I join millions of others in mourning the late Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, a true American hero.
Civil Rights Icon Congressman John Lewis Passes Away At 80, from BlackEnterprise.com
I learned about John Lewis not in high school, but in a college course called History of Social Movements. Sadly, our high school history classes were taught by coaches who spent most of the class time talking about last night’s basketball game, or next week’s football matchup. Also, I grew up in the south, where social justice issues weren’t exactly the hottest topics on the school curriculum (to put it mildly).
The college Social Movements course is still being taught, with this description in the 2020 catalog:
This course examines social movements, repeated display of collective action outside sanctioned political channels to bring about social change. Different theoretical approaches to social movements will be reviewed to determine how movements organize, attract members, utilize resources, ideologically frame their issues, and engage in nonconventional tactics to influence public policy.
What a great learning opportunity for me that long-ago semester, as I gained insight into how civil disobedience and non-violent protests (non-violent, at least, on the side of the protestors, not the police) helped to create change in our country. I’ve always been grateful that I signed up for the course, which was in part because of an interest and belief in social justice, and in part to study the power and craft of oratory. The course curriculum included watching all episodes of the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize, and that’s how I learned about the great John Lewis.
I’m sharing this in case you haven’t seen or heard of Eyes on the Prize. It is truly a remarkable look at an important part of our nation’s history, although the story it tells is not complete, sadly, since we are still not at that mountaintop of racial justice and peace that the protestors and leaders of the marches in the 50s and 60s were seeking.
I don’t feel that I can adequately describe the value and impact of the documentary, but to quote a review in the New York Times when it was originally released in the mid-80s, “The nobility of America’s civil-rights struggle comes through with the directness of a spiritual in ”Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965.”
All of the Eyes on the Prize interviews are archived and available to the public via the Library of Congress; click here for the full John Lewis interview (video and transcript). These archives are a national treasure, in my humble opinion.
And so is the incredible and courageous legacy of John Lewis.
Like John Lewis, let’s keep our eyes on the prize and our hands on the plow until all races and all people know the shade of the freedom tree (referencing Freedom’s Plow by Langston Hughes).
In closing, I offer this simple haiku in memory of a great man:
© 2020, Glover Gardens