A sad event in the news recently was the passing of Congressman John Lewis, one of the great leaders of the African American civil rights movement. He has long been a hero of mine, and especially in these tumultuous times, his steadfast courage and his voice of peace and love will be dearly missed.
Many wonderful tributes have been made to him over the past days. One that especially jumped out to me and Patricia was a piece presented by Stephen Colbert on his Late Show. He reran a 2016 “Barbershop Stories” segment in which Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste spoke with Lewis. The whole interview is wonderful, and I recommend watching it in its entirety. But the final part moved Patricia and me to tears:
Lewis endured many beatings and jailings in his work with the movement. Most famously, his skull was fractured on the first day of the Selma march, a day now known as “Bloody Sunday.” (His body was ceremonially taken across the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma for the last time on the day of this writing—see second picture above.) He also participated in lunch counter sit-ins and the famous Freedom Rides, in which black and white people rode segregated buses and entered segregated bus station waiting rooms together.
During one of the Freedom Rides, Lewis and a white seat mate were brutally beaten by Klansmen. But people can change, and so many years later, in February 2009, one of the men who beat him came to his congressional office. The man was accompanied by his son. Lewis tells Jon Batiste and their barber what happened next:
[The man] said, “Mr. Lewis, I’m one of the people that beat you and your seat mate.” He said, “Will you forgive me? I want to apologize.” And his son started crying, he started crying, and I said, “I accept your apology. I forgive you.” They hugged me, I hugged them back, and I started crying.
And that’s the power of the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence. As Dr. King said, “Hate is too heavy a burden to bear”….Love is a better way. So all of the people that beat me and arrested me and threw me in jail, I don’t have any ill feeling at all. Not at all. I feel free.
I can’t add anything to that. God bless you, John Lewis, and may your shining example of the way of peace, love, and nonviolence continue to inspire and guide us all.