Hundreds of people lined the streets in Selma, Alabama to watch the flag-draped coffin of Rep. John Lewis roll past in a horse-drawn caisson. The driver wore a fine suit of mourning. Several times he stood at the reins and lowered his top hat to cover his heart. In 1965 when John Lewis started to cross this bridge with hundreds of others marching for voting rights, Alabama State Troopers beat and tear gassed them, shocking those watching on national TV. Today as John Lewis rode across the bridge for the final time, men in blue police uniforms saluted, letting him pass with dignity. A CNN reporter said that as the coffin passed, people called out, “We’ve got it from here, John.”
We can’t let him down. We have to fix federal voting rights laws. Again.
A week before he died, I watched the documentary JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE. (Stream on Amazon Prime Video, You Tube, or Google Play Movies, for $6.99). After he’d been badly beaten as a Freedom Rider in the early 1960’s in the South, he said personal fear left him–because what he was doing was right and necessary.
Rep. Lewis died of pancreatic cancer. A dear friend of mine did too, a wasting, painful way to die. Gratefully, Rest in Peace.
Edmund Winston Pettus, a resident of Selma, was a life-long white supremacist. He was a Civil War Confederate Brigadier General, in 1877 Alabama KKK’s Grand Dragon, and served in the US Senate from 1897 to 1907, “thoroughly dedicated to white supremacy.” He probably lied to Congress in July 1871 when he denied knowing anything about the KKK in Alabama. In 1940 when the bridge that bore his name was dedicated, a Selma newspaper described Pettus as a man who fought “negro dominance with magnificent strength, physical and moral courage, and brilliant intellect.”