THE ENDURING GRACE OF JOHN LEWIS An interview in On Being by Krista Tippett
The legendary late civil rights elder and congressman, with lived wisdom for the culture of protest and common life today.
An extraordinary conversation with the late congressman John Lewis, taped in Montgomery, Alabama, during a pilgrimage 50 years after the March on Washington. It offers a special look inside his wisdom, the civil rights leaders’ spiritual confrontation within themselves, and the intricate art of nonviolence as “love in action.” CLICK HERE TO LISTEN
In 2013, Krista and the On Being team took part in a civil rights pilgrimage alongside John Lewis. This week she offered some reflections on their time together:
It was one of the most transformative experiences of my life — attending a five-day pilgrimage led by Rep. John Lewis to the holy ground of the civil rights movement in 2013.
In Tuscaloosa, we walked through the auditorium doorway where in 1963 Gov. George Wallace barred the entry of the first two African American students, causing the federal government to intervene to secure their right to be there. Sixty years later in our presence, the younger sister of one of them — a Harvard-educated lawyer — had a deeply moving, reconciliatory meeting with Wallace’s daughter and grandson. In Birmingham, we worshipped at the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four little girls were killed in a KKK bombing in 1963. In Selma, we walked across the bridge with John Lewis and others, including a nun who had ministered to the marchers when they were beaten back violently on Bloody Sunday. This was the first of two unsuccessful attempts to march all the way from Selma to Montgomery. And it was in Montgomery, where the third try finally succeeded, where I sat down with John Lewis in the afternoon of an emotional day. The young white police chief of Montgomery issued the first ever apology to John Lewis, giving him his badge and bringing all of us — including both of them — to tears.
We speak about this in our interview. Of all that I learned from John Lewis, most urgent to me now is how partial an understanding has come down through history of the muscular complexity of what those leaders did and how they effected it. Nonviolence was not a withholding but a psychologically savvy and deeply pragmatic “love in action,” as John Lewis said again and again to me — not an absence of violence but a presence of something stronger and truer with a force to transform and redeem. — Krista