Happy Birthday, John Lewis

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Carl Snowden with John Lewis, 2013, Washington, D.C.

A Bridge Builder

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Class is now in session. Today’s subject is Congressman John Lewis, who just celebrated his 80th birthday.

When Congressman Lewis was 75, he posted on his Facebook page a photo of him reading his own FBI file.

His dossier was part of the COINTELPRO program that the federal government used against human rights activists ranging from Malcolm X to Martin Luther King, Jr.

In fact, tens of thousands of people were kept under surveillance by not only the FBI but the CIA, NSA, DIA, and many other intelligence agencies that you have never heard of.

Here is what Congressman Lewis wrote at the time, “I am more convinced than ever that we cannot allow government surveillance.”

With longevity may come wisdom. Congressman Lewis is the last living speaker who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington. He was 23 years old at the time.

In more than five decades later, he has become an icon. Often associated with the march in Selma for the right to vote, where he was hit in the head by State troopers and was knocked unconscious by those blows.

People who have met Congressman Lewis as I have, walk away with the same impression. His sincerity and authenticity are without question.

In his Washington office, his walls are adorned with photos of his life’s career. He is one of the most respected legislators in the nation.

However, President Trump once said of Congressman Lewis, that he is “All talk, talk, talk-no action or results.”

President Trump attacked him with the same venom that he criticized the late Congressman Elijah Cummings.

Congressman Lewis’s place in history is secured. Long after the tweeting and divisive Donald Trump have departed from the White House John Lewis will be remembered as an American hero.

In 2011, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2012, the Navy announced that it would name a ship after him.

On February 21, his birthday, he received congratulatory calls from President Obama and literally millions of people wished him a happy birthday.

It should not surprise anyone that President Trump is no fan of the congressman, who said, in 2018, that the president, “I think that he is a racist.”

Congressman Lewis last year announced that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. His announcement coming months before his 80th birthday made the milestone of 80 even more important.

The photo that accompanies this lesson is of him and I meeting in Washington, D.C. in 2013 to discuss the proposed Civil Rights Foot Soldiers Memorial that now exists across from the Arundel Center in Annapolis, Maryland.

Attending that same meetings were Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, former councilman and prominent attorney Daryl Jones, Anne Arundel County NAACP president Jacqueline AllsupMarc Apter and former Annapolis Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson.

When we left his office, we left knowing that we had met a history maker. The one thing about knowing history is that you know history makers are different from excuse-makers.

History makers are those individuals who are willing to speak truth to power. They are people who understand that tweeting presidents are not the final judges of history.

I conclude this lesson with this observation. John Lewis place in history, which includes being chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNNC).

SNCC, which included such history makers as Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Mayor Marion S. Barry, Jr., Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, holds a special place in the minds of freedom-loving people.

It was the late Dr. John Henrik Clarke who at the passing of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., another legendary legislator who said, in order to understand his legacy, you needed an old man and a young boy.

The young boy, he said, would only see an old man and proclaimed, “the Emperor has no clothes.”

The old man could say, “But there was a time that he did.” We will remember Congressman Lewis for not only reaching his 80th birthday but, will remember him as a young man walking across a bridge and being knocked unconscious.

We will remember him as a bridge-builder working to bridge the gulf between the races.

We will remember him as a congressman from Georgia who when asked is the election of Barack Obama the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, he said, “No, it’s just a down payment.”

The school bell has rung and class is now dismissed. See you next week and remember never allow others to tell your story.

Stay Woke. Stay Tuned. Stay Involved. Vote. Remember.

A Luta Continua.

Carl Snowden leads the African American Caucus in Anne Arundel County. He is a life-long activist and columnist for the Capital Newspaper and The Arundel Patriot.

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Carl Snowden and Associates were founded in 1985. It is a private consultant firm that specializes in addressing bias and institutional racism. Its founder Carl Snowden and the company have been featured in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the Baltimore Sun. The company working with the ACLU in Maryland have won cases involving voting rights, employment discrimination and sexual harassment.