Last Friday, Congressman John Lewis passed away. Since then, thousands of words have been said and written in tribute to him; praise for his courage, character and unswerving commitment to the rights of all Americans; words describing his belief in America’s continuing potential and his love for this country and all fellow Americans — even those who hated him.
That’s why on Monday, when NTD President Judy Mandel asked me if I’d like to write a few words about Congressman Lewis, I respectfully declined. I had never met John Lewis, or followed his career that closely. I knew he was a remarkable human being in many ways, but what more could I say that hadn’t already been said?
This morning I changed my mind. I’m an old white guy who was raised in small Midwest towns that were virtually all white. They weren’t purposefully racist environments. But they were obliviously racist. Since those days, so many years ago, my understanding of the role of race in our society has grown a lot. (And my process continues.) And as I thought about John Lewis this morning, I realized that I owed him a personal “Thank you.” — I would thank him for making my long life better because of his resolute battle against the senseless products of racism.
Yes, I know John Lewis wasn’t alone in those efforts. There have been many other courageous men and women of every age and race who have battled racist policies. But even among those exceptional Americans, John Lewis was exceptional. His words helped me see America — its flaws and its promise — with a clearer vision. And his perseverance helped bring about the integration of businesses, governments and schools. (Unlike my youngest days, my children did not grow up thinking segregation in parts of America was an accepted fact of life.)
So…Thank you, John Lewis, for the huge role you played in the positive societal changes I’ve observed in my lifetime. They’ve made America a better nation and, I hope, made me a better person.
And here’s one final thought: When John Lewis faced death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he wasn’t risking his life solely for Black Americans. He was risking his life for all of us — for the United States of America. He was a patriot in the truest sense and we all owe John Lewis our thanks.
Nels Howard, NTDO Member since 1973
PS: In a year when our democracy is in such danger, I also plan to thank John Lewis by working to remove the racist-dependent Trump administration from the White House and correct the disastrous direction his Republican enablers have encouraged. – Visit our Volunteer Opportunities page for ideas on how you can help.