Civil Rights

John Lewis Was an American Hero Who Battled State Racism

John Lewis' life was a testament to the power of free speech and peaceful agitation.

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When John Lewis accepted the National Book Award in 2016 for a memoir about his time as a leader of the civil rights movement, he tearfully recalled that as a teenager in 1956 he was denied a library card. The library, he and his friends were told, was for whites only.

It's a poignant moment, but it's also a powerful reminder that, less than the span of one lifetime ago, racism in America was an institutionalized status quo enforced by governmental power to a degree that feels unthinkable today. Public libraries, public schools, public transit, and more were segregated as a matter of public policy. Challenging the fundamental injustice of those laws and institutions meant literally facing down the authority of the state.

Not being able to get a library card was only a small part of it. Lewis was jailed for more than a month in Mississippi in 1961 for the "crime" of using a public restroom marked "whites only"—one of more than 40 arrests during his lifetime. He had his skull fractured by a police officer during the violent break-up of a peaceful protest in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. That confrontation produced one of the iconic images of the civil rights era: Lewis, standing stoically with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his trenchcoat as police officers approach, batons in hand.

Lewis, who died on Friday at the age of 80, was a Democratic congressman from Georgia for the final 33 years of his life. But his greatest accomplishments came when he was a political outsider. As one of the youngest leaders of the civil rights movement, Lewis spoke powerfully against government-sanctioned injustice—and suffered for exercising his right to speak. He and his peers may not have eradicated racism from America, but they undoubtedly made the country a more free, more just place.

Indeed, Lewis' life stands as a testament to the power of free speech and peaceful agitation as tools for creating progress within a democratic system. "I got in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble," Lewis remarked in 2013.

Lewis was living proof that such progress was possible without violence and without tearing down America's foundations. He went from being a kid who couldn't get a library card because of government-imposed racism to being a 17-term congressman who served alongside America's first black president. In 2015, he was honored by President Barack Obama in a ceremony that took place on the very bridge where Lewis once had his head bashed in by a police officer.

"The Civil Rights Movement…did more to advance freedom within the United States than any other movement in the past century," wrote Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute, in January, shortly after Lewis was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Lewis, he wrote, advanced human liberty "in his campaigns for individual rights, his advocacy for freedom in moral terms, his commitment to peaceful protest"; he helped expand everyone's freedom "to speak, protest, vote, work, exchange, travel, and marry and procreate with African‐​Americans."

His legacy is particularly important at the current moment, when debates over the role of racism—particularly when it is institutionalized within the criminal justice system—and the proper response to it are again at the forefront of American politics.

Lewis left no doubt where he stood on that. In one of his final interviews, he told The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart that he was "inspired" by the peaceful protests against police brutality that have erupted this year—and that he viewed the militaristic response encouraged by President Donald Trump and some other officials as "a disgrace" that was "not in keeping with the best of America."

This year has made it more clear, in ways both obvious and subtle, that Americans still have work to do to force their governments to live up to the promise of legal equality. But the widespread, institutionalized, overt segregation that Lewis experienced as a young man seems foreign and dystopian to most people living in America today. As it should.

For that, we should never forget Lewis and his peers, who spoke, worked, and bled to make America a more free and just nation.

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    2. Haha.unreason exposes themselves again.

      Democrats support the Party of slavery.

      John Lewis was a racist piece of shit who supported not only the Party that fought for Black slavery but is currently fighting for current Socialist slavery of Americans.

      Just because youre Black does not make you immune to being tyrannical pieces of shit who spend their lives trying to enslave a nation into Socialism.

      1. Jerk off to video of peaceful protesters being pulled into unmarked cars with no probable cause lately?

        1. Jerk off to video of peaceful protesters being pulled into unmarked cars with no probable cause lately?

          That’s what you do, in your filter bubble: self-righteous indignation really turns you on.

          Others look at what’s actually going on in Portland, and we worry what happens if the left brings that kind of violence and destruction to our cities.

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          2. we worry what happens if the left brings that kind of violence and destruction to our cities.

            Let ’em burn. Abandon them to the Democrats who inhabit them.

        2. Poor tony votes democrat and cannot fathom why the Democrats and their propaganda wing lie to him.

      2. John Lewis had one good week in the last century, he went downhill from there and became a Progressive cretin first class

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  2. These are not peaceful protests. And they are opposed to libertarians completely and totally.

    1. Many of them have in fact been peaceful.

      But to deliberately conflate the violent terrorists (like we’re seeing in Portland) with the peaceful ones as Reason has been doing this whole time is really disgusting and of course is just more prrof (as if we really needed any) that most of them are not real libertarians.

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      2. It’s also stupid to pretend that all the protests in Portland are violent looters and vandals. The great majority have to be peaceful because one hundred thousand, or ten thousand, or even one thousand protesters, all violent, just doesn’t pass the smell test,

        1. The great majority of the protestors are indeed non-violent. But they are giving cover to the violent agitators. The protests made their point, and won widespread agreement with their ideals from the general public. The longer they continue, the more that support erodes.

          1. This.
            Peaceful protesters do not deserve respect when they act as cover and human shields for violent, destructive rioters in their midst. I have watched too many times ‘peaceful protesters’ with their hands up, standing in front of rock chuckers and then playing victim when they get pepper sprayed.
            It is false victimhood. If you condone and facilitate violence in your midst, you are accountable for that violence.
            The first ammendment is not a free ticket for violence, vandalism, and riot.

      3. I often wonder how someone gets so profoundly dishonest as to respond with a bleating “Many of them have in fact been peaceful,” to violent riots.

        It is true that many protesters have no rioted and that even the rioters were not committing crimes every moment.

        It is also true that only a tiny fraction of the people fighting in WW2 ever killed anyone and, of those, most only did it a small fraction of the time they spent in the service.

        1. So, WW2 was also mostly peaceful.

        2. Lee H. Oswald spent most of November 22, 1963, not shooting President Kennedy.

          1. What a coincidence — so did I!

  3. It’s Reason‘s house style to make these obits heavily hagiographic. Even John McCain, a politician almost cartoonishly bereft of any virtue praisable by libertarians, had few things bad said about him. Perhaps it’s appropriate that John Lewis had none at all. We need not mention that as a Congressman he was just a typical Black Caucus machine swamp creature, that he wasn’t a very distinguished servant of his constituents, that he (very successfully) leveraged his heroic past to lie about getting spit on on the Capitol steps by some ultimately Smollettesque ghosts, or that he staged a grotesque “sit in” and sang “We Shall Overcome” to try to strongarm the then majority to pass a “No Fly No Buy” bill that the ACLU condemned as a civil rights violation.

    We need not mention any of that at this time. But we could probably do without all of this completely gratuitous nonsense about “at the current moment” and “militaristic responses.”

    It’s Reason‘s piece, of course. It just seems a bit silly.

    1. John Lewis was a great American and a Democrat.

      The winners of America’s culture war, and future, admire him.

      Those losers resent his achievements, oppose his aspirations, and strive to nip at his ankles.

      1. So, you concede that Lewis was a lying, slandering political hack.

      2. John Lewis was a great American and a Democrat. The winners of America’s culture war, and future, admire him.

        True, in the same sense that the winners of Cuba’s culture war and future admired Castro. Because Cuba, Venezuela, the USSR, China, that’s what your vision is for the future of America.

      3. meanwhile the current protestors dishonor his memory by burning down their own cities

  4. >>This year has made it more clear, in ways both obvious and subtle, that Americans still have work to do to force their governments to live up to the promise of legal equality.

    nope. legal equality exists.

    1. Have you not been paying attention to the activists? We can’t have legal equality until the right groups are more equal than others.

      1. I only watch CBS Evening News I didn’t even know there were activists out and about

  5. There’s been some suggestions that the Edmund Pettus Bridge be renamed after him. I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not (it’s renaming a major historical site), but a bridge is harder to pull down than a statue.

    1. Even German efficiency couldn’t bring down the Ludendorff Bridge.

    2. That the Pettus Bridge still is named for a Confederate traitor and loser, and a Ku Klux Klan leader, despite its role in the civil rights struggle, is worthwhile if only for illustrating the stain and drain that Alabama continues to constitute for America.

  6. I’m Canadian so I can say this: He lived off his reputation – and it was a great one – but he became part of the swamp and did jack shit for blacks the rest of the time.

    Like McCain. Dude was a bad ass POW. But became a degenerate politician.

    Keeping it real America.

    1. Hey syrup slupper, your PM struts around in a dashiki praising Pol Pot.

      Keep it real Canada.

      /all in good fun; I know you hate him.

      1. No, no. I deserved it. I have to own that fact.

        /Lionel Hutz shudder.

    2. Great causes are apt to become businesses and finally become rackets. Some folks stay engaged for all three phases. Was Lewis different?

      1. Lewis was my rep for 8 years.
        Civil rights hero.
        Shitty, typical congressman

        1. Lewis was the typical young socialist revolutionary; among socialist causes, he happened to pick one that represented an actual injustice. Does that make him a hero? Or just lucky?

    3. McCain had a few shining moments as a POW but — on balance — was a narcissistic reprobate who abandoned his family and had no integrity.

  7. Great causes are apt to become businesses and finally become rackets. Some folks stay engaged for all three phases. Was Lewis different?

  8. John Lewis was a black supremacist racist piece of shit.

    1. So long as you continue to toe the line, complying with the preferences of your betters in our society, you get to say as much stupid, bitter, irrelevant, racist garbage as you like, clinger.

      1. Our betters… in what exactly, Gender studies… ? Hahaha, are you for real or is it a parody account ?

  9. He died in office at age 80 of pancreatic cancer because he just could not imagine that the Republic could go on without him. He was a civil rights icon – about 50 years ago. He spent the last 30 years or so coasting on that reputation and accomplishing just about nothing of note. At least nothing that Reason seems to be able to note. While it’s much more than I’ve managed to accomplish, it’s also much less than what he might have managed to accomplish.

  10. MLK Jr. famously said the content of one’s character is what counts, not the color of one’s skin. Lewis bought into that. In recent years it has been turned backwards: skin color is most important, good character not so much. Apparently Lewis bought into that too. At least he never disagreed with it publicly. In the end he was just a typical politician, bending with whatever breeze is in fashion with the civil rights crowd.

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  11. Just don’t bury John Lewis in Guam.
    It might tip over like he said.

    1. He didn’t say that.

      But some half-educated, slack-jawed, bigoted clingers either believe he did or are willing to lie about it.

      1. My apologies to Mr. Lewis.
        It was Hank Johnson who said that.
        Nevertheless, it still wouldn’t be prudent to bury Mr. Lewis in Guam.
        Mr. Johnson would never forgive us.

      2. You can’t even tell the truth in defending him, Art, because it would mean conceding that another of your heroes is a moron. : )

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  13. John Lewis as a young man worked to gain voting rights for black Americans. Few people will realize just how dangerous that work was. John Lewis was jailed and had his head split opened. In some ways he was lucky, the unlucky civil rights workers ended up dead. People gave their lives for the right to vote and now people in this country seek to take that right away. To make voting so hard that people will give up. I hope that we don’t seek to remember John Lewis with roads, bridges or statues but rather with a new voting rights bill.

    1. “…and now people in this country seek to take that right away…”

      Gee, you pathetic piece of lefty shit, you wouldn’t be laughed at so often if you didn’t constantly lie.

    2. how is voting hard? you register and then you vote. it’s not complicated.

  14. War=peace

    Bad=good

    Unreason is so comical that they think Americans believe their bullshit. MSM companies are failing because clearly Americans are NOT believing the bullshit propaganda coming from unreason and the Lefties.

  15. White caucus= racist
    Black caucus= brave

    White businesses=racist
    Black businesses= strong

    Lefties are lying pieces of shit that should never be believed. Unreason included.

    1. Nothing proves the racists wrong so well as when they whine like hysterical little bitches at the slightest verbal inconvenience.

      Chin up snowflake, all you’re having to do is apply the tiniest speck of nuance imaginable to your social interactions. It’s not exactly a lynching.

      1. Ok commissar.
        Did you found any wrongthink today ?

        1. Just more incessant little bitch whining.

  16. he tearfully recalled that as a teenager in 1956 he was denied a library card….

    by Democrats.

    Lewis was jailed for more than a month in Mississippi in 1961 for the “crime” of using a public restroom marked “whites only”—one of more than 40 arrests during his lifetime….

    by Democrats.

    He had his skull fractured by a police officer during the violent break-up of a peaceful protest in Selma, Alabama, in 1965….

    by Democrats.

    John Lewis worked tirelessly to keep the throats of black Americans firmly under the boots of white Democrats.

    1. You forgot that with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act all those southern Democrats (or Dixiecrats) migrated to the Republican Party. Young people like Lewis changed politics. The Democrats broadened their party while the Republican began a shrinking process.

      1. I love this false narrative. So convenient when all the bad people magically left one party to go to the other. Too bad the facts don’t support this.

        1. Democrats tolerated racism until they didn’t, and the racists left them. Why is that so hard to understand?

          1. Because its not true?

      2. You forgot that with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act all those southern Democrats (or Dixiecrats) migrated to the Republican Party. Young people like Lewis changed politics.

        Ah, the old lie that the civil rights act flipped the South. Nope, sorry, the timing doesn’t work out. In fact, the South was Democratic as long as Southern white voters were overwhelmingly racist. When race largely stopped mattering to Southern white voters, they moved to the non-racist party, the Republicans.

        And in 2020, the Democratic party is still the party that divides people up by race and tells blacks that they need whites to give them handouts, just like in the 1920’s.

        In 2020, the Republican party is still the party that says that race shouldn’t matter, shouldn’t be taken into consideration, and that blacks are capable of standing on their own feet.

        1. So explain why blacks vote for Democrats almost universally.

          1. So explain why blacks vote for Democrats almost universally.

            You’d think the results of that support would inform them of their errors. This narrative, that Lewis accomplished something other than enriching himself and his family, is widely spread against a backdrop of directed riots and protests at the most racist country evah.

          2. Because the dems bought off leading black voices like Sharpton and have pushed a decades long propaganda operation that unfortunately convinced far too many of our non-white citizens that the dems are not actually appallingly racist pieces of shit.
            Blm isnt a grass roots organization as they claim, but a massive dem propaganda effort started under obama designed to convince urban minorities that their deep blue civil leaders are not, in fact, the cause of every crapping thing that is being done to them.
            George floyd didnt die because of some racist white loser. He died because of the policies and practices implemented in minneapolis by decades and single party dem rule.

            1. And no, black support for the dem party is not universal. It is almost solely concentrated in deep deep blue urban centers where graft, vote harvesting and paid voting has been rampant for decades. Philly is renowned for this and what started as efforts by racist white dems to maintain power has shifted over to vile corrupt black dems who care more about personal wealth and power then anything to help their city.

          3. You can’t explain or fix stupid, that’s why.

      3. There are still millions of Democrat voters in the south. The old Dixiecrats died Democrats. The new Southerners voted Republican as they came of voting age.

        You can never name even 5 Dixiecrats that converted from Democrat to GOP during federal political office.

        1. People don’t tend to change their party registration. That’s why these fixations on terms are so disingenuous. You people are looking to tarnish all living Democrats with the racism of some long-dead Dixiecrats, and you can’t even see the current Republican president whose entire platform from day 1 has been rightwing xenophobia and racism. Dishonest word games and cheap lame gotchas can’t erase the fact that the Republicans are the only single-race party around and that they are running on a half-century campaign of white racial resentment that began with a backlash against the civil rights movement. That backlash was carefully cultivated by Republican operatives for their own power. It’s all in the history books.

          1. You people are looking to tarnish all living Republicans with the racism of some long-dead Democrats, and you can’t even see the current Republican president whose administration from before day 1 has been attacked by DNC leaders in the DOJ, State, HoR, Senate, FBI, CIA, IRS, and a Press who felt cheated out of what was theirs.

            That is the same Party who has failed to provide race-neutral cities and states to their constituents (if I hear the protesters correctly).

      4. One southern Democrat migrated to the Republicans.

        One.

        The people who filibustered the 64 CRA? They DIED Democrats. Some, like the klansman, died while he was being revered as the Conscience of the Senate….

        by Democrats.

        1. So they’re dead and that makes them even more relevant somehow?

  17. Another token black in politics, a racist like Waters, Booker, Harris etc. who did absolutely nothing for their constituents and we celebrate this waste of skin?

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  19. “John Lewis Was an American Hero Who Battled State Racism”

    … and then he became a political hack opposed to the ideals that made him a hero. The hero has fallen.

  20. John Lewis […] Battled State Racism. John Lewis’ life was a testament to the power of free speech and peaceful agitation.

    Yes, it was. But like other socialists, his battles were motivated by a socialist vision for America, not a vision of America as a free country with equal opportunity and rights for all. And his work in Congress was frequently characterized by partisanship, dishonesty, and demagoguery, and this got worse the older he got.

  21. John Lewis was a passionate socialist and an unrepentant racist committed to punishing whites for their whiteness. As a congressman, he helped create the National Museum of African American History and Culture, an institution devoted to pursuing “equity” and punishing and discrediting people with white cultural values. The museum on “Whiteness”: ‘Socially and politically constructed, whiteness is not simply referring to skin color but is an ideology that reinforces power at the expense of others and strengthens systems of oppression. White supremacy is an ideology where white people are believed to be superior to nonwhite people. This fallacy is rooted in the same scientific racism and pseudo-science used to justify slavery, imperialism, colonialism, and genocide at various times in throughout history. White supremacist ideologies and their followers continue to perpetuate the myth of white racial superiority. The belief of white superiority has been part of the United States since its inception.’
    ‘If you identify as white, acknowledging your white racial identity and its privileges is a crucial step to help end racism. Facing your whiteness is hard and can result in feelings of guilt, sadness, confusion, defensiveness, or fear. Dr. Robin DiAngelo coined the term white fragility to describe these feelings.’

    1. ‘If you identify as white, acknowledging your white racial identity and its privileges is a crucial step to help end racism.

      I don’t identify as white, or any race.

      Racists like Lewis and AOC identify me as white. And the way to end racism in the US is to speak up against their racist ideology.

      1. What would a black person know about having a race assigned to them by other people?

        1. Stop being such a racist, tony.

    2. I can never get these Lefties to explain what race Americans are.

      1. Nobody cares if you called someone a nigger. That’s not what any of this is about. The only thing it’s about is the fact that being born black means you will grow up with all the disadvantages this society has to offer. To the extent that those disadvantages are the result of racism, racism is a problem. And if those innate disadvantages are the result of anything else, I’d like you to explain just what that factor is.

        The fact that race doesn’t matter to you is the whole point. Not having your race confer any disadvantages is the privilege of being white in this society.

        1. being born black means you will grow up with all the disadvantages this society has to offer

          Every society. Those dis-advantages to being born black are apparent world-wide. They appear to be especially bad in majority black countries and even worse in countries that are governed by blacks.

          There appear to be far fewer dis-advantages to being born black in countries that have embraced the enlightenment. One might even grow up to be elected president in one of those countries.

        2. Govt should not discriminate or pass laws forcing one to discriminate..beyond that you are talking about social outcomes you don’t like but in a free society we are able to interact with who we want for whatever reason we want. Irish, Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Vietnamese all faced real discrimination and hard times and yet you say they have “privilege…” Define it please and not with some bs cultural marxist terms…the only privilege I see is govt elites…and big tech and they are the most bigoted folks I can think of

        3. The concept of priviledge, particularly to skin color, is rampant in much of the world. Calling it white-priviledge is laughably clueless and indicative of someone who has never travelled. The US is, by far, the country with the greatest equality in the world. Anyone with an ounce of experience in the world knows this. Anyone who argues that the US is a racist society is so laughably moronic that they should be shipped to china, russia, france, indial germany, sweden, yemen, thailand, etc etc to get a clue.
          Granted, the UK and Canada are on par with the US for the most part, but lack the core constitutional rights that backstop racial equality.

  22. Heaven forbid if we don’t worship at the alter of cultural diversity, the biggest claptrap ever devised!

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  25. “The Civil Rights Movement…did more to advance freedom within the United States than any other movement in the past century,”

    Repealing Prohibition was up there too.

    1. The “civil rights movement” is a propaganda tool used to claim moral authority by the dems. Racial inequality and systemic racism was certainly a problem in the 100 years following the civil war, but it was ending in the 50s already. Ww2 veterans came back with a new understanding and were driving extensive change across society. The Civil rights movement did nothing except stake claim to that change that was already happening. The marches werent required and if anything, delayed the legal changes by entrenching tribalism across the south.

      1. Whats really twisted is the belief that fellow citizens are such mindless drones that marches and protests are needed to convince them to not be pieces of shit.
        People are inherently wise, caring, charitable to others, and rarely racist to people they know. No one needed a march to teach them that segrgation was wrong. It was already being changed.
        The only thing the marches did was allow white northerners to look down their noses at southerners (white and black) which continues to this day to propagate the cultural myth that southerners are slow, uneducated and racist. Anyone who has lived in the NE and the SE can easily tell where the worst racism is and who are nicer and more charitable to each other regardless of skin color.

  26. As someone who came of age in the 80’s, the only John Lewis I knew was someone who was pretty socialist in economics and thought govt should interfere in free exchanges between private citizens….while one can rightly praise his bravery over Jim Crow and the denial of natural rights to Americans of African (slavery) ancestry one can also point out his confusion with liberty and freedom of association and social outcomes he desired.

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  28. Sad our country depends on the grim reaper to rid us of these professional pieces of shit politicians. In the end he’s nothing but yet another poster boy for term limits!

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