The Whitehouse announced yesterday that Congressman John Lewis will be awarded the Medal of Freedom, our country’s highest civilian honor. While the award is being given to honor 2010 recipients, Lewis earned this medal over 45 years ago on a “Bloody Sunday” at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
A large number of our readers are of a younger generation, and have only known John Lewis as an entrenched Democratic Congressman from Atlanta’s 5th district. Given that he was elected to this post in 1986, there’s hardly anyone under the age of 30 who would have a memory of Rep Lewis as anything other than a Congressman.
Unfortunately, that view is limiting. Because of Lewis’ position as an unapologetic urban liberal Democrat, it is easy to disregard him as “the enemy” if you’re a Republican involved in congressional politics, or at least dismiss his relevance as there are much easier Democrats to win over if you’re pushing a Republican bill and need a few extra votes.
It is too easy today to view race relations as just another issue to be politicized, and there are plenty of people (on both sides) who do just that. The race card is challenged with the accusation of playing the race card. Feelings are re-hurt, anger is re-stoked, wash, rinse, repeat, because most people don’t remember how bad it was. Americans go about their business today without any memory of separate water fountains or segregated schools or black people being killed for trying to change those things.
Most of us can only imagine the kind of courage needed to approach the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March of 1965, unarmed, knowing you would be cursed, threatened and violently beaten by Americans who didn’t believe that “all men are created equal” applied to black people.
Yet, Lewis and others walked and changed our country for the better. John Lewis quite literally helped change the meaning of the word Freedom for many Americans. He earned his medal, and while I disagree with his political views, I congratulate him on his award, and thank him for his courage.