Newswire: John Lewis makes final crossing over Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma

By Eric Velasco, The Washington Post

John Lewis casket crosses Selma bridge for last time
Congressman John Lewis casket

Fifty-five years ago, Alabama state troopers beat John Lewis and hundreds of protesters as they crossed Edmund Pettus Bridge. On Sunday, troopers saluted the late civil rights leader after he made his final journey across the span.
The body of the 17-term congressman was carried on a horse-drawn caisson from Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to the bridge, where rose petals had been scattered. Two horses and a driver led the flag-draped casket, which paused a few minutes on the bridge above the Alabama River. On the other side, the words of “We Shall Overcome” could be heard as family, hundreds of onlookers and several troopers greeted Lewis.
A military honor guard moved the casket from the caisson to a hearse for the trip to Montgomery. Alabama state police were accompanying Lewis to the state capital.
“It is poetic justice that this time Alabama state troopers will see John to his safety,” Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.) said.
The ceremony is the second day in six days of tributes to the son of sharecroppers, fighter for civil rights and lawmaker widely hailed as the conscience of Congress. Lewis (D-Ga.) died July 17 at the age of 80 after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
The honors began Saturday in Lewis’s birthplace of Troy, Ala., with prayers, family recollections, songs and a plea to carry on his legacy of fighting for a more just society. It will end Thursday with a service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached.
In between, Lewis will lie in state in two state capitols — Montgomery and Atlanta — and in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where the nation has paid tribute to past presidents, lawmakers and other distinguished citizens, including civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks in 2005.
Lewis’s crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge 55 years ago was a defining moment for a nation and the young activist. The ceremony on Sunday comes amid a national reckoning over systemic racism in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a black man, and weeks of protests nationwide.
On March 7, 1965, Lewis, then the 25-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, led about 600 protesters in a march across the bridge for civil rights. State troopers beat the demonstrators, and Lewis suffered a cracked skull on what became known as Bloody Sunday.
“I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick,” Lewis said decades later. “I really believe to this day that I saw death.”
Within months, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which was meant to end the obstacles preventing black people from voting.
John Lewis nearly died on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Now it may be renamed for him.
In subsequent years, Lewis has led an annual march of Republicans and Democrats, current and former presidents across the bridge. Most notably, in 2015 on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, he walked across the span with the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama; former president George W. Bush; and many of the foot soldiers of the 1960s movement.
“We just need to open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us,” Obama said. “We know the march is not yet over; we know the race is not yet won. We know reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much.”
In the days after Lewis’s death, there have been renewed calls for Congress to act on voting rights and name the legislation in Lewis’s honor. In 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated a crucial component of the landmark law, ruling that Congress had not taken into account the nation’s racial progress when citing certain states for federal oversight.
The House passed legislation in December to restore those protections, but the bill has languished in the GOP-led Senate.
There also have been calls to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge for Lewis. Pettus was a Confederate officer and a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
At the service at Troy University on Saturday, Lewis’s flag-draped casket was carried by men in masks, and attendees were seated six feet apart, a reminder that the country is still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 150,000 Americans, a disproportionate number from low-income, minority communities.
Lewis’s brother Freddie Lewis implored people to continue his legacy by voting. His sister Rosa Mae Tyner recalled that he “lived with the never-ending desire to help others.” Another brother, Henry “Grant” Lewis, said Lewis “would gravitate toward the least of us.”
The late congressman’s young great-nephew, Jaxon Lewis Brewster, called Lewis his “hero.” “It’s up to us to keep his legacy alive,” the 7-year-old said.
Henry Grant Lewis recalled his last conversation with his brother the night before he died. Lewis was, as always, concerned about others, asking how the family was doing and wanting his brother to tell them he’d asked about them.
Henry Grant Lewis also shared an exchange he’d had with his brother when he was first sworn in to Congress. The new lawmaker looked up at his family watching from the gallery above the House floor and flashed his brother a thumbs up. Afterward, Henry Grant Lewis asked his brother what he was thinking when he made that gesture. “I was thinking,” he recalled his brother saying, “this is a long way from the cotton fields of Alabama.”

Newswire: John Lewis, an American hero and moral leader, dies at 80

By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Correspondent

John Lewis



Born in 1940, in Troy, Alabama (Pike County), John Lewis, the son of a sharecropper, helped to lead America out of an era of racism. Through his activism and bravery, Lewis carried the moral authority that few other leaders in U.S. history could claim.
On July 17th he died in Atlanta on the same day that another civil rights legend, Rev. C.T. Vivian, passed away. Lewis was 80 years old. In December 2019, Lewis announced he had stage four pancreatic cancer.
The famous March 7, 1965 video of Lewis being attacked along with 600 other marchers by Alabama State troopers near the Edmund Pettus Bridge is an often reviewed turning point in American social and cultural history. The footage from Selma of ‘Bloody Sunday’ shocked the nation and the world as Blacks in the United States struggles against government authority for basic rights and respect.
The violent confrontation led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was signed by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965.
The 1965 Selma march was led by John Lewis. Lewis was perhaps the last remaining voice of moral authority from the civil rights era. Voting rights remains a challenge in the U.S. Lewis was on the front lines of that effort which was resisted by white racists in the South attempting to stifle Black voting power for decades. Lewis’ efforts and the increase in Black voting registration of African Americans in the South changed U.S. politics forever. The power of Black voters was first seen nationally with the election of President Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s. SNCC was one of six groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington and fought to end racial segregation in America. SNCC launched the Mississippi Freedom Summer campaign for voting rights. The effort was met with violence, murder but it resulted in some of the most historic and consequential changes in the law for human rights in America.
John Lewis was the last living speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington. At 23, Lewis was the youngest speaker to stand behind the same podium Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his historic, “I Have a Dream” speech.
Lewis’ speech was altered by Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph and James Foreman because Lewis’ original draft was critical of President Kennedy. Lewis was viewed as too radical by Randolph in particular and Lewis was critical of the civil rights bill he believed did not go far enough to protect African Americans against police brutality.
“It is true that we support the administration’s civil rights bill,” Lewis said to the crowd of thousands at the March on Washington.
“We support it with great reservations, however. Unless Title III is put in this bill, there is nothing to protect the young children and old women who must face police dogs and fire hoses in the South while they engage in peaceful demonstrations. In its present form, this bill will not protect the citizens of Danville, Virginia, who must live in constant fear of a police state. It will not protect the hundreds and thousands of people that have been arrested on trumped charges. What about the three young men, SNCC field secretaries in Americus, Georgia, who face the death penalty for engaging in peaceful protest?” the young Lewis said.
In 1986, Lewis was elected to Congress where he became the conscience of the Congress who regularly delivered emotional speeches and moral authority on the House floor.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who announced Lewis’ death, wrote, “Rep. John Lewis: hero, champion and challenge to conscience of the nation. Your visit with the newest voices for justice at the Black Lives Matter mural with Muriel Bowser was wonderful and iconic. Thank you for that final public statement in furtherance of a more perfect union.”
On June 7, appearing thinner but remaining spirited, Lewis visited the street mural in large yellow letters that reads BLACK LIVES MATTER placed by the Mayor of the District of Columbia. The appearance would be one of his last in public.
After the death of George Floyd, Lewis said, “It was so painful, it made me cry. People now understand what the struggle was all about. It’s another step down a very, very long road toward freedom, justice for all humankind.”
“John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation. Every day of his life was dedicated to bringing freedom and justice to all,” Pelosi wrote on social media on July 18.
“This is a horrible loss for the nation. Words do not seem to properly convey the loss. Serving with him in Congress has been an honor, and we will all miss him and his moral leadership at this time,” wrote Education and Workforce Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) on twitter.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of John Lewis. His life-long mission for justice, equality and freedom left a permanent impression on our nation and world. The NAACP extends our sincerest condolences to his family, and we send prayers of comfort and strength to all,” declared the NAACP on social media.
Lewis received every honorary degree and award imaginable from national and international organizations who recognized his moral authority and commitment to peace and non-violence. In 2011, Lewis received the highest civilian honor in the U.S. from President Obama, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Details of how Lewis will be honored will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Democrats end House sit-in protest over gun control

 

By Deirdre WalshManu RajuEric Bradner and Steven Sloan, CNN

John Lewis with Terri Sewell

Congressman John Lewis and colleagues including Congresswoman Terri Sewell (AL-7) as part of sit-in on House floor;

 John Lewis crossing bridge 1965

 John Lewis crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma 1965   Washington (CNN)

Democrats decided to end their day-long sit-in protest on the House floor over gun control Thursday, June 23, 2016.

Rep. John Lewis, who launched the sit-in Wednesday morning that eventually drew 170 lawmakers, lit up social media, and infuriated House Republicans — but spurred no legislative action — said the fight was not over.

“We must come back here on July 5th [when Congress returns to session] more determined than ever before,” Lewis said.

“We are going to win,” he told supporters on the Capitol steps after the sit-in was halted. “The fight is not over. This is just one step of when we come back here on July the 5th we’re going to continue to push, to pull, to stand up, and if necessary, to sit down. So don’t give up, don’t give in. Keep the faith, and keep your eyes on the prize.”  He also tweeted, “We got in trouble. We got in the way. Good trouble. Necessary Trouble. By sitting-in, we were really standing up.”

Lawmakers said that during the July 4th break, they would take the issue to their districts.”We are going back to our congressional districts — we are going to engage our constituents on this subject, and we will not allow this body feel as comfortable as in the past,” Rep. Jim Clyburn said. “On July 5, we will return, and at that time we will be operating on a new sense of a purpose.”

Republicans had earlier tried to shut down the sit-in, but the Democrats’ protest over the lack of action on gun control lasted for more than 24 hours. House Democrats were looking for votes to expand background checks and ban gun sales to those on the no-fly watch list.

In the middle of the night, the House GOP had sought to end the extraordinary day of drama by swiftly adjourning for a recess that will last through July 5.

The Republican move was an effort to terminate a protest that began Wednesday morning in reaction to the massacre in Orlando when Democrats took over the House floor and tried to force votes on gun control. But throughout the morning Thursday, 10-20 Democrats, including House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi for much of the time, remained on the floor.

At one point, a police officer told the Democrats that they would be conducting a daily security sweep. “I’d ask that you clear the floor while that happens,” the officer said.

Pelosi responded: “That’s not going to happen” and the security check then took place involving five agents and a dog as the House Democratic leader continued speaking, undeterred. Pelosi said the sit-in would continue “until hell freezes over.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday accused the Democrats of throwing the House into “chaos” and threatening democracy. He said Republicans were looking at all options to stop the sit-in, if the Democrats continued it.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, also criticized the protest and said it was a setback to her efforts to build bipartisan support for her legislation that would ban gun sales to people on a list of possible terrorists.

“It is not helpful to have had the sit-in on the House side because that made it partisan, and I’ve worked very hard to keep this bipartisan, so that setback our efforts somewhat,” she said of her bill, which won support from a majority of senators Thursday but fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance.

Although Republicans leaders had shut off House cameras, Democrats continued Thursday morning to livestream their activities on the floor. Rep. Mark Takano plugged his phone into an external power source, set it on top of a chair facing the podium, and was streaming on his Facebook page even though he’d left the chamber to appear on CNN’s “New Day.”

The sit-in became a social media happening. Tweets sent by Reps. Scott Peters and Eric Swalwell with Periscopes were viewed over 1 million times and the hashtags #NoBillNoBreak and #HoldTheFloor were tweeted over 1.4 million times, according to Twitter.

Shortly after 8:00 a.m. Florida Rep. Ted Deutch gave an impassioned speech on the floor.”I am tired, I am cold, and I am hungry. Let me remind everyone watching how privileged I am to be tired, cold, and hungry,” he said. “These are feelings that I am privileged to have because so many will never feel that again,” referring to victims of gun violence.

Overall, more than 170 Democrats took part in the sit in over the 24 hours, lawmakers said.