At the great Washington March of 1963 John Lewis, at that time the chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), spoke to the same enormous crowd that heard Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech. Lewis participated in the Freedom Rides to desegregate the South and became nationally known after his prominent role on the Selma to Montgomery marches when police beat the nonviolently marching Lewis mercilessly in public, leaving head wounds that are still visible today.
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 done 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.
Sadanand Ward Mailliard of Mount Madonna agreed to help me secure an interview with Congressman Lewis provided I would promise to wear a tie. It was the first time I have worn a tie in many years - I actually liked the look!
When Congressman Lewis opened his mouth to speak I felt as if I was standing in the presence of Martin Luther King himself. Lewis's presence filled the room with power, confidence and absolute love. He is a man who is truly living the life of what Andrew Harvey called "embodied love". A leading figure in the American Civil Rights Movement Lewis has not rested on his laurels but continues to advocate for the rights of humanity from within the very belly of the beast - The White House.
Despite his busy schedule he still had time before the interview to meet with some visiting schoolchildren, laughing and joking with ease. Like many truly great people Congressman Lewis turns his full attention to whoever he is addressing, not just holding back for the "important" people he is generous to all. He's a tremendous source of inspiration.