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Wed Jul 22, 2020, 05:20 PM

Honoring John Lewis's voting rights legacy

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.)

The country lost a hero, our civil rights movements lost an icon, and I lost a very special friend on July 17. I first met John Robert Lewis in October 1960, nearly 60 years ago; we were at an organizing meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Since that weekend, our lives intersected several times in our "pursuit of a more perfect Union."

We eventually reunited more than 27 years ago as members of the U.S. House of Representatives, which was made possible by the foundations we laid - John as a community organizer at the Southern Regional Council and director of the Voter Education Project (VEP) in Atlanta, Ga., and I as director of two community development projects and chair of the VEP in Charleston, S.C.

I have been asked often in the past week about my dear friend's legacy. It is true that John was one of the most visible and vocal allies in Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent civil rights activities of the 1960s. Many of us adopted nonviolence as a tactic, but John internalized the concept and it became his way of life. He was the personification of the collective activism of that era.

It gives me pause when I hear people refer to the student activities of the 1960s as THE civil rights movement. There have always been civil rights movements. They are inevitable when and wherever we find people marginalized or being treated as "less than." The uprising of Denmark Vesey, the Stono Rebellion and the Niagara Movement are just a few civil rights movements that come to mind. In every one of them there was at least one who seemed to stand head and shoulders above all others. And so it was with those of us who participated in various iterations of the 1960s civil rights activities.



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