Though I’ve been on annual leave from the Department of the Interior this week, it’s been incredibly busy for me. My family and I relocated from the Maryland side of the NCR to the Northern Virginia side. It’s been so exhausting that I hadn’t really had a chance to think about writing…much less writing a post for Flashback Friday. I actually didn’t know what to write on in reflection until just a few minutes ago, when I got an alert on my phone that longtime Congressman and renowned civil rights leader, John Lewis, passed away. I was just talking with Jeremie about him the other day and the false alarm on his passing. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: John Lewis.
How I first came across this moment? I first learned about John Lewis in 4th grade. Mrs. Sears taught us about him from the Alabama history textbook. He was one of the people she identified in the events of Bloody Sunday in Selma. I also learned a great deal about Lewis from Grandma Sallie, who told me stories about the 1960s and the civil rights movement of the time. She noted that Lewis was one of the leaders back then.
What it meant to me then? In 1995, John Lewis didn’t mean a lot to me personally. He was just another character in history books. But as I closed in on October 2002, he was one of the most important figures out there for me…dead or alive. I registered to vote on my 18th birthday, just a couple of weeks before the very controversial Alabama gubernatorial election. Had it not been for Lewis’ getting beat down on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, I—and millions of other Black Americans—probably wouldn’t have the right to vote…at least without a lot of nefarious barriers. Because of that alone, he earned my respect.
What it means to me now? In my conversation with Jeremie a few days back, I told him that these days, I have 2 different opinions of John Lewis. I also told this one of my other co-best friends. I’m absolutely appreciative of Lewis for his contribution to me securing the right to vote. In fact, it’s why I always vote in every general election. It’s why I always do my thorough research and consideration of every candidate in every political office at stake. It’s why I look at the pros and cons of every amendment, every referendum, every law that’s up for a vote. I do it to honor John Lewis and what went down on that bridge in 1965. That’s one side of it. The other side has to deal with politics. He served as the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th district—mostly all of Atlanta—for 33 ½ years. I’m mixed on whether or not he was truly effective as a legislator. Major kudos to him for staying with the fight to bring the National Museum of African American History and Culture to life and his tenacity when it came to things like gun safety laws. I particularly enjoyed listening to him speak on various news shows and C-SPAN. He could certainly galvanize a crowd. However, I’ve long been critical of him for not making the lives of his fellow Atlantans—who essentially made his seat extremely safe every 2 years—better. It’s the same criticism I have of my own U.S. Representative and countless other long-term legislators in both the House of Representatives and the Senate…Democrat and Republican. I didn’t feel he was as effective in the 2nd half of his Congressional tenure. He probably should’ve given that seat up to an up-and-coming youngster out of Atlanta and lived out the remainder of his life resting from a long fight for equality…maybe even as an advisor to the new generation. Like most Americans that look like me, I’m saddened by his passing tonight. I hope he rests well in peace, knowing he made a difference for a society that will extend even past my son’s son.