On March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, more than 600 peaceful, non-violent protesters marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They were met by a group of white men with German Shepherd dogs, tear gas, water hoses and billy clubs.
These men were full of hate and racism and exemplified an attitude and disposition of being uncivilized, barbaric and inhumane.
The non-violent marchers were marching in order to register black voters across Alabama to vote. When then-25-year-old activist John Lewis approached the end of the bridge he was beaten unmercifully with a billy club which fractured his skull and caused some brain damage. He thought his life was coming to an end.
His spirit would prevail.
He would be arrested and jailed 40 more times in peaceful, non-violent protests or marches to register African-Americans to vote. He would go on to become a member of the United States Congress, dedicating his life to protecting human rights and securing civil liberties in what he called “The Beloved Community” in America.
Congressman Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama, the son of sharecroppers. He was a man of love, compassion, bold courage and faith in God. His mentor was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was the greatest orator of modern history. Dr. King embraced Congressman Lewis as being one of the leading spokesmen for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
When Congressman Lewis gave a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, he spoke with great passion and authority. He was greatly admired by both Republicans and Democrats and earned the title “The Conscience of Congress.” Many times he voted for legislation to help the disadvantaged. He was a strong defender of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
When I look at him, there are two passages of scripture that come to mind that the Apostle Paul wrote: “God did not give us the spirit of fear but of power and love and of a sound mind.” The other in Ephesians 3: “As a result of having strong roots in love, I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp or comprehend love’s width and length, height and depth together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.”
Congressman Lewis was not only the “Conscience of Congress,” he was the “Conscience of America,” demonstrating the highest ethical standards and moral principles.His energy and drive for justice, fairness and righteousness will be greatly missed. He was a great man of faith and prayer who lived a Christian life. He exemplified the character and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
His body will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and former President Barack Obama will be giving eulogies at his funeral.
Rest in peace, my brother. Heaven is rejoicing upon your arrival.
God bless the entire family of Congressman John Robert Lewis.
Rev. Arsben Dennis Jennings is a retired pastor of churches in Lima, Wapakoneta and Boise, Idahoe.