AIF Blog

Civil Rights Icon John Lewis on Selma, Ferguson, and Hope

Mar 13, 2015
John Lewis
On March 7, 1965, 25-year-old John Lewis was beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Trained in nonviolent protest, the young civil rights leader was at the head of a peaceful march advocating for voting rights for blacks when law enforcement officials brutally attacked the 600 activists with weapons and tear gas. 
Fifty years later, Lewis, the only “Big Six” civil rights leader still alive, is a 28-year member of the US House of Representatives (D-Ga.) and author of March, a three-part graphic memoir documenting the struggle for civil rights in a way that he hopes will motivate young people to continue the cause.
At the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival, on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Lewis recounted the dramatic events of “Bloody Sunday.”
Despite the horror of Bloody Sunday, it was a turning point in the civil rights movement — President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act to Congress shortly afterward. As Lewis told it, “because of the drama of what happened, the American people couldn’t take, they couldn’t stand it, so there was a sense of righteous indignation, and eight days later President Johnson delivered one of the most moving speeches on voting rights and civil rights — March 15, 1965.”
Lewis, a Freedom Award recipient, has drawn comparisons between Selma and Ferguson, predicting the huge waves of protests following a grand jury's decision not to indict the officer that killed a black teenager, and lamenting the racism that still remains embedded in certain communities 50 years after Bloody Sunday. 
But even before Michael Brown was killed, Lewis spoke about the need for more work to be done on race issues — and his sense of hopefullness about it. Here’s what he had to say at Aspen Ideas 2014:
Watch the full session of John Lewis’s interview with Gwen Ifill here.
Posted by Catherine Lutz
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