This Monday is the day set aside by the United States to honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a day of celebration of his life and legacy. King spent his life fighting, without violence but fighting just the same, fighting for freedom, for equality, and for love. He gave the “last full measure of devotion” to the fight, and did as much to win it as any person has. Still, the fight is not over.
Dr. King was arrested for peaceful protests as those in power abused or outright ignored the laws and Constitution which should have protected him. He was the victim of terrorist attacks while he lived in the heart of America. One threw an explosive device into King’s home while his wife and infant daughter were inside. Another ended King’s fight, though not his influence, with the bullet which killed the great leader. It would be nice to think events like this are simply a dark chapter of our history, to be remembered but no longer relevant. It is not so.
Dr. King did not fight alone. When he fell, those who stood beside him and those who followed him lifted his torch, and every generation since has raised up more to carry on the fight, the fight still not won. Just two days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day Rep. John Lewis became the target of attacks showing just how much remains to be done.
John Lewis was accused by the president-elect of the United States of being “all talk.” All talk. All talk is the accusation leveled by an incoming chief executive against a living legend. John Lewis went to jail more than two dozen times for nonviolent protests against the racism, segregation, and unconstitutional Jim Crow laws of the South. He was beaten by two white men in Rock Hill for daring to enter a “whites only” waiting room. For claiming the right to sit on public transportation alongside white people, he was hit in the head and knocked unconscious. To this day, John Lewis carries the scars from the day called “Bloody Sunday,” when police in Selma attacked him and other protesters as they stopped to pray, their only offense trying to walk across a bridge. Lewis’ skull was fractured that day. He has served his state of Georgia and his country in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987. “All talk.”
Just last month, Lewis spoke at the University of South Carolina’s December commencement. He told the audience that he thought he was going to die that day in Selma. He also said he did not let the brutal attack stop him.
“I got in trouble, but I call it good trouble,” he said. “As graduates, you must go out and get into trouble, necessary trouble, to make our country and our world a better place.”
John Lewis is not fighting a battle of Democrat and Republican, and neither are we. Lewis stood proudly four times as Republican presidents were inaugurated. He has worked alongside countless members of both parties. He walked arm in arm with Sen. Jeff Sessions on the 50th anniversary of that bloody day in Selma. Lewis, like King, has stood his entire life for nonviolence, for equality, for love.
John Lewis is in trouble again. He said he does not consider this president-elect as “a legitimate president” because of an election which he believes was tampered with by Russia. He said he would not attend this inauguration. He said “You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong.” For his trouble, he was verbally spat upon, his years of service, his scars all disregarded with two callous words: “all talk.” The district he has served so long and well was attacked, called “in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested).” Like the “all talk” accusation, those charges were false, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Saturday.
This is the trouble John Lewis wants: good trouble. This is a man who will not sit idly by and watch injustice. He will not ignore suggestions of banning immigrants based on religion, or making citizens register on the same basis. John Lewis is a man who understands history. He has lived it, and made it.
Dr. King gave his life because some causes are important enough to risk everything. John Lewis almost lost his life for the same reason. He fights now for the same reason. He is the living embodiment of Dr. King’s legacy. It must be more than singing a song or attending an annual rally or posting quotes from Dr. King on a Facebook page. It must be more than writing an editorial. The fight is not over. We must be alert. We must not allow history to be ignored. We must not meekly surrender the ground gained by Dr. King and all those before and after him who have shared in the battle. We must stand up. There may come a time when we, like the giants on whose shoulders we stand, must act.
This is not a battle of political parties. Time will tell what this president-elect will do. We would be thrilled to see him reach out and take his own stand alongside those who fight for equality, freedom and love. We hope to see it. This is not a battle of political parties. It is a battle of equality versus racism, of freedom versus oppression, of love versus hate. We will stand against whoever leads the wrong side, and we will win. “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies,” another man named King wrote. He was right. John Lewis is not dead. Dr. King’s dream is not dead. It cannot die, no matter how dark the days may be, as long as there remain people willing to get into good trouble.