America really needs John Lewis’ kind of leadership right now

The last week of tributes to the late Rep. John Lewis only begins to show how badly he’ll be missed.

With his exit at age 80, the nation lost a warrior for peace, justice and equality. Though battered and brutalized in the quest to dismantle Jim Crow segregation and establish truly equal rights under the law, Lewis never strayed from his commitment to nonviolent protest and his decency toward all, even opponents of the movement.

A Freedom Rider and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while still attending Fisk University in Tennessee, he stood tall among the civil rights giants of that era. As Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., wrote, the man she and her siblings called Uncle John “was a nonviolent warrior”: “From crossing that bridge in Selma under the threat of state-sanctioned, possibly life-threatening violence, to taking Freedom Rides into volatile encounters, to being handcuffed repeatedly for righteousness and justice, he persisted.”

That persistence in righteousness and justice defined the man. Writing at Tablet, James Kirchick noted that Lewis did not support the Million Man March in 1995 because he could not overlook organizer Louis Farrakhan’s history of “divisive and bigoted” statements — so the march, Lewis himself wrote, went “against what I worked for — tolerance, inclusion, integration.”

His fierce loyalty to his principles, no matter how the winds of popular opinion blew, are a model for us all.

His methods, too, should be a model to today’s Black Lives Matter protesters and their allies: Violence is never the answer. It undermines support and overshadows the message.

In 2015 remarks at Howard University’s convocation, Rep. Lewis urged the students to act as symbols of nonviolent change — to be bold and aggressive, but with peace and love. He very much believed in the power of love to persuade enemies and to win over opponents.

Unlike today’s made-for-TV “civil disobedience” arrests, Lewis endured the real thing — actual jail time, many times, for daring to desegregate “Whites Only” lunch counters, movie theaters and bus stations. Yet he and his compatriots stuck to truly peaceful protest despite the brutal treatment.

John Lewis may have lost his battle with cancer, but he never lost the fight for civil rights and human dignity. His voice of reason, embrace of difference and desire to heal are sorely needed in our fractured nation.

Share this article:

Source: Read Full Article