John Lewis: “We will lay down the burden of racism”


U.S. Rep. John Lewis is the target of President-elect Donald Trump’s latest Twitter tirade, with Trump blasting Lewis’ “horrible,” “falling apart” and “crime infested” district after Lewis’ outspoken criticisms of Trump.

“All talk, talk, talk – no action or results,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning. “Sad!”

Lewis, to put it extraordinarily mildly, has faced adversity from officialdom before. The 2015 movie “Selma,” filmed largely in metro Atlanta, tells the story of the Selma-to-Montgomery march movement led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Atlanta civil rights heroes including Lewis, along with Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young, the Rev. C.T. Vivian and the late Revs. Hosea Williams and Ralph David Abernathy.

“I was very moved by the film ‘Selma,’ ” Lewis told us at the time. “It just took me back. I cried at several places in the film. It just made it so real.”

Oprah Winfrey produced and played a role in the movie, which was directed by Ava DuVernay.

FULL COVERAGE: Oscar-nominated “Selma” filmed in metro Atlanta

Stephan James, right, portrayed John Lewis in "Selma." Photo: Paramount Pictures

Stephan James, right, portrayed John Lewis in “Selma.” Photo: Paramount Pictures

As a young man Lewis was badly beaten by Alabama state troopers on the “Bloody Sunday” march across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. He remembers having to sit in the balcony during movies while growing up in Pike County, Ala.

“The little white children would sit downstairs,” Lewis said, recalling being told “That’s just the way it is,” and “Don’t make trouble,” when he questioned the disparity.

All these decades later, “good trouble” has become Lewis’ credo.

Last year he led Democrats in a surprise sit-in of the House chamber on Wednesday afternoon as the party pushed Republican leaders to allow for debate and votes on gun control legislation 10 days after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

“We were elected to lead, Mr. Speaker,” Lewis said. “We must be headlights, and not taillights. We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of mass gun violence in our nation.”

More recently he delivered powerful testimony against U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General. Lewis said he will skip the inauguration and has said he believes Russia President Vladimir Putin helped elect Trump.

“I think it was a conspiracy on part of the Russians and others to help him get elected,” he told MSNBC. “That’s not right, that’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not the open democratic process.”

The movie “Selma” was released 50 years after the small Alabama town became an iconic landmark in the Civil Rights movement, and Lewis returned to the bridge where agents of government battered him for marching.

As he contemplated the journey from having to sit in a segregated balcony to watching himself portrayed in a major Hollywood movie, he sounded hopeful and pleased.

“To go from that to having someone play me in a movie, it says something about America and the progress that has been made,” Lewis said. “It’s almost too much to believe to see yourself in the theater.”

And he struck a hopeful chord about the future of our country.

“We will lay down the burden of racism,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like we should be doing better. But I feel like we should be grateful for the distances we have come. We will get there. [‘Selma’] should speak to people today. We must be committed to the way of peace, love and nonviolence.”

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