Charles Hurt: Remember John Lewis, Remember Selma

Leaders of the African American Movement pose in New York July 29 1964 as they hold conference on civil rights. From left are: Bayard Rustin: Jack Greeberg, director of counsel of the Naacp Educational and Legal Defense Fund; Whitney Young JR., director of the National Urban League; James Farmer, National …
Eddie Adams/AP Photo

Remember John Lewis. Remember Selma.

Last week America lost one of the great lions of the civil rights movement. Few people alive today did more to bend the arc of history toward justice than Rep. John Lewis.

Born to poor sharecroppers in rural, segregated Alabama, Mr. Lewis — a quiet, modest and unfailingly mannerly gentleman — was fiercely peaceful. On a personal, human-to-human level, few people were more deeply beloved in the halls of Congress than Mr. Lewis during his 33 years representing the people of Georgia.

Like his rolling Southern accent, Mr. Lewis never surrendered his kind and peaceful demeanor. Yet about things that mattered, he had an unbending iron will. Mr. Lewis was living proof of the power of a gentle soul.

The violent, self-serving, nasty mobs burning and looting American cities today have no concept of the Herculean strength bound up inside such a quiet man of profound principle. Perhaps if the looters actually cared about the people Mr. Lewis fought for his entire life or cared about actual progress, they might have studied his life, his ways and his success.

But there is no loot in peace and progress. No fireworks. No material profit. Today, selfless service is for losers.

Mr. Lewis stared down fire hoses, dogs, and police batons. He proudly bore the scars and skull fractures to prove it.

Children delighted when Mr. Lewis — physically, not much taller than them — donned his Sunday overcoat and shrugged on his backpack to re-enact his famous 1965 march in Selma across the Edmund Pettus Bridge into the snapping jaws of German Shepherds and the crack of nightsticks wielded by troopers mounted on horseback.

That Bloody Sunday certainly was not a joyous occasion for Mr. Lewis but he generously re-enacted it for children and remembered it endlessly for Americans of all ages with charity for all and malice toward none — a posture in sorely short supply these days, yet without which America never heals.

Can you imagine anyone of these nasty thugs rioting today, firebombing police stations, and pulling down statues behaving with the strength and grace of Mr. Lewis? Not one of them could have survived even a sliver of the injustice Mr. Lewis overcame.

Yet he never let his anger ripen into bitterness.

For Mr. Lewis, the victory he scored that brutal day in Selma and the revolutions he won in the years that followed were not his victories alone. They were not the victory of just his movement either. It was not only the earliest warriors in the civil-rights campaign who tasted the sweet nectar of justice.

For him, it was a victory for all Americans. It was a success that benefited all — even those who were slow to see it early on.

That is because he was not fighting for himself alone. He was fighting for his country and it was his country that inherited the fruits of his battles.

Remember John Lewis.

• Charles Hurt is opinion editor of The Washington Times. He can be reached at churt@washingtontimes.com or @charleshurt on Twitter.

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