Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Local Leader Meets a National Icon

Most citizens are now aware that Civil Rights Icon Congressman John Robert Lewis, who spent more
L to R: Charles Hampton, Congressman John Lewis
than three decades in congress, passed on July 17, 2020 and was eulogized by former president Barack Obama on July 30, 2020 at the historic Ebenezer Church, Atlanta, GA. He was the first lawmaker to lie in state at the U. S. Capitol Rotunda. He also laid in state at the Alabama State Capitol and the Georgia State Capitol. Congressman Lewis is known for his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement which started in Nashville, TN when he was a student and continued on to the Selma March that galvanized support for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He was also implemental in the passing of the Fair Housing Act which as of recently was rescinded by President Donald Trump. Congressman Lewis was brutally beaten by law enforcement agents and the Ku Klux Klan on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, AL and was jailed repeatedly. This did not stop him from committing to six decades of non-violent protests. 
Congressman Lewis was one of the original Freedom Fighters that traveled through southern states in 1961 to force the issues of segregation which was regulated by federal law. He was also one of the “Big Six” who organized the March on Washington and was its youngest leader and speaker. One of his last marches was, June 13, 2018, to the headquarters of U. S. Customs and Border Protection to protest the Trump administration’s separation of family policies. One of his favorite tweets to inspire others was in response to Trump’s criticism of him, “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Before his death, at 80 years old, he made his last public appearance at the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. in June 2020 which has become a symbol of the nation’s fight for racial justice. He was in awe of the young people’s fight for justice and for police reform which included a diverse group of people.

Local resident, Charles Hampton reminisced about meeting Congressman Lewis at the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, MS. Congressman Lewis was being honored at the museum on February 23, 2018, considered the 2nd opening which was sponsored by the Friends of Mississippi Civil Rights. Charles stated that he adored Congressman Lewis and considered him an American Hero. Charles is well known in Louisville, MS as the former president of the Winston County Branch NAACP, and former president of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP. He presently serves as the State Chair Revitalization of Branches, Mississippi State Conference and the Chair Legal Redress, Winston County Branch NAACP.

Charles stated that Congressman Lewis’ bravery and dedication to equality is an inspiration to him to continue his work in the NAACP. He said, “One thing I noticed when meeting him was that he was a humble man. I was encouraged by his words good trouble and his concern for us to be concerned about our children. He also encouraged us to speak up so we can bring about a change for justice. My heart is feeling sad today but all we need to do is keep moving forward. I regret that Congressman Lewis did not make it to speak in Louisville as promised.” Charles’ hope is that pressure continues in order to restore Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. The 1965 law required that lawmakers in states with a history of discriminating against minority voters get federal permission before changing voting rules. Since then, voter suppression rules have been passed and they are discriminatory against minorities. Congress has approved Congressman James Clyburn’s proposal to rename voting rights bill after John Lewis. Charles also hopes that the Edmund Pettus Bridge will be named after Congressman John Robert Lewis.

By Elmetra Patterson