Celebrating the Life of Congressman John Lewis

“We did what young people do so well,” says Lewis. “We got in the way.”

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Our university, our nation, and the world are dealing with the complexities wrought by a global pandemic, an embattled economy and the urgent need of addressing a national legacy of racism.  What more poignant punctuation could there possibly be than the passing of Congressman John Lewis (2/21/40 – 7/17/20), a giant amongst civil rights leaders.  He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5th congressional district from 1987 until his death in 2020 and never wavered from the vision of his youth for a more equitable society. He had gained the respect of people from all political persuasions embodying such humanity through action as to have earned the moniker of being the “the conscience of Congress” for his moral fortitude.

“We did what young people do so well.  We got in the way,” Lewis reminisced, meaning to get in the way of those who would prevent progress toward a fully humanizing society.  We are often reminded of what we have yet to learn when people of historic import pass.  Therein lies the beauty of libraries. In the 21st century, we can continue to listen to the words and wisdom of those who have led history toward a greater goal for all because libraries make it their mission for their words to be retained. 

On February 21, 2015, John Lewis spoke at UIS as part of his book tour for March, which was the first in a trilogy of autobiographical black and white graphic novels about the Civil Rights Movement, told through his experiential perspective.  The recording of that talk can be located here. Brookens Library also holds several copies of each of the books in this trilogy which can be requested and checked out through our Grab-and-Go service. You can browse his books in our library collection here

Brookens Library has several other works that feature John Lewis including several videos focusing on the Civil Rights Movement in which he is prominently featured along with other major Civil Rights and human rights figures such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells, Shirley Chisolm, as well as others.  Through our subscription to Alexander Street Press Videos, you can find former President Barack Obama’s speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act for which John Lewis’ early activist efforts were heavily focused and featured in his March trilogy. 

You can also find a stream of John Lewis’ keynote for the 50th anniversary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which formed the vanguard of the Civil Rights Movement.  John Lewis was a founding member and its first chair from 1963-1966.  It is our good fortune that libraries make it possible for us the legacy and words of our heroes to endure for the ages.   For an excellent summary of the astonishing Leadership Lived of John Lewis see:  https://lasentinel.net/civil-rights-pioneer-and-icon-john-lewis-passes-at-80.html

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