tv Remembering John Lewis CSPAN May 18, 2021 8:01pm-9:23pm EDT
university of north carolina chapel hill professor. joseph glatthaar teaches a class about the korean war general douglas macarthur's removal from command by president harry truman and civilian military relations. this program is from american history tv's lectures in history series, which takes viewers into college classrooms around the country watch tonight beginning at 8pm eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span 3 biographer john meacham author of his truth is marching on john lewis and the power of hope is joined by two former chiefs of staff to the late congressman and civil rights leader to discuss his life and legacy part of washington national cathedral's honest to god conversation series the cathedral hosted this event and also provided the video. tonight, however we begin with the life and leadership of
congressman john lewis. and who better to recognize as a person of faith? whose leadership inspired tens of thousands to leadership of their own? last july at the time of congressman lewis's death dean hollareth said this every so often god gives us extraordinary individuals. who spend their lives working for justice and promoting the way of love? john lewis was just such a gift from god. who is a light in the darkness? a voice for the voiceless a tireless champion for equality i guessed tonight new congressman lewis personally, and we're so pleased that they're here to share their reflections on his life and his leadership. ms. linda earley chastang served as his chief of staff and council
during his early years in office. she is currently the ceo of the john and lillian miles lewis foundation which works to carry on the vision and work of congressman lewis. her public service at georgia state university college of law the new jersey legislature and hampton university confirmed for her. that social justice and equity are the things most important to our nation and to her. mr. michael collins served as congressman lewis's chief of staff florist assistant and senior advisor working with the congressman for more than two decades. he is a graduate of morehouse college with an mba from emory university and an msw from boston college. mr. collins serves on multiple boards and is currently the board chair of the john and lillian miles lewis foundation. finally, mr. jon meacham is a
renowned presidential historian contributing writer to the new york times book review contributing editor at time and pulitzer prize-winning author. he is also the national cathedral's canon historian elect. he is the author of his truth is marching on john lewis and the power of hope and in just a few moments. we'll hear a reflection from mr. meacham to start our conversation this evening. through tonight's conversation and particularly the sharing of stories and experiences. we are inviting our guests to share their honesty. authenticity and faith at a time when our country and our communities are in dire need of such a gift and we're so grateful. so in just a moment, i will offer an opening prayer mr. meacham will offer our reflection on congressman lewis's leadership. and then for the bulk of our time together dean hollareth will host our guests in
conversation. during that time. we invite those of you who are watching at home to send your questions in either via the chat on youtube or through the link that will be shared there. we would love to hear your questions and i'll come back at the end of the conversation to share some of them with our panel so that they can answer them. so for those of you who are so inclined won't you join me in a word of prayer? holy god. we are grateful for your presence among us tonight in the cathedral and in the hearts of those listening wherever they may be. bless our speakers as they so graciously share their reflections and experiences with us. open our hearts and minds. so that we may each hear something that helps us become the people you would call us to be. we thank you, especially for the leadership of congressman lewis. and as the most rev michael
curry prayed last summer may we like him? rise up to claim the high call of love. never to cease laboring for a just and humane society and world. always showing compassion and daily. living humbly with god until all god's children are free. amen, and i now invite mr. meacham to the second podium. thank you, michelle. rev dean michael and lynda. i'm reminded of a story that ronald reagan used to tell. when someone would call him when he was in hollywood and say would you come speak at a benefit? and reagan would say well i i can't sing or dance. why would you want me and they would say well you can introduce someone who can so i'm just here to to as an opening act here the
story begins in troy, alabama carter's quarters to be precise john lewis for him enslavement was not an abstraction his great grandfather had been born in 1862 before the emancipation proclamation freeing the enslaved people in the seceded states of the union went into effect on the first of january 1863. so for him america's original sin of human enslavement was as real as his great grandfather who frank carter who lived until the congressman was eight years old. the story truly begins with john robert lewis's first memory which was of his mother's garden. it was the first and most iconic in a way of the many biblical
realities and biblical landmarks that would mark the channels of john lewis's life. i asked him last spring. what was your first memory and he paused and said my mother's garden. i remember there was a bucket of water by the gate and i always loved to help things grow. i always loved to help things grow. there were three tributaries. i think that came together to form congressman lewis's life. one was the gospel of jesus christ. i never met anyone actually who was in a way less interested in denominational or sectarian politics or theological disputes as a believer as john lewis. but his core insight his core vision was in fact that what was said in the sermon on the mount?
what was said in that radical commandment first found in leviticus? that we should love our neighbor as ourselves and then take into a farther extreme to love our enemies. he saw that commandment as a central controlling reality. i have never met anyone. who closed the gap so precisely so fully. between the profession of faith and its practice then john robert lewis. and he walked among us. even unto last summer i believe he was an american saint. i believe he meets all of the criteria for it. and i don't say that to make him a figure of stained glass or to put them on a pedestal far from our reach. but you put people on a pedestal properly i think so.
it's easier to see them. it's easier for them to teach. he was willing to die for his vision of the country and of the world itself. we all know how many times he was willing to give everything for that. a 45 arrests the innumerable hours in custody one of the miracles and i use that word advisedly is that he was arguably in more danger when we couldn't see him. than when we could the cameras were there. on highway 70 in selma, alabama the cameras were there for the freedom rides. they were there for the sit-ins. they weren't there at parchman. they weren't there in the penitentiaries in the jails. where lord knows what could have happened? but he always wanted to make things grow.
and so as one of the early church fathers said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. and i would argue that the blood of john lewis is the seed of our best manifestation of what america can be. so one was the faith. that was one tributary. i think another was his innate revulsion against the segregated order that he encountered in troy. the first white person the only white person he saw with any regularity growing up was the mailman. but when you would go into troy he had a revulsion against the fact that he was not. fully a citizen and it unsettled him. in a profound and ultimately for all of us redemptive way. the third tributary i think is the story of the country itself.
he was very much engaged in what was unfolding beyond pike county. his family couldn't afford a subscription to the newspaper his grandfather got it. so he would get it a day or two later. he read about the brown versus board of decision. of may 17th 1954 and he waited all summer for his new white friends to come and join him. he misunderestimated as george w bush would say the capacity of the alabama white power structure to keep that from happening. he read about the death of emmett till in 1955. they were one year apart and he knew that he could have been emmett till. he read about authorine lucy who attempted to desegregate the university of alabama in 1956. and was repelled from that. and in i believe december of
1956 the congressman always believed it was 1955. we disagreed he was john lewis, so believe him but but i'm going to throw this in as as a biographer december 1956 martin luther king preached a sermon called the letter of paul to the christians in america. and as we know martin luther king, jr. never met a metaphor. he didn't like and it was a long homiletic metaphor about what would the apostle paul say to the christians in america? and what he would say obviously is that we were not living up to the injunction of scripture in either its letter or its spirit. and john lewis heard that over the radio and martin luther king became in that moment a kind of father figure to him the only time on record that john lewis devoted apostle of non-violence, which he learned from jim lawson in the basement of the clark
memorial united methodist church in nashville in the late 1950s. the only time he ever raised a hand back. was in the albert hotel in selma, alabama when a white supremacist american nazi part of the lincoln rockwell group. came after martin luther king and john lewis's reaction was to defend dr. king. but he defended him not with a fist but with a hug he threw his arms around the assailant to protect dr. king. so i think these three things i think the the faith itself the innate revulsion against segregation and this sense that he was not alone. that's how he decided that he could help make things grow. he comes to nashville, tennessee in the fall of 1957 the little
rock desegregation crisis is unfolding. he wanted to come back to alabama to desegregate the largest university near him troy state. that's the first time he met dr. king. but his parents didn't want him to do it. and it's another biblical mark jesus said if you are going to follow me you have to give up your family you have to give up the ordinary conventions and customs of life because the coming of the kingdom is of such scope and such immensity that it requires a new orientation in life. another biblical note is he was not john lewis when he was growing up. he was robert lewis or bob. and when he came to nashville another biblical note, he goes to a hill he goes to a mountain. american baptist theological
seminary on the cumberland river on a it's called the holy hill and he received a different work. he received a different commission. and like abraham like elijah like peter he received a different name. and his friends began to call him john. and so john lewis was this. figure who was connected to the young boy who had learned so much in troy and who had begun as all of us did in a garden? he became a commissioned ordained. apostle of what lincoln called our bitter angels? and john lewis was a better angel. and that as an angel he wanted to help make things grow. he becomes engaged in civil rights movement in this city. first time. he came to washington was in may of 1961 when he boarded a bus
for the freedom rides. he had made his mark in the sit-ins of nashville. he had been arrested. he saw it as a kind of baptism by fire. he said he'd never felt and this is a new testament image. he had never felt as free. as when he was jailed for the first time in nashville in 1960. his whole life was about growth. and it was about reversal. it was about upending the ordinary conventions and understandings of power and politics and dominion and supremacy. in the service of a biblically informed theologically driven understanding. of what the declaration of independence actually meant what that self-evident truth actually meant and he never flinched. and that's the remarkable
remarkable thing. he had a wilderness period in the mid-1960s he went to new york. he was trying to get his footing but it was fairly brief. he was brought back into it brought back into the the maelstrom of history after selma both by dr. king's speech of the riverside church on the vietnam war and by robert kennedy's presidential campaign in 1968. when he saw the capacity of politics to help close that gap between profession and practice. he saw a way to make things grow. a word about his saint hood. always resisted this. but i have jim lawson on my side and so i'm going to take it and run if jim lawson tells you that it's something's okay. you're you're in good shape. the saintliness is again not to elevate him above the realm of
human experience saints are not saviors. saints are not gods. they are godlike. they are savior like they are not perfect. they're just a hell of a lot better than the rest of us, which if you're me it's not very hard. but you know, it's robert louis stevenson once said, it's the duty of the christian not to succeed but to fail cheerfully. john lewis succeeded cheerfully reversing that insight of robert louis stevenson's to tell his story. to be in conversation with john lewis is to be in conversation with the deepest deepest truths of the human experience as informed by our imperfect understanding of the divine. we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. i think john lewis saw through that glass into that glass more
clearly than anyone else i've ever known. i've been lucky in my my life. michelle kindly called me a renowned presidential historian. i must say that's like being described as the best restaurant in a hospital, you know you want to win but it's not that hard but i've known three people really well. in public life one was buried from this place george herbert walker bush. the others the incumbent president of the united states joe biden and the other is john lewis. and there's three wildly different people right a son of greenwich andover and yale world war ii hero a man of immense privilege george bush. of roman catholic working class guy from scranton and claymont joe biden and the great grandson of an enslaved person who
challenged a nation's conscience and pushed us toward a more perfect union through the power of love. not hate. hope not fear. creativity and creation and growth not destruction. but they have one thing in common. and that was a remarkable capacity for empathy. they saw the world and see the world. through other people's eyes. which i would argue is fundamentally biblical. to love. your neighbor as yourself is really hard. i'm not all that interested in loving my neighbor as myself. i like my neighbor. that's fine, you know. and i certainly don't want to love my enemy. you know, jesus. they're my enemy. that's the point, right? but the witness and life of john robert lewis, is that what i just said is wrong. and he embodied manifested. and taught us that to meet hate
with love and darkness with light. is not just ideal but possible. and in that way we can all help make things grow. thank you. you got to bring that with you john. i think you've heard from me plenty. thank you john for that. that was wonderful. i love the how you get coming back to making things grow. it's so true. and and lynda and michael. thank you so much for being with us tonight. we're honored to have all three of you here, but especially with all the work you have done on john lewis and all the history you two have with him to be able to have this conversation is very special and i do want to
put a shameless plug in if you have not read john's book on john lewis, you should i will honestly say it's one of the best books i have read in the past year and has been very deeply meaningful to me during this pandemic as i think about all the things i'm not doing in my cozy snug comfortable home and reading about all the things that john lewis did with his life, which was so amazing. so canon elect historian john meacham, it's a sign of the end of christendom. yes. yes, you don't get to you don't get to hear that title very often. do you can and elect? john has been kind enough to agree to serve as the first canon historian of washington national cathedral and until he is seated officially in that role. he's cannon elect, so it's great. it's great to have you with us and friends. we miss having you in the
building. i must say it's nice for us to be in the building. although there's a as you can imagine an amazing echo in here, but we look forward to a time when all of us can be back together in this space for wonderful occasions like this and for celebrating services and seating jon meacham as canon-elect. that's our history and elect will be a great event. so, let me just start with the two we view all would you all tell it tell us linda michael each of you. tell us about when you were with john your years because i want to make sure people understand that completely your years with him during what parts of his life and then say i love to have all three of you say a little bit about a couple of the things that you learned from him that were most important to you, and i know you both have really interesting stories about how you met him. or the first time you met him so that would be great to share as well.
well, i met john lewis when i was i thought it was 14. i think it may have been 12 at a small presbyterian church here in washington where the minister was the president of the washington dc chapter of the southern christian leadership conference i had an occasion to meet martin luther king. they had rustin. my memory isn't as good as it used to be james farmer. stokely carmichael as he was then known and then of course john lewis i met him the next time when i was in atlanta, maybe 15 years later my first met his wife lillian we became friends and she pulled me into john's campaign for city council and i worked on that campaign. we hosted a couple of copies back and i don't know what the year was, but i followed his career as i had done previously when he was in the council
because he was very interested in things that were important to me. neighborhood preservation and ethics those were his hallmarks on the council. of course when he decided to run for congress, i wanted to be there with him then that was sort of an interesting story because he ran against his old friend julian bond and at that time the talk was that all of the puppies in town were behind julian puppies are the black urban young professionals or something like that. and so my husband and i hosted a fundraiser we didn't raise. money, but we had 100 people who would you would call puppies in our home to show support for john lewis? then my husband took a position here in washington, and i called the congressman and said look a moving to washington. i want to come help you change the world. and he said come in. let's talk about it and he offered me a job as
administration law degrees. i'm happy to be administ if i can help you change the world. i did not know and i know this is hard to believe until i showed up for work a couple of weeks later that the aa the administration. that's how i began for our career with the congressman. or lynda had a big part of me joining the congressman staff, but before then i had an opportunity to meet the congress when i was a freshman at morehouse college, and they had several speakers come in to address freshmen and orientation once a week and congressman lewis of veiled himself and all of his knowledge and experience and compassion for being a freshman and extending invitation for us to keep in touch with him throughout our matriculation and just always wanted to be available. so i did not take that opportunity until my senior year
and morehouse when i was just about ready to graduate and had an opportunity to ask the congressman for a letter of recommendation, which he gave me and the wonderful pin for graduation and and sent me off to boston. i ended up returning home to boston where i taught and directed youth programs for the city of boston. relative about five years later senator kennedy was hosting a book signing for congressman lewis at the harvard club, and i had heard that about it and shared with all my colleagues that oh, i know john lewis. i know congressman lewis. they like really i said, yeah. i said i met him years when i was in college. yes. oh, wow. what's he like and hadn't spoken to the congressman in five years, but i was surely gonna make sure that everybody knew i had had a connection with the congressman had an opportunity to get invited to the luncheon and stood in the back of the room because i was gonna wait for my opportunity to
reintroduce myself to the congressman and the doors of the room opened and the congressman saw me in the corner of the room and bolted directly over to me and said, where have you been and i said you remember me. he said, how could i forget you and i was like i was then released my friends and everyone could then champion on with me, but that was the beginning and the reconnection that i had with the congressman linda came in to part where she was a conduit which i was able to join the congressman staff at that moment that year i was finishing up at boston college my medicine social work. so, what year would that have been that was in 1998? 98? gotcha. yes. so y'all say a little bit about i'm just going to jump into the big stuff. i mean say a little bit about some things that were really important to you that you learned from john lewis. and even you john during your time with him, you all must have some things that are important
for us to know about the man that you that you learn from him. he was i think the the central figure. in 20th and 21st century american life and i include dr. king in this. who closed this gap between profession and practice of faith in the public square not in a sectarian way again. he had no interest in denominational stuff. but the bible said love your neighbor. jim lawson had shown him how to be nonviolent in the most violent of situations. remember you're talking about which on lewis fought as a young man as a very young man. so he's born in 1940 right, february 21st, 1940 and so he's
25 he's barely turned 25 when he's on the edmund pettus bridge. but that's in a way the the capstone of that period of his life life with many chapters. he starts in his teens in nashville. and he was taught this. remarkable set of convictions. and jim lawson was vital lawson i think is probably the most important american that not enough people know. he was a son of a methodist minister a methodist minister. he went to jail for conscientious objection during the korean war. he goes to india. he was too late to meet gandhi, but he met a lot of gandhi's lieutenants absorbed the tactics of that movement comes back. he runs into king at oberlin. there's both having to be visiting. and king realizes the set of
experiences that dr. lawson has and he says you're the kind of person we need in the south. and so lawson said, okay. he comes to nashville and he teaches diane nash and bernard lafayette and john lewis and just becomes really the architect of the struggle against. white supremacist state sanctioned violence. he wrote the guiding principles for snick, didn't he? when his first form? yeah, and it was where a coat and tie. it's say yes, sir. and yes, ma'am. it was all about putting the onus on the oppressor. and illustrating with raw physical courage that there was a right and there was a wrong. and the system and the laws were on the wrong side.
and so what i learned from him. which is in no way novel. is that in that pulpit on what march 30 31st 1968 dr. king quoted theater parker saying the arc of a moral universe is long, but have been toward justice. that's fine. what john lewis taught me is that the arc of a moral universe does not bend unless there are people like john lewis insisting that it swerve. and in that tension is american democracy? thank you. yeah, i would say that, you know living well lynda nice 30 years of what you've outlined i mean we show up every day with them right? and you know, i just for me i've always thought about know
looking at the congressman and and seeing all of those things that were just so true to him and his his beliefs of home. his faith i would say that you know his work in congress and his work in the civil rights movement was extension of his faith. and that he lived that every day. his family was so very important to him and you know, he was not very different than that little boy from troy every day and in congress walking those halls and the respect that he gave to every single person whether it was a police officer when he thanked them for his service whether it was the teller whether it was the lady on the elevator. i mean, he lived his life every day with true meaning and principle and you know as a young staffer one, i guess it wasn't that young but when as a staffer you're focused on the task at hand and that is getting the congressman to where he needs to go and making sure that he's on time and meeting those
needs and requirements and none of that was in the congressman's head. it was not anything he focused on what he focused on. was individuals with people the people he came in contact walking those halls the everyday people that walked the halls in congress the street. i mean the airport. i mean, that's the those were the lessons those were the lessons that we wonderfully had, you know every day. we're with him. i spent 21 years working with him and every day was a lesson i say he woke up every day as if it was a brand new day and with the new meaning he took nothing for granted. and that was a lesson that you just you know again, you've you've studied you understood it in a different context, but we had a way to to live it out every day. i'm sure you have thousands of these stories, but i remember walking. through an error maybe in chattanooga now walking through an airport with him and a woman ran up to him and said oh my god, i'm going to faint. and he said please don't faint. i'm not a doctor so was funny,
too. john i read your book over the weekend and i was reminded in reading it. that john was until his last days the same person he was as a boy in troy and reading the epilogue i believe is where i got that. it was reminded that you have core values where you should and you should always always have those top of mind and they should guide your steps. i think that's what john did john lewis did he had? core simple or he would have said plain values and he stuck with them peace was important non-violence was important love was important. knowledge was important being creative being thoughtful. those things were just who he was from the big the very
beginning to the end. you know, i said that i met him at my small presbyterian church here and we had a very small congregation a very small church a very small fellowship hall, but i can remember john and others spending time with the young people in that fellowship hall drinking lemonade because he thought it was important to inspire or engage with young people and that's as you very well know that's something that was important to him until the very very end. when michael took him to black lives matter plaza, he was determined to do that. he did it and he had an important message for those who would follow in his footsteps and for others, who are may not know that they need to follow in his footsteps. you know the we've been talking about our focus for the spring is servant leadership. as we move into this new
administrations up and the life of jesus. and the servant leader is the one is the leader who first and foremost is not interested in the trappings of power. but it's interesting in serving the people for whom they are supposed to lead. and i just can't think of a better example of that in his life and then john lewis and what i'm curious to ask you all if you have an insight as i was reading john's book and as i've known about john lewis's life, you know to be so young as you mentioned, you know, barely 25 years old when he's on the edmund pettis bridge or even younger when he's doing the sit-ins or freedom rides all the arrests the beatings the spitting the you know, the the stance is he took the courage that he showed the things that
he put up with over and over and over and over again out of that love out of that sense of i'm going to we're going to love our way through this and then to see i guess i'm moving quickly here, but then to see martin luther king killed. and then to see robert kennedy killed. and did he ever get jaded? did you ever see him jada? did you ever see him lose? i mean it's one thing when you're that young to hold on to those kind of ideals, but the fact that he did it through 45, you know. 45 imprisonment or arrests and is amazing but in all the years you're with him. did he ever appear jaded? no, no, not at all. he was the most optimistic person that i've ever met. he never was jaded. he got up. and he forged ahead and he
talked about losing dr. king and and bobby kennedy and he just recommitted himself. you know to doing their work and the other work in the work that was important to him, but it was it was very sad and dark time for him, but he just kept forging ahead and he lived out his life making sure that he touched people and changed, you know, the things that he could but no, he never was jaded and never felt like there was something that was going to keep him back. he inspired his colleagues. every day in congress they look to him. and so he really he felt positive and confident in that. and that leadership. always lynda hold your hold up a little. i'm sorry. excuse me. he wanted us to always be positive always be optimistic always be hopeful stay focused pace yourself. it'll happen slow down linda we'll get there.
the one wilderness period was in the late 60s the new york phase but remarkably brief. a little bit longer than 40 days, but that's when he meets his wife isn't it during that period does a little bit later. um, but he i struck by something that michael and lynda said about the trappings of power the first time i met him was on election night in a georgia senate runoff. everything old is new again in 1992. and one of the key things about an election night as lyndon michael know extremely well is a measure of power is not being seen now. you're really just eating cheese cubes in a different room, but you want to be seen as though you're an ancient priest of communing, you know with with the precincts and all that. and i walked into this hotel ballroom and he and lillian were just standing there. talking to me and it was the
absolutely, unassuming absolutely authentic in no way. it was not a showy kind of, you know authenticity, which you can sometimes see but i think that's part of the saint hood argument. is that the face of reaction of ongoing unfolding unto this hour attacks on the work that he almost gave his life for and his friends did give their lives for i mean, what are we debating right now in this city voting rights? was happening in atlanta right now voting rights? and yet my as a observer from afar. one of the things that was so amazing was that he was truly as saint paul said patient and tribulation.
and lynda said it that the core values were were simple and that's true. but my god, they're so hard hold on to. i'm terrible at it. so it's just that that he did hold on. he never lost them and never lost it every day. yeah. did you did you do did you all see examples of? i'm trying to think of grace that may have unfolded years later. you know, you hear the stories of the policeman who beat him or folks who attacked him or various. did you see did you see a grace come out of that? did you all ever witness times when people would someone would come up to him and apologize? i mean years later was i would hope that there would be some some grace and some healing or some experiences there of redemption for some others that you all witness any of that.
definitely. i mean he believed the redemption and people in the elwin wilson comes to mind and elvin wilson comes to mind and north carolina from rock hill from rock hill and his after the election of president obama. he was witnessing all that was taking place and he told his son he had confessed his son what he had been participating in back in those days in rock hill and had confessed that he was one of the ones who had beaten the congressman and his son then took the story to the local news station the local news station made contact with our office and asked if the congressman would want to meet with him and of course again knowing the congressman he of course would want to meet with him and so they came early one morning and a room his son and mr. wilson and this is all recorded on on news and they they met together
and mr. wilson asked the congressman. for his forgiveness and the congressman without hesitation said i forgive you. and they hugged. embrace for a very long time and that was true the congressman believed and felt in his heart that forgiveness 'cause he had nothing he held nothing. toward him. and so that was the beginning of their relationship and they spent several times together after that. just talking about that story. well, that must be clear this this was a klansman who had beaten him at rock hill, south carolina in 1961. was this in the bus station was this that that there must have been a powerful moment to witness. it was it actually was yes. yes. so tell us a little bit more like what he was like to to work for you were selling us.
so i imagine i imagine it was not easy to get him on to his schedule. he was going to stop and chat lynda had the early time to do this. i had to follow behind her. it he had his own schedule. let's put it that way and the biggest thing that would get in the way were young people. you know, i after john passed last year. i got a call from a young man who called to say that he had been an intern when i was there and what a difference it had made in his life and how he couldn't have been imagine that he would have had the opportunity that he had to spend time with the congressman and i'm thinking yeah, it was something else. i really wanted him to do, but that was important to him. he was very generous with time the most precious thing we have on earth time and he would give it away. so no he got where he needed to go when he needed to be there.
so it was okay. he must have been doing something right all those years in congress. absolutely. it's funny john talks about the congressman being a saint and so of course he never never brought it up. unless one day we're in the car. and he'll say remember i'm a saint i said, okay. okay say right they were those few moments years ago. probably maybe late 90s early 2000s late saturday afternoon one of the one of the ways we got to know each other is is he was very generous about doing op-eds and i was in journalism then and something had i can't remember what and i called the home number in atlanta and mrs. lewis answered. and i said ma'am. i'm sorry to bother you, but it is the congressman around. she said honey. he's at a black church banquet. he won't be back till wednesday.
he was always, but he never he never michael and lynda were both incredibly adept at this. he never said no. i mean if there were an invited i'm gay there were an invitation if there was a something to do. he was there to tell that story. and one of the things that is a liturgical mind would appreciate this. when you think about the annual pilgrimages to selma in montgomery and birmingham. you took members of congress for how long? 20 years longer you most of the time when you are engaged in acts of commemoration, you're also engaged in acts of self. aggrandizement just by the nature of it. and yet he could take you. to the place where he and hosea
williams and amelia boynton made the voting rights act happen. where the tear gas was the concussion was inflicted. and you would not think in any way that it was not the most natural thing in the world, but that you were there with john lewis. there was it was this remarkable capacity. i've never figured it out. to tell a story in which he was a central character without self-reference. it was magical and mysterious. but when you were standing there with them. it wasn't that it was about him. you're just thrilled that you were there with this person who had done this. the other thing i think we should mention. because it's a whole different generation two generations now, i guess are the graphic novels. about the march which has i know
my children first encountered the movement through that. and of course one of the reasons he did is he'd had a comic book about the bus boycott dr. king. the montgomery story i think was called right? those are amazingly successful weren't they the comic book the graphic novels and when i first heard about those i didn't i couldn't imagine that they would be but they were he was right about that. i mean they were very successful in the story, you know, we worry about for these generations that these stories get lost. they don't they don't get told and they're and so important that they that they that they continue to get told. so tell us about where you're talking about the edmund pettis bridge tell us a little bit about what did john think about the protest this past summer the black lives mattered protests the all the all the folks out on the street. it's the first time in many a decade that we have seen the sort of reaction that we've seen in the past year and racism
raising its head and making how clear it's still a serious issue in this country in so many thousands of people stepping out about it. and what did he think of these most recent movements? so this is a difficult time. this is a difficult time. i mean a congressman had been diagnosed in december. and was going to treatment in january. um, john to his credit was really we were able to have the opportunity to get the congressman to talk with john through do some of that time and the congressman as you know, who he is who we're talking about today just it wasn't able to come out and talk in ways that he normally would be able to and normally i we normally hear him. and he would be on the floor or we would be writing and you would see it in print. everything was internal for him. and so it was very frustrating. and he just didn't have the
opportunity to be vocal, but you could see it. he did not. turn the tv off msnbc. every time john was on he's like john john, but this was it was very personal. he couldn't express himself like he wanted to and i had an opportunity to he wanted to go home to atlanta to visit home his son. i drove him to atlanta. this was right after the killing and he was very sad. i walked in the room and he was crying. and i said to him i said, what is the matter? and of course everything on george floyd the news was just reeling and he said this is just so sad. and i said, i know congressman i said we have you know, we made a list of all of the requests. they're over 100 requests for him to speak. and i had them all outlined and i said we have a whole list of them for you to speak and he just shook his head and said i can't.
it was very internal for him. he was dealing with his own. you know demise and just thinking about how he could and didn't really want to go public. he didn't want to be seen but it was just a very difficult time for him and as you can imagine how difficult there was just knowing who he is. and so we did have an opportunity to get them on camera. he did a couple of interviews. but the one which lynda made reference to was which we didn't know at the time would be his last public appearance was he had an opportunity to see the unveiling of the black lives matter plaza? it's such a powerful photograph of him standing there and in the midst of his illness. this was literally a month. so just before he passed he said i want to go see it. and i said we will go see it. not thinking that i really would take him maybe drive them by on
the way to treatment. and then i thought this really means something to him. this is really the opportunity for him. to really feel and be a part in the connection to everything that have been going on and identifying with all these young people. because as lynda indicated young people, i mean this was his life. i mean they were they're the future and he always believed the young people who took the time to sit and and meet with them and so young people and and the diversity and the commitment and just watching them and like i said, that's the one he did not he did not do he did not turn off that tv. he would lay there and watch it so he watched the footage over and over again, and he said i want to go to the black lives matter plaza. and so we were able to arrange for him to go early early on a sunday morning. with nobody being there. and that was the moment that he reconnected with the movement. he couldn't be out with out there with them. but being on the street.
was a symbol of a unification for what they were doing what they had done and their future and that he connected with it. one of it one of the things that i've always thought is interesting and i remember the congressman saying this you use your body to make the statement if you need to and he certainly did that in many of the ways that you recounted in your book john, but that was another such occasion. he didn't say anything in black lives matter plaza. he stood there boy. what a powerful powerful message to the folks that were there and those who couldn't be there was really like a bridge between the activists of his generation and the activists of the next generation, you know that symbolism of a bridge is just so powerful and he used it in so many many ways. but that was an occasion when i called michael.
i didn't know they were going i called michael and i said michael. why are you taking john down there to black lives matter play, you know, he can't do that and michael said lynda, you know, i can't stop him. he was committed to doing that and it was you know, he made so many creative and smart decisions about how best to move the movement and that was one such occasion and you're right. it was it was it was incarnation, wasn't it? i mean it was about him physically being in that space as you said and that picture is such a you know, i was looking at the picture in john's book. and when he's looking so frail and yet these masks and standing in the middle of the plaza and it's very powerful. so i know we've got lots of questions from the people who are watching so we'll get ready to take some of those. but before we do that, so tell us a little bit about what the foundation is is up to. michael and i are working hard
to build the foundation and i'm really excited. in fact today was a very exciting day. i just feel very positive about where we're headed. but our job is and i think john left us a blueprint for this is to keep doing what he would have us do telling the stories teaching providing support being inspired just as he was by jim lawson and martin luther king and then to inspire others, which is what he has always done particularly visa the young people so we are new organization. we are developing much faster than i would have expected and i'm just terribly terribly excited and what i know is that john is very proud of the work that we're doing michael. i agree. will the pilgrimages continue? sure, they were on some form of
fashion. definitely do faith in politics. yeah, they're so important. well, i'm going to invite michelle to come back up and she and margaret have been keeping an eye on. the folks on the internet writing in and so we'll see if we can take some of those questions. so i'm i can also let you all know that there are more than 500 people who are watching on youtube. so we're so grateful that you get to share all of this with so many folks. they're from all over the country. so, maryland and alabama and tennessee and a couple folks from vermont. so there's there's just people who are like i said all over linda one of the questions to you is if you would be willing to share some stories of it his time at martha's vineyard. so, i don't know if you i'm sorry. i didn't hear you. yeah, if you could share some stories about his time at martha's vineyard. feel spend some time.
up there well, he's visited several times. most recently. he was there for an event with ct vivian. we got the last time i think it was and he and ct vivian who by the way as you may know past on the very same day that john did and i was actually on the phone with his daughter and she was saying linda. i just don't think we're gonna make it through the weekend and then i got a call from michael and she called it so they together talked about their experiences in the movement. we had an overflow crowd as we have on the other occasions. i actually promoted his book walking with the wind so we did a couple of summer events there back in 1998 in 1990. and in fact, that's where i met
michael tell us that story. i'm sorry. tell us that story did the two of you met at just one of the one of those events. yeah, yes. so lynda was respond. he got books out of my car for me. they were too happy. i had i had the wonderful assignment lynda called and said i have an assignment for you and your assignment is to drive the congressman back to boston to catch his flight from author's vineyard and in order to do that you have to get here to martha's vineyard and you've got to do a few things while you're here. and so that's what i did. that was. that was the book signing. it was actually 35th anniversary of the march on washington president clinton charles ogletree anita hill and martin luther king the third with my daughter rebecca chester. we're paying we're paying tribute to the congressman for the 35th anniversary. and that was when dr. excuse me, president clinton came and read from his book at the church in i
can't remember the church. yes, but my assignment was to turn the pages as yeah as the books got signed, but it was an incredible honor and and i enjoyed it and he's exaggerating. no, i was extremely helpful. the other thing that's interesting about that particularly event is that that is when president clinton acknowledged or did his mia culpa around monica lewinsky? so it the event turned out to be something. yeah, that was his first that was his first public appearance after the monica lewinsky scandal and he had called congressman lewis and told the congressman that he did not think he'd be able to make it and the congressman said mr. president you were my friend before you my friend after and i expect you to be there and he was there. yep. for walking history. this is it's amazing. so a couple of people have asked
questions about the young folks that congressman lewis was so interested in so i'm going to ask both the questions and then i'm going to frame it a little bit. so maisie is asking. what can we do to cultivate leadership in our children's teens and young adults? and where's the other one and buck is wondering how he works with college students young people and is would like to hear more of how can we help our unemployed neighbors rather than i have to have my spring break trip. so the way that i want to frame, this is what did you hear? john lewis say to young people. when he was in conversation with them as he was so often, what was his message? what would he invite those young people to hear or say or do that our listeners might pass on to
the young people. that they're working with. well, i would say i've had this wonderful opportunity every year. i look forward to it and it's the commencement seasons. and so i always made sure that i was on the schedule to travel with him to every single commencement because it was always exciting. but i think the best way that i could think about that question would be the congressman would often say in his commencement addresses. to find something so meaningful help me lend it with this because he would say find something so meaningful and so necessary. that you take yourself out of your own circumstances. and concern yourself with the circumstances of others. it was really a prescription for servant leadership where you are. you something is you've said it. i'm sorry. i don't have any another way to put it but it is to me what
servant leadership is about where you are promoting the community. or other people as opposed to yourself something. that means more. to you then you mean to you? and that should be if it goes back to those core values find them stick with them never lose sight of them. let them be your guide always. just get involved just find something. so meaningful that you believe in and just go for it. he would say that was his favorite slogan go for it. he would tell everybody go for it. anything i'm in fabulous. okay, there's some really great. just trying to figure out what order to pull these into so you all have talked it, but none of us are going to be john lewis presumably we're not yet. so we're presumably not going to get there. but there's a question here
about how you all were encouraged by him. so in other words. jen lewis was an extraordinary human who encouraged other people to be extraordinary and you all spent time with him in close proximity. so what did he do for you that you try to do for others? so in other words, what are the are there habits? are there practices are there ways that you encourage others other people. based on what you learned from him. for me it would be teaching and encouraging others. you know, i enjoy i feel it's my responsibility to share with young people. i learned from them an awful lot more today than before especially around technology as an example, but the the responsibility to teach and encourage, others is something i learned from him.
i would say respect for other people just you know, your fellow man just respect for other people and and respecting their worth their dignity. he would say all the time and just really making sure that you extend yourself. you know helping hand literally all of the principles that we've talked about early on in john has talked about just really being there and being a serving and a connection to somebody else that you don't know and really respecting them. so i think that that's i'm not a good enough person to to teach or or inspire people, but i will say this. i think i would have had a very different and darker view. of the present and future of our democracy over the last five years. if not for john. if not for his example.
i believed all through. 2015 to 2020 that we would in fact overcome. and as i think back why i thought that part of it is i think historically in theologically, so i'm really fun to hang out with but american history is a series of provisional victories and those victories are innately provisional because our experience shows us. you go across the pettus bridge. but george wallace wins 13.5% and five states in the 1968 presidential election. right. you beat off mccarthy. you beat off wallace? and you get what happened to the country from 2016 to 2020? there are recurrent. dark forces in american life
that have to be met by recurrent forces of light. and in our midst there was an exemplar. of someone who was willing to die. for that idea and this isn't if we were talking about saint paul or something, you know, it would it would be sort of theoretical and that's what you're supposed to do in a setting like this. he was your friend. he was your mentor. i loved him from afar. and he was with us. eight months ago whatever. it'll be the last year. so here was this person who carried in him? the resilience and the tragedy and the triumph of america itself and that's the story that
has to be told again and again, and i'm convinced. that one of the reasons for the graphic novel one of the reasons for a picture for always as use as linda was saying he always knew how to frame what was going on. is that he had? engaged in encountered american history that way through the radio through the troy messenger through the montgomery advertiser. you know julian bonds job. was to handle the press and that wasn't for a sofa-grandizement. it was to educate. and to tell that story and the story, i think ultimately of john robert lewis. is that america for all of its tragedies can in fact prevail? as hard as it is.
so i'm going to jump in real quick because i got a question. i'm dying to answer given what i've been hearing here a little bit. so forgive me folks out there, but if congressman lewis was standing here today right now, and i was to say to him congressman. what are the most important things for us to be doing right now as a nation to really take on and and push back and battle against systemic racism in this country. what should we be doing? well, what do you think he would say, what would he tell us what would be his prescription do would he have one for this time in which we're living that's any different from sort of what he did his entire life. i'll jump in because i think i'm certainly there was a legislative agenda. what i heard him say again and again deep into june of last year was. as terrible as things are come walk in my shoes.
if you don't think america can get better. come walk in my shoes. so a disenfranchised great-grandson of a slave. dies a hero of the republic and that's not to make it all about him, but it does show that there is and innate moral impulse. this is your job. this is your business an innate moral impulse. to live in closer accord with ideals of love and charity and grace and he did it. and so i think what he would i think what he would say is sanctity of the vote keep the keep an eye on all your lawmakers. policing reform i think there'd be any number of things guns as which is top of mind again yet again today.
but it's there's a principle that runs through it and the principle is we have an ideal. the question is how far are we going to settle? from that ideal more can we go closer to it? and i'd argue that the man who led us the pen and pettus bridge got closer to that ideal than anybody else. here, i i know what comes to my mind is every time he would say there's hate is too heavy a burden to bear. and that for me was always the way forward. whenever he talked about love. and peace every day every day with his colleagues on the floor. i mean he did not hesitate to talk about love and peace when someone would ask, you know about my children. how would i what do i tell my children? love is the way. peace. those are the things he talked
over and over again and and they were words powerful enough that you had an opportunity to look at him and see the example. on really what they meant and how you get there. and he could say them and mean them because he'd done them exactly. linda anything you'd add there. i don't think i could i don't think i could add anything to that. i think that's that's exactly right. a couple of questions that are sort of related to to where we are today again. jane is curious about how the congressman would have felt about the current activism of powerful black women like stacey abrams and alicia garza, which leads me to wonder who are the the people that in addition to john when he showed up on television who were the people that congressman lewis was excited about listening to right? who did he perk up around?
who did he say? oh that person there's na i understand there were probably many of them because he was so generous, but are there particular people who? he would point us to. i don't know if there would be i don't know if they're particular people, but i know that he would be excited about people who were courageous. who were creative who were determined? he looked. beneath the surface and i know to lynda's point pointing out individuals would not be the right thing to do, but there were so many people that he believed in and and their leadership and what they stood for. so he was would you say would you all say that he was pleased with some of the young new leadership that was coming up in in this country and that he felt good about it. yeah, many people would try to
you know, ask him. who is the new leader? who is the new john lewis? who was the new martin luther king and he i he would clearly say there's not just one. there are so many young people that are talented and active and he just wanted to see people get in the way. and getting good trouble causing make sure you know that they were being respectful and mindful and understanding history. that was key. you know, i think for young people the one thing he would tell he always used to tell people when he would travel. you got to know your history. you have to go back. you know, he would talk about eyes in the prize. you know learn the lessons of the civil rights movement understand how we did it. we just didn't show up one day, you know, we didn't and so you got to understand your history. in order to go forward another thing he would say is to be authentic as he was so. the you again, i go back to those core values know what they are stick to them.
but when you are authentic you are able to make people comfortable. and even if they don't agree with you. they're going to respect you because they know where you're coming from. that's what the position that you've always taken. it makes sense. it is aligned with your core values. so even if i don't like what you have to say, i'm going to respect you and i'm going to trust you and that gets you a long way as a leader. but that's a good rap on the questions that we have coming in. so dean, i don't know if you want to invite final thoughts or if you have another plan for how we wrap that there's a really extraordinary conversation. well, i'm just so grateful for all of you for joining us for this conversation, and we're scratch the surface of so many other things we could talk about, but i think i think we've had some some guns some good
work here tonight. do you all have anything? how about a last word for meet you something that you might want to share or send us off with? watch too quickly. i have two biographical tricks only two and so i shouldn't give them both away i guess but one is to ask someone what their first memory is, which we talked about his mother's garden the other is what do you dream about? and again, this was late. this was june and he said i dream about the marches. and i jumped in and said do you dream about the violence? you know does jim clark does bull connor? he said no and i could tell he was thinking about it. i'm an unpaid therapist as well. so that's part of that's part of what happens. and he said i i dream about. the moving feet i hear the feet. and i hear the songs. and i see the light. it's always sunny.
and then i'll wake up and i'll think. oh, that's just a dream. but we have to all work so that it's not just a dream. okay. anything you all would like to send us out with i think that's a great thing. yeah. that's john lewis, of course as ever closing it out. i remember that. well, i think i'd just like to say to end with that. one of the things that's most gratifying for me as a christian and as a clergyman. is to see a politician. who served for so many years? who was yet? so deeply committed to his faith. and that that faith was so authentically genuine, you know. and that here you both talk about and to make it was so clear in the book that he i
think the bravest thing he did. was to hold on to this idea of love. for his entire life that love was the way that peace was the way. and that he took to cling to that through the ups and the downs the good and the bad that takes immense bravery. it seems to me. that's why i was so curious to know if he ever got jaded if you ever you know, because it's it's an amazing thing. and that's one of the great lessons that i'm taking from his life. is that he was not only willing to walk that way of love but to cling to it from the day he stepped out into the public world to the day he died and i give god. thanks for that life. and i give god thanks for all of you for joining us this evening. thank you for being with us and thank you for your questions and
god bless all of you now. may we go from this place? and from this time to find rest and recreation that we might rise to serve our lord again tomorrow. so god bless and keep you. thank you. here the inspector general of the us capitol police, michael bolton discusses recommendations to improve the capital police
force and accountability for the capital police board in testimony before the house administration. weeknights this month. we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span 3 wednesday night. we look back to the korean war university of north carolina chapel hill professor. joseph glatthaar teaches a class about the korean war general douglas macarthur's removal from command by president harry truman and civilian military relations. this program is from american history tv's lectures in history series, which takes viewers into college classrooms around the country watch wednesday beginning at 8pm eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span 3 before
thurgood marshall was on the nation's highest court. he was a civil rights attorney next spencer crew interim director of the national museum of african-american history and culture on the life of former supreme court justice marshall when he was an naacp lawyer. he's joined by legal historian paul. finkelman. the national museum of african-american history and culture hosted the event hi everybody. good evening. my name is deirdre cross director of public programs at the national museum of african-american history and culture and it's my pleasure to welcome all of you to this wonderful program and to introduce you introduce this evening speakers in our discussion entitled historically speaking thurgood marshall. a life in american history an evening with spencer