The Good Trouble of John Lewis

Another lion has left the earth. John Lewis. And that damn bridge in Selma needs to be immediately renamed for him, as has been discussed for years. Do it now. But finally abolishing the name and specter of the Edmund Pettus Bridge will not be enough. Structurally, the Pettus is not very large, it only has four piers, but it spans the arc of civil rights. The very civil rights still at issue today. John Lewis is the epitome of that arc.

From the New York Times:

Representative John Lewis, a son of sharecroppers and an apostle of nonviolence who was bloodied at Selma and across the Jim Crow South in the historic struggle for racial equality and who then carried a mantle of moral authority into Congress, died on Friday. He was 80.
Mr. Lewis’s personal history paralleled that of the civil rights movement. He was among the original 13 Freedom Riders, the Black and white activists who challenged segregated interstate travel in the South in 1961. He was a founder and early leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which coordinated lunch-counter sit-ins. He helped organize the March on Washington, where Dr. King was the main speaker, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Mr. Lewis led demonstrations against racially segregated restrooms, hotels, restaurants, public parks and swimming pools, and he rose up against other indignities of second-class citizenship. At nearly every turn he was beaten, spat upon or burned with cigarettes. He was tormented by white mobs and absorbed body blows from law enforcement.

This day was clearly coming, it was widely known Lewis was not well and in the throes of cancer. The death also comes as the racist cancer in society he fought so hard as a youth is center stage yet again. Not just in the abuse in the streets by police, not just in the Black Lives Matter movement, but in the despair of the poor and downtrodden. And, importantly, in favor of all citizens voting.

As Barack Obama said:

“Generations from now,” Obama said when awarding him a Medal of Freedom in 2011, “when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.”

The fierce urgency of now is every bit as critical as at any time in history.

28 replies
  1. Eureka says:

    Thank you for the tribute, bmaz. Still hurts though we knew it was coming, and really reminds me of when we lost Elijah Cummings. The societal issues we must surmount are ever-growing worse (remember how bad it had seemed back then when Cummings passed), escalating just as we seem to better coalesce to confront them, but at the same time are exceedingly simple; in the ~ words of Maya Angelou: When people show you who they are, believe them. And she meant that — “believe them” — like any pragmatist would, as in plan and act accordingly. The first time.

    Thanks vvv for sharing your song, I will check it out later.

  2. klynn says:

    My heart is aching. It was an honor to once work with John Lewis. Such a spirit of courage, calm and care for others.

  3. tinao says:

    I’d wish you godspeed John, but in my heart I know you are already there. So, I’ll wish my country godspeed, especially those who need to find their moral compass again.

    • Jenny says:

      “Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.” Congressman John Lewis

  4. Vinnie Gambone says:

    These men were giants. Thank you all here whose stitching and unstitching keeps truth marching on.

  5. Manwen says:

    I had’t quite planned on writing as much or in this way, but it just unfolded.
    John Lewis is a gift to America. He was a man of faith in the best possible way. He believed in nonviolent social change as a demand of his faith. When you see wrong, right it. Right it without hate, without violence, without rancor.
    He loved the sinner and sought to save them as much as he sought to save their victims. He, himself, accepted being the victim in the belief that turning the other cheek will teach the violent more than any violent reaction possible can. He shed his own blood many times, but refused to consider drawing the blood of those who were spilling his. He willingly took beatings, time and time again, causing ‘good trouble’ to bring an end to the bad troubles.
    He sought to heal the beloved community by revealing its failings. He drove us toward fulfilling the dream of a more perfect union by nakedly placing his body in the way of its less perfect elements. It takes courage to enter a war zone; it takes more courage to enter a war zone unarmed, willing to end your life, for the lives of your beloved community. Obama is correct, if you want to teach people about courage, teach them about John Lewis.
    I had the honor to cast a ballot for this man in every election since he first ran for Congress. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few days after that election, running into him at a rental car center downtown. He had just been elected to the US Congress, and there he was alone, no entourage, just a quiet, soft-spoken customer at a rental counter. I encountered him many times since; he was always the same. Usually alone, unpretentious, approachable, simply a fellow citizen of Atlanta. He displayed confidence in himself. He knew he was on the right side of history and that he had contributed to that history yet, he seemed content in that awareness without seeming self-righteous.
    This will be the first ballot I will cast in nearly 40 years that I will not have the opportunity to vote for John Lewis. But I will miss his presence in our community as much as his presence on my ballot.
    I will miss seeing him because every time I saw him I was reminded of what American democracy can be. This son of Alabama sharecroppers grew into an incredible agent of change, challenging the established order, creating a new order, then becoming part of that order. There he consistently reminded everyone of what striving for a more perfect union requires: sovereign citizens living in freedom, equally respected under the law.
    His presence in American history reminds us that courage takes many forms and that sacrifice is not only found on foreign battlefields but is sometimes required against the established order as well. John Lewis crossed the Edmund Bridge in order to vote. His life became a bridge between one side of the civil rights era he lived through to the current wave of civil rights activism, using the the tools of John Lewis in the continuing struggle for social justice–demonstration and voting to usher in a new era in the advancement of freedom and equality. MLK says he had been to the mountaintop and could see the promised land, but knew he would not reach it. Similarly, I believe John Lewis saw the promised land in the works of Black Lives Matter. Today civil rights advocates are poised to make great gains in the upcoming election, in part, with the tools John Lewis struggled to provide for them. In all of the chaos of these days, I hope that today’s demonstrators take a moment to appreciate who this man is and what he has given for all of us. His life should inspire all of us to continue to make ‘good trouble’ along the way to the promised land, or at least toward a more perfect union. We should not miss John Lewis. We should try to live John Lewis.

      • Valerie Klyman-Clark says:

        It really, really is. I’m sitting here, tears streaming in the parking lot of the grocery store.
        What. A. Year, this.

    • BobCon says:

      That’s a nice tribute, and I agree Lewis saw the fruit of some of his work in the Black Lives Matter movement.

      It’s really impressive how much the movement has learned from the early days in Ferguson and how effectively they have organized. SNCC underwent a similar transformation during the days when Lewis was young, and became a powerful force in the fight aginst Jim Crow and disenfranchisement as their organizational power grew.

    • TGazz says:

      Manwen. I will keep this vernacular. That is the BEST damn piece of prose I have read in a hell of a long time- not to mention the weight & substance of our topic. VERY moved by ur ‘unfolding.’ THANK YOU!

  6. civil says:

    President Obama’s statement:

    Ari Berman (author of Give Us the Ballot) tweeted: “John Lewis nearly died marching to pass Voting Rights Act in 1965. Now a bill to restore VRA has been sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk for 225 days. We can truly honor Lewis’s life by protecting right to vote. I wrote this today through tears.

    Mitch McConnell and Brian Kemp have both released statements about Lewis’s passing while crapping on Lewis’s legacy with their actions.

    If anyone wants to honor Lewis by donating to a voting rights organization, I’ll mention one that I learned about recently, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition:
    Florida voters had approved a change to the state constitution so that felons could vote, but then the FL legislature passed a law conditioning felons’ right to vote on payment of all fees, fines and restitution, when the state doesn’t even have a system for determining how much people owe. Court rulings resulted in a temporary and then permanent injunction against that law, identifying it as a poll tax, but then the 11th Circuit temporarily blocked the injunction, and this week, SCOTUS refused to lift the 11th Circuit’s stay. This law affects over 1 million felons in FL who’ve completed their sentences/parole/probation, and FRRC is working to help people restoration of rights and with fines/fees.

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah that case is over. Donation far better made to your local voting and precinct efforts to accomplish the vote.

      • civil says:

        I don’t live in Florida or even in a swing state. I volunteer locally, but I have very little money to donate, and I try to figure out people/organizations that are most likely to advance my goals, which aren’t always local.

  7. Beeboplives says:

    Faith is the Spirit that is whispered in your heart. – John Lewis

    This old privileged white woman cries as Senator John Lewis crosses a bridge for the last time. Back comes the times mom and I would hide under the covers with a little radio listening to MLK and others who were forbidden voices in our house by an ugly US Air Force lieutenant colonel step-father.

    May the guiding Spirit Senator John Lewis leaves, forever whisper in our hearts!

  8. Savage Librarian says:

    I am so sad John Lewis has passed, but so grateful for all the gifts he shared with us. His light will always shine for us and we are so much stronger because of it.

  9. James Sterling says:

    Especially appreciate Manwen’s comment above. John Lewis refused to falter in the face of intransigent opposition. He just kept coming. I suspect we will never achieve 100% voting rights, antiracist attitudes and behavior. But, like he did, we can and must keep pushing forward, moving forward as history allows, and refusing to retreat when it doesn’t.

  10. John Lehman says:

    An Icon and Martyr on the long painful march towards racial justice.

    Thanks for the tribute bmaz
    Far as I’m concerned that is the John Lewis Bridge, who the hell is Edmund Pettus?

  11. Rugger9 says:

    DJT played golf with Lindsey and let his press operation handle the statement. Typical for DJT, but I’m sure we will see some insensitive tweetstorm shortly. I also see that MSNBC is reminding everyone of Lewis’ voting rights bill still sitting on McConnell’s desk.

    So, in spite of all of the times Candace Owens and Kanye West have set aside their souls to cover for DJT, he’ll just waste their efforts by being himself. I cannot see how any Blacks will turn toward DJT after this diss.

  12. Jonathan says:

    I can’t even describe how heartbroken I was to have the headline show up before going to bed this morning. Despite living in the ATL metro for almost 30 years, I never got to meet John. It is a failure I will always regret. But I am so glad that my wife’s daughter did. She is passionate about politics, and I respect her so much for putting herself in places where she gets to interact with amazing heroes like John Lewis. In my household we have a tradition of watching movies starring our favorite stars when they pass. Tonight John Lewis: Good Trouble is already queued up (and a box of kleenex is at the ready). Godspeed to you, good sir. The world was brighter with your presence, but we will always have the light of your spirit to guide us forward.

  13. gmoke says:

    I had the privilege of meeting John Lewis once. He was a strong and sweet presence. I asked him the question I always ask veterans of the civil rights movement: Did you ever study Gandhian economics as well as Gandhian nonviolence?

    The answer is always, “No.” Would be good if it weren’t so. Nevertheless, what John Lewis and the other civil rights veterans did was magnificent and more than necessary. Thanks to John Lewis and all the rest of the campaigners. They give us an example to follow.

    My notes to John Lewis’ remarkable graphic novel trilogy, March, are at

    And this is how I will remember him:

  14. BayStateLibrul says:

    Thanks BMAZ for this opportunity.

    I spent thee years in Atlanta but never met John Lewis. I only new him in press reports, on TV, and in the history books. Manwen’s story was terrific.

    “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some, they come in with the tide”, writes Zora Neale Hurston. She goes on, “For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by time. That is the life of men.”

    May John’s legacy sail on in the hearts of the next generation.
    May his dreams be never ridiculed by time.
    May his life be not forgotten.

  15. e.a.f. says:

    He was truly amazing and brave

    He changed America. He fought until the end.

    He is the end of a generation of “trouble makers” and they don’t make them like that anymore. To bravely march knowing you are going to be hurt badly takes commitment and guts.

    I remember seeing those marches on T.V. at the time and then over the years. There just isn’t anything like it in this generation.

  16. madwand says:

    A man who displayed a lot of guts in my view. He will be sorely missed. Another group displaying guts this weekend was the Wall of Women in Portland who put up a wall between the Feds and the protestors to protect the protestors. Athena the naked lady also and the Navy guy who took multiple hits with a baton from a coward and didn’t back off till they pepper sprayed him. He just wanted to talk to the Feds about their oaths and then they started hitting him. Even vets get no respect from these guys.

Comments are closed.