Congressman John Lewis To Receive Medal Of Freedom

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.

34 comments

  1. As the only elected Republican office holder in the entire 5th Congressional District, I would also like to add my congratulations to Congressman John Lewis for receiving the Medal of Freedon Award.

    People across the political divide recognize the courage Congressman Lewis showed in the Civil Rights Era and how his actions changed this country. As an Atlantan, a Georgian, and an American, I thank him for the stand he took on the Edmund Pettis Bridge on Bloody Sunday and throughout his Civil Rights career. My children live in a better place becuase of his efforts.

    State Representative Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta)
    Georgia House Majority Whip

    • John Konop says:

      I have had the pleasure of talking with Rep. Ed Lindsey a few times. Not only is he a very bright guy and he has always demonstrated class. He would make a great governor someday!

  2. analogkid says:

    Great post Charlie. Congressman Lewis is indeed a great American. He will forever have my respect, not just for his bravery during the Civil Rights Era, but also because he took the time to personally call a friend of mine who wrote him seeking help, despite the fact that that friend lives outside his district.

    And even though I’ve always voted for his opponents when his seat comes up, he is without question a stand-up guy.

    Congrats to Congressman Lewis.

  3. Jawgadude says:

    Bullcrap! Lewis’ actions ince being elected to congress have been absolutely disgusting. All those speeches from the well of the house accusing Republicans of forcing seniors to eat dog food, or that Republicans want school children to starve. All those times he has falsely called Republicans racist. John Lewis is a race pimp and deserves NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Baker says:

      A post like this always draws the “should i respond or not thought”. You may disagree with what the guy has done since then and no one will begrudge you for that, but can’t you put aside those thoughts for a bit and recognize what the guy did in the ’60s is pretty awesome? If you can’t separate out the two, thats unfortunate.

    • Toxic Avenger says:

      And you’re a trolling arse and deserve even less.

      For crysakes, some people need to learn when to put politics aside and honor people for good deeds.

    • John Lewis started out doing something that was courageous, principled, dangerous and important. The amount of bravery exhibited was admirable.

      It must be difficult to realize that everything you do in your early and mid-20s is going to be far more important than anything else you do for the rest of your life.

      Lewis has become the thing he hated: a powerbroker who sees color before substance and who uses the law to reward and punish as he sees fit (e.g. The ad nauseum extension of the Votings Rights Act and continual usage of alleged racism to bully others).

      An angry John Lewis in the well of the US House shouting and spraying spittle as he equated racism with the belief in either states’ rights or individual rights is an example of a man who believes in power, not rights. His efforts in Congress to take away individual rights are an embarrassment.

      Does he deserve the award? Yes, he does, but for the bravery he showed 40 years ago.

      • Sorry, I left this off:

        After looking at what Lewis did back in the early 60s, I think we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we would demand our rights with such a single-mindedness if they were taken from us. Would we literally risk death to pursue those rights for ourselves and our children?

        You cannot question this man’s bravery and whatever he has become doesn’t take away what he was.

  4. kdoc says:

    I fully agree. I think that, because of the fact that we live in a far different world than existed prior to 1965, we tend to have a light view of the wrongs that were in place, and how much courage it took to stand against them. We are used to racially mixed neighborhoods, transportation, doctors offices, etc. and tend to think “What was the big deal?” I add my kudos to Congressman Lewis.

  5. todd rehm says:

    When I studied political science, specifically Southern Politics, in college, we spent a great deal of time on the Civil Rights Movement and the effects it had on our states and nation.

    I’d read tons about the movement.

    But a couple of years ago, when flipping through the channels, I came upon a PBS documentary. They showed footage from Birmingham of police officers telling people flat out that they were not allowed to register to vote.

    They showed footage from the Pettus Bridge, and until I saw that footage, I didn’t really understand or appreciate the courage that John Lewis showed when he put his head down and stepped toward the bridge into mounted troopers with clubs. It was chilling to see this and think that it happened in this country less than fifty years ago.

    To me, John Lewis is an American hero. I may differ on issues and dislike some of his political tactics, but he has earned the right to say whatever the hell he wants.

  6. todd rehm says:

    When I studied political science, specifically Southern Politics, in college, we spent a great deal of time on the Civil Rights Movement and the effects it had on our states and nation.

    I’d read tons about the movement.

    But a couple of years ago, when flipping through the channels, I came upon a PBS documentary. They showed footage from Birmingham of police officers telling people flat out that they were not allowed to register to vote.

    They showed footage from the Pettus Bridge, and until I saw that footage, I didn’t really understand or appreciate the courage that John Lewis showed when he put his head down and stepped toward the bridge into mounted troopers with clubs. It was chilling to see this and think that it happened in this country less than fifty years ago.

    To me, John Lewis is an American hero. I may differ on issues and dislike some of his political tactics, but he has earned the right to say whatever the hell he wants.

  7. ChuckEaton says:

    Many of his political positions drive me crazy, but this photo of Congressman Lewis is about one of the most inspiring photos I’ve ever seen.

    The thing I’ve always liked about this picture, versus the ones of the actual beating, is it captures the remarkable courage of a very young John Lewis (he’s the one in the tan rain coat) and his fellow marchers. At the this point, I believe they’ve already crossed the bridge.

    Lewis and company are very peacefully standing there, fully aware of what is about to come – the lead officer aggressively pointing his finger, the hard hats and gas masks, the officers tightly clenching the drawn batons. Everyone knew a severe beating was seconds away from taking place. And yet those kids bravely stood their ground. This photo always gives me goosebumps.

    My goal is to get Rep. Lewis to autograph this picture for me; maybe he can write that my political positions drive him crazy.

    http://images.politico.com/global/lewis%20at%20selma.jpg

    ***I wish I could have found a bigger example on the internet, but it will have to do.

  8. saltycracker says:

    Obama will make the presetations early next year.

    The complete list of recipients are:

    Former President George H. W. Bush
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel
    Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis
    Co-founder of the National Resources Defense Council, John H. Adams
    Author and poet Maya Angelou­­
    Investor, Industrialist and Philanthropist, Warren Buffett
    Artist Jasper Johns
    Holocaust survivor, author and founder of Citizenship Counts, Gerda Weissmann Klein
    Optometrist, Dr. Tom Little
    Cellist Yo-Yo Ma
    Civil Rights Activist Sylvia Mendez
    Hall of Fame first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, Stan “the Man” Musial
    Former Boston Celtics’ Captain, Bill Russell
    Founder of VSA—The International Organization on Arts and Disability, Jean Kennedy Smith .
    Former President of the ALF-CIO, John J. Sweeney

    • Baker says:

      Good post on the full recipients- All good choices (reflexively skeptical of AFL-CIO guy tho)

      I’m sure Stan Musial has done plenty for the community and what not, but I couldn’t help noting here that he’s probably the greatest living hitter right now (I would allow an argument for Hank Aaron, thats about it). To have the title of “Greatest Living Hitter”, that’s really something, to me at least.

  9. saltycracker says:

    John Lewis is a great man for bravely tearing down barriers for his people and a failure for his actions to enslave them in government largesse.

    • Three Jack says:

      well put salty.

      the medal of honor has lost much of it’s credibility if you look at a full list of recipients through the years. this choice will further dilute what honor is left in the award.

      • John Konop says:

        Three jack,

        I have many disagreements with John Lewis on issues .Yet my respect level could not be higher for what he did during the civil rights movement. This award is not about political views it is about demonstrating bravery and American ideals during a trying time. You should be ashamed for your comment after what Lewis did in the civil rights movement. The only honor diluted here is from hate spewing racist like you!

        • Three Jack says:

          konop writes, “This award is not about political views it is about demonstrating bravery and American ideals during a trying time.”

          wrong answer, it is all about politics konop. maya angelou, yo-yo ma, john sweeney, jasper johns are receiving the same award as john lewis. are you really going to take the position that this award carries significant meaning when it is given to poets, cellists, union thugs and new age artists? “bravery and American ideals”…yeah right.

          call me a racist if it makes you feel righteous konop. the fact is, i think this high honor has been diminished with so many awards handed out annually to undeserving recipients. if john lewis earned this medal, what about the other 600 people right behind him on march 7, 1965?

          • John Konop says:

            For the raicst like Three Jack a history lesson. You may have been at a Klan rally that day.

            WIKI….Lewis was instrumental in organizing student sit-ins, bus boycotts and non-violent protests in the fight for voter and racial equality. He endured brutal beatings by angry mobs and suffered a fractured skull at the hands of Alabama State police as he led a march of 600 people in Selma, Ala. in 1965.[2][3]

            Lewis became nationally known during his prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery marches. During the first march police attacked the peaceful demonstrators and beat Lewis mercilessly in public, leaving head wounds that are still visible today. At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963, Lewis, a representative of [SNCC], the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was the youngest speaker.[4]

            Historian Howard Zinn wrote: “At the great Washington March of 1963, the chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis, speaking to the same enormous crowd that heard Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, was prepared to ask the right question: ‘Which side is the federal government on?’ That sentence was eliminated from his speech by organizers of the March to avoid offending the Kennedy Administration. But Lewis and his fellow SNCC workers had experienced, again and again, the strange passivity of the national government in the face of Southern violence.”[5]

            “John Lewis and SNCC had reason to be angry. John had been beaten bloody by a white mob in Montgomery as a Freedom Rider in the spring of 1961. The federal government had trusted the notoriously racist Alabama police to protect the Riders, but did nothing itself, except to have FBI agents take notes. Instead of insisting that blacks and whites had a right to ride the buses together, the Kennedy Administration called for a ‘cooling-off period,’ a moratorium on Freedom Rides.[5] Lewis had been imprisoned for forty days in the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County, Mississippi after participating in a Freedom Riders activity in that state.[6]

            Lewis at meeting of American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1964In February 2009, forty-eight years after he had been bloodied by the Ku Klux Klan during civil rights marches, Lewis received an apology on national television from a white southerner, former Klansman Elwin Wilson.[7][8]….

            more

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lewis_(U.S._politician)

              • Gerald says:

                If you want to bash Lewis for being a liberal, fine. But please recall: it wasn’t “the free market” or “the American people” or “the heartland” that ended segregation. Instead, it was activist, liberal big government. And it wasn’t going to happen any other way. If it wasn’t for liberal big government, we’d still have Jim Crow, and we’d certainly have massive, widespread discrimination in hiring and public accommodations. In light of that fact, it is no wonder that people like John Lewis, who grew up when the free market and the American people that Ronald Reagan and other conservatives extol so much wouldn’t even allow them to eat in a restaurant, let alone work as that restaurant’s manager, have more faith in the liberalism that ended segregation than in the conservatism that supported and defended it.

                Incidentally, when conservatives show the same level of vehement outrage against the seggers as they do the civil rights leaders, that is when you will have earned your credibility. Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and such went to their graves as unrepentant avowed segregationists, and conservatives still insist that they were great men and fine Americans who served this country well and did it proud. Well, if you give unqualified support to their side while going after the likes of John Lewis (who by the way has never descended to the depths of corruption and self-caricature that Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Maxine Waters and similar have) then it merely reveals what side you are on.

                Yes, Lewis has engaged in some hard-nosed partisan trench warfare and made some extreme, racially incendiary comments. And that makes him different from Nathan Deal, Lynn Westmoreland, and Newt Gingrich how? Do you want a replay of some of their tactics (including the “birther” nonsense of Deal, or Westmoreland’s calling Obama “uppity”)? Spare us the whining of conservatives who were still voting for seggers 15 years ago (that not so long ago were talking about the horror of Negroes in our schools, churches and swimming pools and “taking our jobs”) who can dish it out and can’t take it.

                • Three Jack says:

                  lewis is a race baiter, has been for a long time. if he and his fellow politicians including the guys you reference would stop with the class and race warfare, we would all be better off (this also applies to reactionary pol groupies like konop who never miss an opportunity to throw out the race card when a white person criticizes a black person).

                    • Toxic Avenger says:

                      Call John Lewis whatever you want, politically speaking. I agree with the man, to be sure, but I respect the fact that most of you do not on this blog.

                      But if you’re going to sit here and question his achievements, especially in the civil rights movement, perhaps you need to take off your bigot blinders and put on your context cap (sorry).

  10. Progressive Dem says:

    I’m glad a PP front pager offers praise for John Lewis and the liberal, progressive values expressed in the civil rights movement. Conservative Democrats and and conservative Republicans, were on the wrong side of civil rights.

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