(Editor’s note: LEO Weekly columnist Ricky L. Jones will be sending us weekly reports until Election Day. Enjoy.)
Message to the People
By Ricky L. Jones
It is 1957. John Lewis, one of 10 children reared on a small farm without electricity or plumbing in Troy, Ala., is graduating high school. He is the first member of his family to do so. He steps out into the Alabama air and remembers the horrors of slavery. He remembers emancipation and a few years of progress. It will not last. 1876 comes, Hayes is elected, troops are removed from the South, and it all falls apart.
It is 1959. John Lewis is a seminary student in Nashville, Tenn. He is embarking upon a series of attempts to desegregate the city’s lunch counters, movie theaters and other public spaces. He and his compatriots will be harassed, beaten, and arrested. Through the bars of his cell, he peers into the past. He remembers poll taxes, grandfather’s clauses, sundowner laws, and black codes. He tries to shake away the visions of rapes, lynchings, and terror.
It is April 1960. John Lewis has journeyed to Raleigh, North Carolina. He is helping to found the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) – the single most important student organization of the civil rights era. He remembers Homer Plessy’s stand . . . and his loss. He remembers Frederick Douglass succumbing to the years and Booker T. Washington not serving his legacy well.
It is 1961. John Lewis has returned home to Alabama. He is not welcomed. He is in Montgomery staring through blood and pain at his white attackers. “I am your brother!” he thinks. They do not relent or embrace him. They are rabid, wild-eyed. Chains, bats, and hammers find their marks. John looks at his white brother and fellow Freedom Rider Jim Zwerg. Life threatens to slip from them both — simply because they have ridden together on a bus.
It is now March 7, 1965 — Bloody Sunday. John looks to his right and there strides Hosea Williams —young and strong. They will be beaten this day — beaten badly. John will never be the same. During his civil rights stands in the sixties, John will be knocked unconscious four times and arrested at least forty. This day, in Selma, his skull will be fractured. He cries in agony. He falls limp. He suffers. He remembers, “Malcolm was shot dead just two weeks ago. Martin’s popularity is waning. Charles Hamilton Houston died too young. They shot Medgar in the back a couple of years ago. I must endure.”
John remembers the Klan’s rides and “lightings” of their crosses. He remembers Strom Thurmond railing against “niggras”. He remembers Bull Connor and his fire hoses. And yes, he remembers George Wallace proclaiming in 1963, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” He remembers “Bombmingham” and four children blown to bits.
It is 2008. Congressman John Lewis sees supporters of John McCain and Sarah Palin approaching an all too familiar lunatic fringe. At McCain-Palin rallies, supporters scream that presidential candidate Barack Obama is a “terrorist” and an “Arab”. They say they are “scared” of him. Others scream, “Off with his head.” More than once, in different parts of the country, they howl, “Kill him!” Their hateful madness goes unchecked until a public outcry forces McCain to temporarily rebuke their behavior. Palin never does!
John Lewis remembers and he speaks. “As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.
“During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.
“As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better.”
Of course, John is condemned for his words and warning. McCain calls for Obama to repudiate the “Warrior of Troy, Alabama” and calls his statement “disgraceful”. No matter. John will endure. He remembers so much and has suffered far worse.
Louisville Book Signing Reminder
Remember to join me at Borders Booksellers on the corner of Taylorsville Road and Hurstbourne LaneSaturday, October 25 at 3 p.m. for the local What’s wrong with Obamamania? book-signing.
Remember, until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice, and do not leave the people in the hands of fools.