Politics (SGMAG) Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis discusses race relations and voting rights in a video @ NYtimes.com. By Abigail Keller, Politics.
Born on a sharecropper’s farm in 1940, the African American Lewis grew up in segregated Alabama. As a child in 1950s Alabama, most humiliating to him was discovery that he was not allowed to check books out of the public library. That was a privilege reserved for white patrons. In what he recalled as the first protest of his life, he walked into the Pike County Public Library and asked for a card. Turned down, he circulated a petition–signed mainly by his cousins–and mailed it to the county. He never got a reply.
John Lewis on Race Relations
As a college student in Nashville, he joined the sit-in protests and volunteered for the original Freedom Ride in 1961. He was elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, becoming the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963.
The radical shift to exclusively Black issues ultimately forced Lewis out of SNCC. Consequently Lewis capitalized on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, turned his focus to voter registration campaigns, and continued working within the system.
During the 1960s, John Lewis’ capacity for punishment was legendary; he was arrested and jailed forty times. Repeatedly beaten by police, he lost count of how many times he was kicked in the ribs and face.
When Lewis heard people choking on tear gas; swinging clubs broke bones. The marchers fell back stumbling and coughing. John Lewis never returned a blow. Not physically. But he fought back, this time with words aimed directly at the President of the United States. “I don’t know how Pres. Johnson can send troops to Vietnam,” he proclaimed angrily at an ensuing rally. “But, he can’t send troops to protect Black people in Selma, Alabama.”
In 1986 he won the election to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent Atlanta’s Fifth Congressional District, a seat he continues to hold today.
John Lewis on Civil Rights
On Nov. 18, 2003, a 4-3 decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriages in the state. Pres. Bush opposed the decision and pledged to defend traditional marriage as the cornerstone of a strong society. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by Congress and signed by Pres. Clinton in 1996, defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman and saying that states need not recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.
To discourage resistance, gay marriage supporters decided those who disagreed with them had to be bigots. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, for instance, wrote, “I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.” This made gay marriage the kind of issue most political candidates dread–not because they don’t know where they stand, but because no one likes being branded a hater.
Where Hon. John Lewis Stands On Other Issues
1. Voted YES on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act
2. Voted YES on prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation.
3. Voted NO on Constitutionally defining marriage as one-man-one-woman.
4.Voted NO on making the PATRIOT Act permanent.
5. Voted NO on Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage
6. Voted NO on banning gay adoptions in DC.
7. Voted NO on ending preferential treatment by race in college admissions.
8. Voted NO for Ending racial profiling as a part of fight for justice.