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Rep. John Lewis' last words to us

Rep. John Lewis wrote an essay for all of us, to publish on the day of his funeral. It was published this morning.


Read it, and the backstory on his TIME Magazine cover photo taken in Clarksdale, and you’ll notice threads of Delta history woven throughout: Emmett Till’s murder, Martin Luther King’s speeches, SNCC and Freedom Rider actions.


John Lewis links this past to our present, writing, “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… 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… Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”


You can read the full text here nyti.ms/2P6qaku – and we’ve shared excerpts and the TIME Magazine backstory below:


“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…


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…


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, though 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.

- John Lewis, July 2020


--- Backstory from TIME Magazine: Photographer Steve Schapiro “went to Clarksdale, Miss., to document one of the many training sessions that were taking place in church basements across the South. In those meetings, volunteers studied how to react to the racism they would encounter in their work. That day in Clarksdale, as Schapiro watched a line of ministers file into the church, he noticed among the group another well-known Freedom Rider, in a tie and button-down shirt: John Lewis. He asked Lewis if he could take his photo, and the young man agreed.


Weeks later, Lewis would become the youngest person on the speakers’ slate at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, addressing some 250,000 people from the Lincoln Memorial as the chairperson of the student arm of the 1960s civil rights movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Lewis, then 23, went on to represent Atlanta in Congress for three decades until July 17, when he died at the age of 80 after a battle with cancer.”

John Lewis in Clarksdale, Mississippi on the cover of TIME Magazine