There is a general impression, on the part of many, that the Sixties was a decade-long haze of drugs and free love. I can’t really say, since I was born in 1958. I know one person, however, who certainly did not experience it that way. That person is Congressman John Lewis.
John Lewis was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, who challenged racial segregation on the buses in the South. He also was the Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
In 1961 and 1962, Lewis was arrested. Twenty-four times.
In Anniston, Alabama, Klan members deflated the tires of a bus that Lewis and the other Freedom Riders had boarded. Then they firebombed it.
In Birmingham, Lewis was beaten. In Rock Hill, South Carolina, two white men punched Lewis in the face, and kicked him in the ribs.
In Montgomery, a mob met the bus, took Lewis off the bus, knocked him over the head with a wooden crate, and left him unconscious on the bus station floor.
On one day in 1965, a day known as “Bloody Sunday,” Alabama state troopers in Selma hit civil rights demonstrators with tear gas, charged into them, and beat them with clubs. They broke John Lewis’s skull.
I’ve seen the scars on his head.
Somehow, all of that . . . pain . . . forged an outstanding Congressman. A champion on universal healthcare. A forceful proponent of gay rights. An apostle of peace.
This month, for only the second time in his 26 years in Congress, John Lewis faces a primary challenge. I don’t know who is running against him, and I don’t really care. Whoever he is, he has not earned the job the way that John Lewis has, and he can’t do the job the way that John Lewis does it.
I’m just glad that there are people like John Lewis in Congress.