July 17,2021

NASHVILLE HONORS JOHN LEWIS

This photo from today’s newspaper shows Nashville Mayor John Cooper greeting Rev. James Lawson today as the city honored the late Rep. John Lewis on the first anniversary of his death.

Last summer we were in the midst of the pandemic and a national climate of protest and anger after the murder of George Floyd by a policeman in Minneapolis in May. So much that was happening seemed to be undoing so much that had been accomplished during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Rep. John Lewis was battling pancreatic cancer and his frail body was a powerful reminder of all the “good trouble” he had gotten into for the sake of justice.

His first arrest was in Nashville when he (a student at American Baptist College) was one of the student group trying to desegregate downtown lunch counters.  Rev. James Lawson led student workshops on nonviolent protest at First Baptist Church Capitol Hill. From February 13 to May 10, 1960, these students maintained their nonviolent demeanor as they faced verbal and physical attacks and then were arrested. The sit ins worked—and these students kept going as Freedom Riders throughout the South.

Last summer we watched the Good Trouble documentary about Lewis and then a few weeks later watched his funeral at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.  Rev. James Lawson spoke powerfully of those early days of the movement and connected it to the current environment.

“If we would honor and celebrate John Lewis’ life, let us then re-commit our souls, our hearts, our minds, our bodies and our strength to the continuing journey to dismantle the wrong in our midst and to allow the space for the new earth and new heaven to emerge,” he said.

At almost 93, he was back in Nashville today with the same strong message.  He even took time to say that our governor seems to have “a hole down the middle of his soul.” I’m grateful that the very downtown street in Nashville where young John Lewis and those other students trained so well by Rev. Lawson were beaten and arrested in 1960 is now Rep. John Lewis Way.  

In an essay Rep. Lewis wrote shortly before his death to be published in The New York Times on the day of his funeral, he said: “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

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