawson speaking at the Celebration of John Lewis’ life, 29 July 2020

“Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their G-d.”

– President George W. Bush speaking at the Celebration of John Lewis’ life, 29 July 2020

a Sanskrit word that means two things:
nonviolence and it means insisting on the truth.

And that is what John Lewis was all about: nonviolently insisting on the truth.

– Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaking at the Celebration of John Lewis’ life, 29 July 2020

“Be kind
Be mindful
Be particular.
Make it plain
Make it simple
Make it sing.”

John Lewis as relayed by Deputy Chief of Staff, Jamilia Thompson

“the magnitude, the genius, the gentle grace of this man.”

“We know that the work continues, the fight remains, and we cannot, we must not get lost in the sea of despair.
So if asked how you may honor the Congressman I will echo the words of the greats who stood here before: you can make sure that his work, his sacrifice, his message lives on and that there are actions that every person can do regardless of their age or their station in life:

Be kind. Be mindful. Recognize the dignity and the worth of every human being. Be the best version of yourself. Be informed. Stay engaged even though the work is hard, and if you are of age and eligible, for the love of G-d, please vote.”

– Thoughts from Deputy Chief of Staff for John Lewis speaking at the Celebration of John Lewis’ life, 29 July 2020

Some words from John Lewis himself:

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – Twitter, 2018

“Sometimes, you know, by sitting in or sitting down you’re really standing up. I said to people all the time if you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to stand up, to do something, to say something, and find a way to get in the way, and make a little noise.” – Steps of the Capitol (with Sen. Cory Booker, 27 June 2017)

Find a way to get in the way

Stand up, speak up, and speak out.

Create the beloved community.

Morgan Freeman reading John Lewis’ op-ed from 29 July 2020:

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