For about three weeks, I’ve been reading John Lewis’ book, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement.
John Lewis was the youngest of a group of Civil Rights’ leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who were at the time of the march on Washington in 1963 considered to be the Big Six of the Civil Rights Movement. His telling of the events of the Civil Rights Movement through his own experiences, from his young awakening to a desire for more freedom to diligently learning how to protest without violence, has had me captive for days.
So much of this time in history has been blurred together for me as I have learned about individual events. The story of the Little Rock Nine, the bombing in Alabama that killed four little girls, the bravery of Rosa Parks. I have read these stories or seen them acted out in movies. They are stirring and tragic and they have taught me of both the bitter hatred and the incredible courage that took place throughout the Civil Rights Era.
But reading John Lewis’ memoir has served to link all of these events chronologically for me. Seeing how one event would help inform the next one has helped me understand the movement as a whole in a way I did not before. Each chapter covers a major event and the season leading up to that event. So many small successes and failures gathered up courage and momentum for the bigger moments in our history as a nation. I was amazed at the kind of faithful plodding on it required to continue to return to jail over and over again. (John Lewis went to jail 40 times.) Or to stand day in and day out in a line, patiently waiting, not speaking but for the statement being made with your presence.
Patience. Being a part of this movement required a lot of patience.
And a lot of hope. A lot of faith. And a lot of love.
This famous picture of the march from Selma to Montgomery that took place on March 7, 1965 is a telling example of the kind of love it required to be a part of these nonviolent protests. John Lewis is the one kneeling on the ground being clubbed in the head by an Alabama policemen. He is not fighting back. He was finally knocked unconscious and later hospitalized for head injuries. This day was later termed Bloody Sunday. Just weeks later, this interrupted march took place again, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leading. Over five days and 50 miles, this march would be the event that finally got the Voting Rights Act passed. Over 50,000 people marched the last leg to Montgomery. Many of those people came to march from all over the country because they had seen this image and many others like it on March 7. It was like the nation awoke to this violence and rose up to respond that week.
This beautiful moment in our nation’s history, and so many others like it are told with honesty and grace in Walking with the Wind. The rising of hope with marches like these and the dashing of those hopes as promises were not kept did not deter John Lewis or many others from keeping up faith. His faith and the faith of many, many unsung heroes of this era, is so inspiring.
I loved reading his story, and with it the history of a movement like no other.