This is John Lewis' final message to the United States. It was written before his death earlier this month and he requested that it be published on the day of his funeral, which was yesterday. It appeared in the New York Times and could be read without first subscribing. However, I will post it in its entirety and show a link to the essay. Read on:
While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.
That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.
Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.
Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare.
If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.
Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice.
He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.
Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.
You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time.
Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.
I grew up in a small Illinois town (population 10,000), just 12 short miles from St. Louis MO. I didn't realize it as a small child, but our little town was a segregated as heck. From birth until around 8 years old I lived in a neighborhood very close to the Black community in town and my best friend was a Black child named Bobby Smith. We moved to the north side of town and I was too young to notice that there were no Black families anywhere close to us. I never saw Bobby again until High School.
I was oblivious to racism until I got into middle school and started seeing it displayed on the TV news shows. I would cry when I saw the intense violence being shown, most especially for blacks being beaten for peacefully protesting, and the pictures of the housing they were forced to live in. I personally started experiencing racism through playing baseball where I encountered other Whites who showed hatred for the very few black kids who tried to play on a couple of teams in the league. When I entered High School where students from all parts of town attended, I was very quickly exposed to intense racism from many of the white kids who grew up in the south side of town. I was then personally experiencing the sad racist things I had seen on television during my younger years in the early and mid 1960's.
On my first day of high school, I ran into my close friend from my early childhood in the hallway. We were so glad to see each other that we hugged and slapped hands, smiling away at each other, and talking about 'old times'. I was approached later by some other white kids and threatened to be thrown down the stairs if I was seen being friendly with any black kids again. I came to realize that intense racism was alive and well all around me.
I progressed through High school, becoming somewhat of a hippie, the only ones who seemed to accept black folks at the time. Actually, any of us who accepted Blacks and associated with them were somewhat ostracised by most white folks. After High School, I marched in fair housing protests with many of my black friends, I was 'branded' by many whites in town, I was also 'branded' by most of the white police in town. I continued in the protests and was proud of my parents for openly supporting me for doing so. I remember the time my father had to pick me up at the police station for being hauled in by them for participating in a black housing protest. He chastised the police for them arresting me and for the bruises I had received. I am so thankful that I was raised by parents who taught me how wrong racism is.
The 'movement. that Martin Luther King and so many others started in the 1960's has moved so slowly and should never be abandoned. Never before have I seen so many white folks protesting alongside of people of color as we see today, I hope that the momentum towards equality continues to expand across America and the rest of the world.
Thank you for this posting, it reminded me of my childhood and my upbringing during the late 1950's, through the 1960's and 1970's. I am so proud of being a very tiny part of the Civil Rights movement started back in those times. I wish I had done more. Shame on America for holding on to racist ideas and attitudes.
Man learns from history that man learns nothing from history.
I grew up in an all white middle class suburb of a major city during the 1950s and 1960s. In my neighborhood, life then was idyllic. Our houses were nice, but not big. We had good schools and our families had enough money to afford a house in a suburb. But the midwestern city where I grew up, which then was the 6th largest city in the country was as segregated as any city in the south.
But it was when I was in high school during the 1960s that I became aware of the segregation and racial discrimination that was endemic in our country. There were protests in the city against segregation and discrimination. Then the summer after I graduated from high school, the city was rocked by a week of violence in the black neighborhood on the east side. It wasn't as bad in number of people killed or injured or property destroyed, but it was a wake up call that "it can happen here".
That same year,1966, in the spring I joined with a group of Explorer scouts (a branch of the Boy Scouts for high school age boys) on an encampment at the Pensacola Florida Naval Air Base over our spring break. We were gone a week and took Greyhound buses. There was about five buses of teen age boys from all over the city. We left early in the afternoon on Easter Sunday.
Early on Monday morning, around 600 AM, the buses pulled into the bus station in Montgomery Alabama for a change of drivers and to allow us to freshen up after sleeping on the bus all night. We were told to go to the men's room, freshen up and change into our "A" uniforms. We were going to an Air Force base outside Montgomery Alabama for breakfast at the Officer's Club as guests, so we needed to look our best. Every one of us on all five buses went into the same bathroom to freshen up.
When we came out, it was eerily silent in the bus terminal. You could hear a pin drop as we boarded our buses to go to the Air Force base. We were dressed in our "A" uniforms; hunter green twill shirts and pants with a hunter green necktie and a hunter green cap. We could see the people staring at us as we boarded the buses.
We went to the Maxwell Air Force base Officer's Club for breakfast and as we entered the Officer's Club, we were met by the then governor of Alabama, George Wallace. He greeted us and addressed the crowd gathered for breakfast on the Monday after Easter. He said that he wanted to welcome the group traveling through his state from Ohio and said that we represented the best of the youth of the country. Everyone was amazed at his greeting, everyone, since there were plenty of boys of color in our group.
After leaving the Air Force base, we noticed that we had an escort through the remainder of the trip through Alabama by the Alabama state troopers, just to make sure that there was no trouble with our group of Explorer scouts.
It wasn't until I returned that I realized that when we got off the bus, we all went into the same bathroom, the white bathroom. There weren't any segregated bathrooms in Cleveland Ohio. Then I realized that it had only been five years since the Freedom Riders went through Alabama on integrated buses and the result was violence. No wonder that the bus terminal in Montgomery was so silent when we came out of the bathroom, all in those green uniforms. I am sure that we had that police escort all the way through Alabama, even during the night when we were all sleeping on the bus.
Fast forward to the spring of 2019 and I took a weekend trip to Alabama with a lady friend. We spent a couple of nights in Montgomery on that trip. That old Greyhound terminal in Montgomery has been turned in to a museum honoring the Freedom Riders. We also drove on the road from Montgomery to Selma which now is called the National Civil Rights Trail and crossed the bridge into Selma. It was a sleepy Sunday morning and the town was deserted. Except the churches. It seemed that everyone was at church as the church parking lots were all full. Dallas County, where Selma is the county seat, is a majority black county in the "black belt" of Alabama. The term "black belt" refers to the rich black soil of this region which is a leading agricultural center of Alabama.
Later that day, we drove to Birmingham. There we learned more about the turmoil during that period of history. It was very interesting since that all happened during our lifetimes. Here are some pictures from that trip in May 2019. The church is the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that was bombed in September 1963 by members of the Ku Klux Klan that killed four girls. One person who was there on that Sunday was future Secretary of State Condileeza Rice. She knew the four girls who were killed in the bombing. She was in the bathroom when the bomb went off and that spared her life. The old Greyhound bus terminalNow museum to the Freedom RidersThe Edmund Pettis bridge in SelmaThe 16th Street Baptist church, bombed in 1963 by members of the KKK