Conscience of the Country: A Tribute to John Lewis
Congressman John Robert Louis was born in Troy Alabama on February twenty first nineteen, forty, two sharecroppers, Willie Mae, and Eddie Lewis. He is known for telling the story of preaching chickens at the boy from troy as he was nicknamed went on to become revered world leader and fearless advocate for voting rights organizing sit ins in. Nashville in nineteen sixty and becoming one of the original freedom writers Mr Lewis joined the Movement for civil rights and never looked back. As the chairman of snake he served as the youngest speaker at the march on Washington in nineteen, sixty three. In nineteen, sixty, five alongside reverend hosea, Williams Congressman Lewis led a march for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama where he endured violent attacks by state troopers and vigilantes. Mr. Lewis fell to the ground with a fractured skull and five months later, president Lyndon B, Johnson signed the voting rights act of nineteen, sixty five until now. On the other side of that bridge Mr Lewis marched on into a life in career of activism and public service. He lost his first attempt at running for Congress in nineteen seventy seven was appointed the same year by President Jimmy Carter to the Director of action a Federal Agency for volunteerism. He then won a seat on the Atlantic City Council in nineteen eighty one and five years later ran for Congress in one. So much of the conversation about congressman, John. Lewis has been about his activism, but he stood on so many legislative accomplishments including sponsoring or co sponsoring more than eleven hundred bills. One of the most notable bills gave us the National Museum of African American History and culture in two thousand three. He served as a subcommittee chair for oversight for the prestigious ways and means. Committee, and after the retirement of Congressman John Conyers. became the dean of the Congressional. Black Caucus in twenty nineteen, he presided over the House floor as Congress passed hr four. Since his passing the bill was renamed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act which was adopted by unanimous consent. Before being admitted to the hospital, MR? Lewis stood in the heart of Black Lives Matter Plaza. He took his last breath on July seventeenth twenty twenty. But his legacy lives on in all of us. We begin this John Lewis. Tribu. where he also began with civil rights joining me for this very important conversation are Vanita Gupta President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on civil and Human Rights Derek Johnson, president and CEO of the of Lacey Pe-. Reverend, Michael Pfleger the senior pastor of the faith community of Saint. SAVINA. Reverend Dr William J Barbour, the second president of repairs of the breach and Co Chair of the poor people's campaign. An latasha Brown, Co founder and chief doer of black voters matter. A thank you all so much for making time to talk with me today about on. John Lewis. So I want to start with I'm. VANITA. Because of your work at the Department of Justice of course. I believe the year before you got to DOJ. The the case, the decision that gutted the voting rights act shelby versus holder, and so I wanna hear from you on some of the things that you experienced working with Mr Lewis on the other side of that because we know that right after that, all of the advocacy picked up to reinstate section five to get the voting rights on provision where they needed to be in Congress. And so just talk a little bit about some of your work with Mr Lewis on those issues. Shore. Is Truly an honor to be here with my. Warrior colleagues and friends and loved ones in the movement. Especially on today Angela. I think probably all of us were in tears watching Mr Lewis Funeral you know twenty thirteen is you mentioned that United States Supreme Court gutted the heart of the voting rights act in a devastating decision the shelby county versus holder decision. That really took away the longstanding tool of one of the most effective pieces of federal legislation in our nation's history in the voting rights act. That quired states with long histories of racial discrimination in voting to pre clear with the United States Justice Department changes made at the local level for election practices that had racially discriminatory impact. And the removal of that tool within hours of that decision coming down for the United. States. Court states like, North Carolina Texas enacted, Monster? Voter. Laws doing everything from. Putting forth restrictive voting laws cutting back early voting same day registration. And it took years to litigate and to hamlet the Justice Department did working with advocates and activists in all states. Where so years for federal courts in a place like North Carolina finally say that the State legislators North Carolina had enacted there. Monster Voter Suppression Law would such surgical precision to disenfranchise African Americans and meanwhile countless elections had taken place but Mr Lewis of legacy was that in the face of this overwhelmingly bad decision for voting rights he immediately. Went to action, which is always his way was never in a would not allow despair to hold him back inside we need to do everything we can restore it in went to work with legislative partners in the Congressional Black Caucus to put forth a bill immediately to restore it on every prior reauthorization of the voting. Rights. Act angelides always been done under. The Watch of Republican president and at least one house of Congress being Republican the unfortunate thing is after this decision, the really has not been bipartisan support and but Mr Lewis Year after year would stand at the podium introduced the law in say or in it for the long haul I've been there before I almost lost my life fighting for this law. In one, thousand, nine, sixty five, and we will persevere to us and we've got to keep our eye on the prize and we're not gonNA. Let go until the day that the bill becomes law. So in this moment. On where we're seeing a lot of performance morning by Senate Republicans who obstructed day after day everything that he has stood for and fought for with his life. It is time not only for us to restore the voting rights act passed the voting rights advancement act but to do everything else that we can to ensure open voting and go beyond it as President Obama said today won't be enough to rest and return to the status quo. It is time for this country to unregarded into make our democracy work for all of us in Gulf Far Beyon- restoration of the voting rights act in this moment.