As Amy Goodman notes in this moving interview with Congressman John Lewis, history is made by seemingly ordinary folks engaging in small acts of courage that are actually gargantuan acts of bravery. As Goodman notes, these are often overlooked in the official versions of history we're taught in schools, churches, families.
Amy Goodman asks John Lewis to talk about what propelled him forward, when he could see the weapons that state troopers had brought to use against people marching peacefully across the Selma bridge on 7 March 1972, Bloody Sunday. Along with others marching for black voting rights, John Lewis was attacked by the police on that day, knocked unconscious by a nightstick-wielding state trooper.
Explain that moment where you decided to move forward. Because I don't think the history we learn records those small acts that are actually gargantuan acts of bravery. Talk about, I mean, you saw the weapons the police arrayed against you. What propelled you forward, Congressmember Lewis?
Rep. John Lewis:
Well, my mother and my father, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts and people all around me had never registered to vote. I had been working all across the South. The state of Mississippi had a black voting age population of more than 450,000 snd only about 16,000 were registered to vote. On that day, we didn't have a choice. I think we had been tracked down by what I call the spirit of history and we couldn't turn back. We had to go forward.
We became like trees planted by the rivers of water. We were anchored, and I thought we were dying. I first thought we were going to be arrested and go to jaiil, but I thought it was a real possibility that some of us would die on the bridge that day, after that confrontation occurred. I thought it was a last protest for me. But somehow in some way, you had to keep going. You go to a hospital, you go to a doctor's office, you get mended, and you get up and try it again.
My mother, my father, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts and people all around me: John Lewis's powerful testimony begins by recognizing that his struggle for justice was anchored in family, in a family legacy and a familial struggle for rights — that he was marching and risking death not only for himself, but for his extended family that had, for generations, been denied human rights. His mother, his father, his grandparents, his uncles and aunts were marching alongside him, providing him with the courage he needed to walk across the Selma bridge.
And then he extends that metaphor of family to everyone, to "people all around me." The quest for rights or justice can never be limited only to my own group, those familiar to me. If it's to be meaningful for me, for us, it must be extended to them, too.
This is how I understand Jesus to use the concept of family in the gospels. Who is our brother, and who our sister?
Everyone. And we cannot rest as long as anyone is left behind in the quest for human justice.