Edmund Pettus Good Trouble: John Lewis's Life and Legacy
He was 80 when he died and by the way, such a weird thing, he died on the same day as another civil rights stalwart, the reverend c.t vivian a close associate of uh reverend dr martin luther king jr. That sort of thing i know it’s just it is a coincidence, but that sort of thing always gets me like that over these long careers in similar sort of work, that it would end on the same day, that’s that that always gets me. So we have more on his history but um. How did you feel when you saw that news over the weekend francesco? I mean honestly sad that he wasn’t able to live to see us boot. A white nationalist out of the white house summarily like i truly wanted to give some of these civil rights leaders who’ve been carrying this torch for so long that pleasure um, but also really happy knowing that up until the very end you know, john lewis saw what Was going on in response to the george floyd murder and gave his blessing and was so inspired um by the young people who were taking the streets and really carrying his legacy on and really that legacy is about getting arrested, often and with vigor and that’s.
What you know he calls good trouble and i think that a lot of people you know we we think that being arrested is bad. We have a negative kind of association with it.
Nah it’s actually part of a long tradition of uh non violent, civil disobedience, um and, and so there i am happy that he at least was able to see that resurgence of this new civil rights movement. Exactly and you know it there’s a there’s, a video. I want to show of john lewis that just seems so timely, considering sort of how he got his start in the national spotlight at the very least and sort of what was going on politically and socially in the last months of his life, so um. I want everyone to take a look at this video uh, it’s being featured in the upcoming. It might actually be released. The documentary about his life um – this is from the 1963 march on washington. Here – is uh john lewis. Let us not forget that we are involved in a serious social revolution. Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march on washington? Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march in the streets of birmingham Music Applause? If we do not get meaningful legislation out of this congress, we will march through the south, through the streets of jackson, through the streets of danville through the streets of cambridge through the streets of birmingham.
But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dictatorship that we have shown here today. We must say: wake up america wake up, for we cannot stop and we will not and cannot be faithful.
So i mean that’s great, obviously, and and i hope that that same sort of spirit drives the the movement of today. I i was reading about that speech and apparently i don’t remember the exact quote, but his first draft was different. It was more aggressive and he and the reverend worked it over to to fix it a little bit um from martin luther king jr’s perspective, but originally he said um we’re gon na march, like sherman across the south, which is obviously a more you know, that’s a More aggressive image yeah, but but he saw it as necessary, and so is it any wonder that he was very supportive of the social movement that we that we see up until and including today, um still in a number of cities across the country, that’s really interesting. I mean i feel like even then i mean gosh even now, but then in the 60s coddling the south and specifically former confederates and sympathizers um, you know still annoyed that they lost so it’s like it’s. How long are we going to keep coddling that kind of racism, and when can we say that it was wrong? That doesn’t mean your ancestors are all trash, but it means that you can do better i’m, specifically speaking to like white people in the south and, like you know it is, we we cannot literally cannot bear to to coddle that kind of racism anymore in this country, Because people are dying, we cannot bear to uphold a racist police system, that’s killing black people and people of color.
Exactly and um you’ve alluded to some of his history. But i want to read a little bit from some of the write ups um uh, that i’ve read over the past few days. Uh so, and a lot of this people have been saying in the comments he was among the original 13 freedom riders, the black and white activists who challenged segregated interstate travel in the south in 1961.. He was a founder and early leader of the student non violent coordinating committee, which coordinated lunch counter sit ins. He helped organize the march on washington, where dr king was the main speaker on the steps of the lincoln memorial. Mr lewis led demonstrations against racially segregated, restrooms hotels, restaurants, public parks and swimming pools, and he rose up against other indignities of second class citizenship and nearly every turn he was beaten, spat upon or burned with cigarettes. He was tormented by white, mobs and absorbed body blows from law enforcement. He was arrested 40 times between 1960 and 1966.. He was repeatedly beaten senseless by southern policemen and freelance hoodlums, and i read about um on the the pettis bridge. The attack there that the footage of which was obviously very important in getting legislation passed. They talked about the cops and some of their like vigilantes, basically taking like lengths of rubber and wrapping it in barbed wire and beating people with that it’s just crazy and – and it reminds me we had not too long ago, um we had a guest on um Uh to talk about the petition to rename the bridge after john lewis, and one of our producers reminded me that when we were talking, i think it was michael starr hopkins.
I think it was um said let’s do something that we all too rarely do let’s not wait until after someone passes to acknowledge them in this sort of way, and then it’s like this. This happens it just it hits you. I hope that it happens. Um but yeah it is. It is unfortunate not that he, of course, he knew that he was very well respected and admired and all of that, but it would have been nice to see that as well considering where he started absolutely let’s. Let’S celebrate a lot of like you, know, 75th birthdays, so we can get some of these civil rights leaders before they pass, but i also think that you know it’s. Okay, if you don’t, really know who john lewis is and you’re just googling and reading now, like, i think that that’s yeah isn’t that great. You know that that, like that his legacy can live on and that we keep him alive and you can tell your children and your children’s children, like you know. We shouldn’t have shame in not knowing the depths of a person’s, um history and no shame in learning. Now i think that’s that’s totally fine. We shouldn’t feel like we’re jumping on any kind of bandwagon, um, hey i’m sure his book is sold out or, and people are going to watch this documentary i think that’s good. I also want to say i know you know there are some bernie sanders supporters who got all upset, because john lewis apparently said that he didn’t hadn’t seen.
I believe it was john lewis who said he hadn’t seen bernie at a civil rights demonstration. Let that go just let it go it’s. I it all feels very petty right now, when you consider the um the amount and the the breadth of john lewis’s legacy to now hold him in 2020 to or 2016 or whatever to these other standards, like just don’t, be petty about it all right that’s. This is why i think the left has trouble. Building, like you know, multi bipartisan and like uh multi. Tenancy coalitions is because we’re. So you know orthodox about these things, it’s, okay, so so he wanted hillary clinton to win that’s, okay, let it go yeah and and when, when we acknowledge people like this, we are not saying um. Let’S talk now for 15 minutes about john lewis, because i agree with everything that he ever did and everything that he ever stood for: that’s that’s, not what it is um some of this politics. We obviously disagree with in terms of endorsements and and other things. If it was us, we would have done parts of it differently, um and but the reason we’re acknowledging it is because if it was me some of the parts that i probably would have regrettably done differently are the most amazing things about him: the bravery that he Had i wouldn’t have had, i wouldn’t have been able to do that. I would say that few would have.
That is why we admire these people from that time. Um so much doesn’t mean that we agree with literally everything, but i don’t want to be a part of the like the the internet movement, where we get you to like us by just taking every person and poisoning them and poisoning you against them. And just you know what you can’t trust, literally anyone i’m, the only one you can trust screw. All of these. I don’t want to be a part of that, because what if monster drink company starts donating to the trump administration, then we have to cancel john and like. Where would we be without the damage report exactly well? We watch the victory just think about it, so it would be okay but um, and to that end i want to end with there’s a million different like testimonials about him that could be given. I had one of aoc’s, but anyway i just want to read one from before it’s, not in response to him dying. This is from back in 2011 when he was being presented, the presidential medal of freedom by barack obama, who said generations from now when parents teach their children what is meant by courage. The story of john lewis will come to mind. An american who knew that change. Could not wait for some other person or some other time whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now and again, i disagree with barack obama on a lot of different things, but that is a hundred percent true, and that is why i i’m so Glad that people are acknowledging this amazing life’s work that he had.
It should be an inspiration you know to be inspired by literally all of it but um. It should be an inspiration to be a little bit braver, a little bit more urgent and pushing for your values and trying to make the country reflective of what you think it needs to be. I just want to add one last thing, which is: i do think that let’s remember why he took a beating so many times and why that sunday was called bloody sunday. It was for voting rights and every time we try to say that voting doesn’t matter. That voting is unimportant. Let’S remember that john lewis took a bat to the head so that all americans could vote, and particularly you know, the most oppressed americans, black americans um. You know grandchildren of former slaves right like that. That is significant and so let’s. Remember that every time we’re trying to discredit and discount um voting and what that means. That also means we have to protect the right to vote and you know end. Voter suppression, et cetera, but let’s not be facile with how important voting is yeah yeah, how how many of us could have had the freedom, the the bravery to be a freedom rider to board a bus? Knowing when you get off maybe best case scenario, you get you get beaten, but maybe maybe far worse, maybe you disappear.