Pitting Forgiveness Against hate

Few in the U.S. Congress have the moral stature of Rep. John Lewis. He earned it the hard way. Lewis was beaten, perhaps more often than any other human being in the civil-rights movement. He was jailed more than 40 times. He was heckled, spat upon, and threatened more times than he can count. Yet through it all, Lewis and the movement prevailed—at the lunch counters in Nashville in 1960, on the burned-out buses of the Freedom Rides in 1961, at the 1965 march in Selma.

Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement is the pre-eminent book documenting the civil rights movement, written by one of its most important leaders. It traces Lewis' life from his boyhood in Alabama through most of the major battles of the civil rights movement and into his congressional career. It reveals a man who, remarkably, is without bitterness and holds great hope for the future of humankind.

It was March 1965 when the "children of Selma" changed history. Lewis was 25; the others were as young as 14. One 14-year-old who participated in the march had been jailed nine times for sit-ins and protests. On March 7, 1965, known as Bloody Sunday, Lewis and Hosea Williams led about 500 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were savagely beaten by Sheriff Jim Clark and the Alabama State Police. That march and its aftermath outraged the nation and led directly to the passage later that summer of the Voting Rights Act.

The son of a sharecropper in tiny Troy, Alabama, Lewis saw only two white people—a traveling salesman and the mailman—before he was 6. His first exposure to any kind of integration came at age 12 when he visited family members in Buffalo. One of 10 children, Lewis arrived in Nashville as an 18-year-old with big ideas—the first Lewis to go to college. As a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary, it did not take him long to realize that he wanted more than an education.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1999
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