JOHN LEWIS, A HERO, AN ACTIVIST, AND FIRST AMONG EQUALS.
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
In August of 2013, writer John Lewis, co-writer Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell published and released the autobiographical story “March”. A graphic novel that detailed, in story form, the trials of the young civil rights activist, John Lewis.
John Lewis passed-away on July 17, 2020 at the age of 80 after battling cancer for several months. He served 17 terms in the United States House of Representatives on behalf of the people of Atlanta, Georgia, and the world.
Known as one of the “Big Six” of the civil rights movement, he went from being a student activist organizing sit-ins, to a frontline agitator working with “The Freedom Riders” and marching with Dr. Martin Luther King.
As the youngest speaker at the “March on Washington”, he warned the crowd, the politicians, and the future, about the pernicious nature of incrementalism saying “There are those that have said ‘be patient’, but we do not want our freedom gradually, we want it now.”
He organized the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. With smoke in the air and blood on the pavement, it would become an event infamously known as “bloody sunday”, that would lead to him being nearly beaten to death. Despite his cracked skull and beaten body, Lewis returned to the streets to support those willing to sacrifice their bodies and their freedom, and to the halls of power to give them voice.
“I have been arrested over 40 times, but I am not weary.”
Why does John Lewis matter in this space? Many of us have dreamed of what we would do if we were gifted with the power and skills of Captain America, Superman, Spiderman, and many other characters who are our most pious heroes. We would confront evil!? We would be vigilant in the shadow of extreme violence!? But, he knew that hate and violence were prescient in the era of “jim crow”, and that he could not wait for the fantasies of safety and security that come with power to be evident before challenging hates avatars. He couldn’t wait until he became impervious to bats, batons, and bullets. He couldn’t wait to become fast enough to escape the violence, because there was no place he could run to do so. He couldn’t wait for an unlikely personal tragedy to call him to action, because the systematic, indiscriminate, racially motivated violence in black neighborhoods was an everyday likelihood that had already created thousands of personal tragedies for those communities.
Without the ability to bully the bad guys, every one of his confrontations brought with it the possibility of severe injury and death.
In recent years, we have looked to writers of sci-fi, fantasy, and especially comic books to heed his example, and show a greater level of personal and social evolution in our favorite characters. Demonstrating not only what they are willing to fight for when their power is at its peak, but what they are willing to die for when it is at its ebb.
He may not have been the most super of our heroes, but he is without a doubt the most courageous!
By: JARED BIRDSONG