John Lewis at Black Lives Matter Plaza
Photo by Gary D. Williams Jr./Creative Theory Agency
I spent all day yesterday watching John Lewis’s funeral. Though I had so much else to do, I couldn’t pull myself away as he was driven through Atlanta for the last time, to be laid to rest with his beloved Lillian.
Three former presidents spoke and Jimmy Carter sent a letter, but it was Jamila Thompson, his Deputy Chief of Staff, who I loved the most. She said people always asked what he was like and she always answered that he was “just as you would imagine, but better.” There were frequently children running around his desk because he made it clear that their families came first. And his staff made sure he had the space he needed for "summits with himself," those quiet moments when he had seen something that was not right and came to know what he needed to say, what he needed to do.
Even after his death, he was still organizing and inspiring. In his final essay which he asked to be published on the day of his funeral, he wrote:
I want you to know that in the last days
and hours of my life you...filled me with hope
about the next chapter of the great American
story when you used your power
to make a difference in our society.
Congressman Lewis had a story he often told. It was one of the foundations of his life, a parable that helped him grapple, even as a young boy, with living in a world of “unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror.” It is the story of a terrifying windstorm that happened when he was four years old. As the wind began to lift up a corner of his Aunt Seneva’s small house, where he and his cousins were crowded, all fifteen of them clasped hands and walked to that corner and held it down. They moved together throughout the house, to the weakest place, and that’s where they put their little bodies. Joined together, they held the house down until the windstorm was over. John Lewis spent his life moving where the wind led him, to the places that needed the weight of his courage—to lunch counters in Nashville and buses through the Deep South, to a bridge in Selma and the embassy of apartheid South Africa and, in his last public appearance, to Black Lives Matter Plaza. With his final words, he called us to do the same. "So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide."
“I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is
still marching on.” John Lewis