Within a relatively short amount of time, this country has lost three iconic figures of the Civil Rights Movement, the most prominent being Rep. John Lewis from Georgia, who was one of the original "freedom fighters."
Well-known minister C.T. Vivian, who died not quite a day after John Lewis, was prominent in M.L. King's inner circle during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s. Lest we forget Elijah Cummings, the long-time Congressman from Maryland who spent his career fighting for equality for African Americans.
All three of these men have earned the praise of a grateful nation for their service to humanity. Along with many other, I'm sharing the stories of their lives and highlighting their struggles and triumphs.
As for them, all three were born of working-class families, not necessarily projected to make great contributions to mankind. But all three certainly "overachieved" in terms of becoming accomplished, worthwhile citizens who were well on their way to providing comfortable lives for their families.
Let's focus on John Lewis, not only for his efforts in Congress on behalf of African Americans and other disenfranchised groups, but because of his commitment to purpose.
He never forgot why he was elected to high public office.
He was always friendly, but a was also a serious, no-nonsense person, even as a young man. His willingness to cross party lines to get meaningful and important legislation passed was legendary. Sure, he was a tough, often fiery adversary, but he enjoyed the respect and admiration of his colleagues, friend and foe alike.
He was affectionately known as the conscience of the Congress and the dean of the Georgia delegation of legislators.
As a contemporary, I watched and listened to what Rep. Lewis endured as he led SNCC (student non-violent coordinating committee) from 1963 to 1966. An undergraduate of Fisk University and graduate of the American Bible College, Rep. Lewis could have settled into the relative security and safety of being a preacher. But, he chose to do more, electing to literally put his life in harm's way in seeking equal justice under the law for his fellow African Americans.
As he suffered the indignities and degradation his non-violent approach subjected him to, I'm pretty sure being "famous" wasn't on his mind.
The accolades and honors, including the coveted Medal of Freedom, placed on him by President Barrack Obama, notwithstanding, are all well-deserved. But as a mere mortal, I choose to salute his courage and fearlessness in the face of a "stacked deck" of legal segregation, Jim Crow, and a rigid system of oppression blocking African Americans' full access to fulfillment.
Think about it.
It took, and still takes, a real man to speak truth to power and be willing to accept the consequences.
Rep. John Lewis, though slight in stature, stood tall in the hallowed halls of Congress, "asked no quarter and gave no quarter."
What a man.
What an example for all Americans to emulate!
Rest in peace, John Lewis!