The story I am told reveals that sometime this Friday afternoon a long caravan of over-the road buses will arrive Chattanooga as a stop of some modern-day Freedom Riders, this in remembrance of those titanic human beings who walked with Dr. Martin Luther King in his most victorious moment to quell racism in the South. Sponsored by a group known as “Atlanta Uprising” and sanctioned locally by our Unity Group, there will be a rally at Miller Park at 6:30 p.m. in the loving memory of statesman John Lewis in what is being billed, quite gloriously, as “The Good Trouble Ride.”
Rep. Lewis (D-Ga) succumbed to pancreatic cancer on July 17 and is best known (and hopefully will be long remembered) for over 50 years of a doggedly determined campaign for minority voter rights.
His greatest effort was for equality of all people, particularly in the South, and he suffered a fractured skull for his beliefs on a notorious “Bloody Sunday.” He was marching with Dr. Martin Luther King in a Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March on March 7, 1965, when his skull was fractured, but the better truth is he was brutally beaten numerous times and spent 40 days in a Mississippi penitentiary, but he never wavered. This last 37 years he has been a member of Congress representing a huge district in Atlanta and, with no exaggeration, has evolved into one of America’s great giants.
My morning prayer, of course, is that the hell we have seen in the racial protests across the country will not accompany this Friday’s tribute to Rep. Lewis that has ensnarled our nation since George Floyd was killed in a police arrest in Minneapolis on May 26. For instance, Portland, Oregon, has had night riots – far different from lawful protests - for over two months - and by every account Black Lives Matter fell by the wayside in Portland and other still-smoldering cities about six weeks ago.
Today’s attacks, though borne by the protests, are well-staged and better organized riots by blatant criminals. Friday’s gathering in Miller Park is in no way about civil disorder but we know that where good is espoused, evil will seek an opportunity to disrupt. This morning, and every morning this week, I pray the great life of John Lewis and Dr. King’s other “Big Six” who organized “The March on Washington” in 1963 will be remembered with a reverence and a great dignity on Friday and that God will encircle these people – His people – with a thicket of thorns in a great Celebration of Rep. Lewis’ life.
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On Thursday, the day John Lewis was laid to rest, the York Times published an essay that the Congressman had written distinctly as his farewell. Here it is in its entirety, and I’ll keep a copy, and hope to read it often as a pledge, until my last day comes:
TOGETHER, YOU CAN REDEEM THE SOUL OF A NATION
By Rep. John Lewis (February 21, 1940-July 17, 2020)
While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world, you set aside race, class, age, language, and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.
That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.
Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.
Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.
Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.
Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.
You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So, I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.
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