Remembering John Lewis

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Date: Jul 22, 2020

Author: Lisa Haugaard

John Lewis’s powerful leadership in the civil rights struggle in the 1960s I only came to know mainly by reading Taylor Branch’s masterful works and Mr. Lewis’s own amazing graphic novel series, March.

But I saw with my own eyes John Lewis pick up in the banner for so many other struggles.

When the Latin America Working Group and other partners started working with Colombia’s endangered human rights, labor, Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and peace activists more than 20 years ago, their struggle for justice was little known in the halls of Washington, DC. We knew that Congressman John Lewis would understand that social activists can be threatened, beaten, and even killed for their work. So we went to his office as well as a handful of other offices on the Hill. 

John Lewis came through, of course, being a voice for human rights defenders and Afro-Colombian activists in Congress. He helped lead dear colleague letters and other initiatives. I remember visiting his office with an Afro-Colombian leader and being shown the photos of Mr. Lewis in the heat of the civil rights movement in Selma, Alabama, and feeling those connections across time and geography.

And John Lewis took a strong stance on the rights of immigrants and migrants. See him here getting arrested at a rally for immigration reform in 2013. “I cried last night,” he said when he was denouncing family separation at the border in 2018. “I will go to the borders, I will go get arrested again.” He was willing to get into “good trouble” once again. 

While John Lewis could have justly said my focus is this country, we have still so much to achieve to reach equality, he was always there to support so many other noble causes where social activists struggled to advance justice in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Syria, and around the world.

As he said often, “We’re one people, we’re one family. We all live in the same house, not just the American house but the world house.”

John Lewis. We miss your presence already, but your spirit lives on. A heart big enough for so many struggles.