John Lewis at the bridge

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, 1965.

John Lewis and his fellow marchers on that bridge knew what was coming. Courage is not lack of fear. Only a fool would have been unafraid that day. Courage is going forward in spite of the fear.

Lewis knew what he faced because it was not his first time. He’d already been brutally bloodied, more than once, on the “freedom rides” to integrate bus travel. Yet there he stood again, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Where he was badly beaten again, along with many others. None turned back.

America is a better country for what they did. And what they achieved. Our saving grace is democracy, the power of the vote. Those heroes marched on the Edmund Pettus Bridge so southern blacks could vote. Today, the state with the most black elected officials is Mississippi.

John Lewis survived that day. The vote, for which he fought, eventually sent him to Congress, where he served with distinction. I was proud to be a citizen of a nation with a John Lewis there.

Maybe I admire such courage because I doubt my own. But it’s another great thing about America that I’m not put to the test. “Freedom from fear” was one of FDR’s “Four Freedoms.” I can write my blog in freedom from fear. In many other places that would court prison or death. Would I still write it? Would I have marched on the Edmund Pettus Bridge? I don’t know. But at least I know what it means when people do such things, and I honor them for it.

This is part of the great human story that inspires me, makes me a believer in progress, a rational optimist.

Edmund Pettus was a klansman. In this moment of national reckoning with history, the bridge should be renamed for John Lewis.

In 2017, regarding John Lewis, Mister Bone Spurs tweeted, “All talk, no action.” And added, “Sad.”

When I vote this November, I will remember John Lewis, and do the right thing.*

* After writing this, I received Joe Biden’s statement. More eloquent than mine. Please read it: Remember when presidents uplifted us like this?


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