Young leaders from the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center in Oakland met with Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. John Lewis before the speaking event at Beebe Memorial Cathedral. Left to rght are: Rep. Lee, Deric Fuller, Rep. Lewis, Jack Huang and Genay Markham. Photo by Stephen Brooks, Jr.
By Ken A. Epstein
Congressman John Lewis – seasoned veteran of historic Civil Rights battles and lifelong human rights champion – remembers that others told him not to take chances, as he was growing up on a chicken farm in rural Georgia.
He was a teenager, he said, and he could see segregation and injustice all around him. “I asked why, and they said that’s the way it is. Don’t get into trouble – don’t get in the way.”
At 15, inspired by Rosa Parks, he decided he had “to get in the way.”
That was Lewis’ message when he spoke Saturday, April 21 to a packed audience as part of the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series at Beebe Memorial Cathedral in Oakland.
“We’re too quiet,” he said. “We need to find a way to get in the way if we’re going to save America.”
When Lewis went to college, he went on join with others to organize Freedom Rides and lunch counter sit-ins, lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), march in Selma, Alabama and appear at the podium as a speaker at the March on Washington.
Bringing his message up to the present, he called upon people to utilize the right to vote for which so many died and went to jail.
“We’ve got to use the vote,” he said. “Go out and vote like we never ever voted before.”
Lewis said he is frequently asked if the election of Barack Obama is the fulfillment of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.
“No, it’s just a down payment,” he said. “We´re not there. We cannot stop now.”
While he was in town for the event, Lewis visited his sister Rosa Tyner and her family, who live in Richmond.
Tyner, a longshoreman, is a member of St. Luke Baptist Church in Richmond.
She remembers that as a child her older brother was constantly in the media. “ I was a little girl. I didn’t understand why he was always on TV and always getting arrested,” she said. “I finally understood what he was doing was good. We always prayed for him.
“We (his family members) are forever grateful for the sacrifices he has made and continues to make,” she said.