The Back Road: ‘Don’t get weary! Keep the faith.’

The Back Road: ‘Don’t get weary! Keep the faith.’

Andrew Malekoff

Possibly only once in a generation does an individual like the late U.S. Congressman John Lewis come along. Lewis was someone, historian Jon Meacham observed, whose deep faith drove him to pursue justice, as compared to those whose professed faith is used only to amass power.

In reading Meacham’s book, “His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope,” I couldn’t help but think about how sorely John Lewis is missed today.

Confronted as a child with the painful reality of living in Jim Crow America, Lewis recalled, “From my earliest memories I was fundamentally disturbed by the unbridled meanness of the world around me.”

Lewis put his life on the line, practicing nonviolent civil disobedience. He was tested repeatedly and remained steadfast, despite being arrested scores of times and sustaining threats to his life and near-fatal beatings by violent extremists.

They failed to shut him down.

He committed his life to transforming the nation into what his mentor Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as “a Beloved Community.”

Lewis described what that meant to him: “‘Beloved’ meaning not hateful, not violent, not uncaring, not unkind and ‘Community’ meaning not separated, not polarized, not locked in a struggle; the Beloved Community is an all-inclusive world society based on simple justice, the values, the dignity, and the work of every human being…”

Lewis lost his fight with pancreatic cancer at age 80, on July 17, 2020.

Before his death he was well aware that our democracy was in peril. In 2016, days after Donald Trump was elected president, Lewis reflected, “This past week has made me feel like I’m living my life all over again – that we have to fight some of the same fights. To see some of the bigotry, the hate, I think there are forces that want to take us back.”

His sober assessment was right on target.

A number of state and local governments have ramped up efforts to suppress voting rights; books have been banned in a number of school districts across the US; educational content on race, ethnicity and sexual identity has been censored; and, the US Supreme court just signaled that it planned to eradicate women’s reproductive rights.

I could go on.

Many of the spiritual descendants of those who targeted John Lewis in the 1950s and ‘60s went into hiding. That is, until Donald Trump coaxed them out of the shadows, gave them tacit permission to go public and emboldened them with a sense of legitimacy.

In other words, the president of the United States had their backs.

And, in time, they had his.

Remember when he told the Proud Boys, “Stand back and stand by?”

Some of latter day racists swapped their forerunners’ white robes for khakis and polo shirts, like the white supremacist conclave that descended on Charlottesville, Va. in 2017, marching with Tiki torches in hand and chanting: “Jews will not replace us.”

Those who were less discrete brandished weapons, toted confederate flags and wore clothing with lurid Nazi symbolism during the Jan. 6, 2021 Trump-inspired terrorist insurrection in Washington D.C.

And, we are learning that Trump administration officials and Congress members who took an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, were in on the plot to overthrow the government and trample the rights of U.S. citizens.

We could use John Lewis’ voice right about now.

In his final visit to Selma, Ala. in 2020, an ever-hopeful Lewis told the crowd, “I want to thank you…for not giving in, for keeping the faith, for keeping your eyes on the prize,” he said, “So don’t get weary! Keep the faith.”

As he always has.

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