John Lewis: The straw the broke the camels back.

John Robert Lewis. February 21st 1940 – July 17th 2020.

This is a different type of pressure, during those times it was very clear, There was no grey. It was clear black and white. Now, it’s much more difficult, really, It was easy to walk across the bridge in Selma

John Lewis on his decision to vote in favor of the 1994 crime bill

Rest In peace John Robert Lewis, February 21st 1940 – July 17th 2020. 

As far as Black Lives Matter. It is important to know that John Lewis sold out the dreams of Black American’s decades ago.

I often question history. For I assume it is wise to do so in order to determine truth for self.

I, as far as what I have been taught respect the life and sacrifice of Mr. John Lewis. History repeatedly tells us that he was a great man.

For his bravery shown while organizing sit-ins, demonstrations, speaking out against racial injustice and being one of the founding members of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), I salute him.

John Lewis, a Fisk University student was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders were groups of students who during the summer of 1961 participated in rides from Washington DC to New Orleans in integrated fashion at a time when some states still adhered to the laws of the old confederate which prohibited black and white riders from sitting next to each other.

The Freedom Ride, which had been revised by the Congress of Racial Equality was initiated to force the federal government to deem segregated interstate bus travel as unconstitutional.

John Lewis and his fellow freedom riders were said to have been beaten, chased by angry mobs and thrown in jail at times in attempting to earn civil rights.

By the time John Lewis had been elected chair of SNCC he had been arrested 24 times.

As the chairman of SNCC John Lewis organized Freedom Schools across Mississippi, organized the Freedom Summer and hosted get out to vote campaigns.

In 1963 John Lewis was named one of the “Big Six” leaders to help organize the march on Washington where Dr Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” was delivered. Lewis was the last to speak at the event as well as the last and longest living member of all the speakers of that event. He was 23 at the time.

John Lewis rose to national attention for his prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery marches otherwise known as “Bloody Sunday.” Lewis along with fellow activists and protestors lead a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Marchers were met with tear gas, chased by dogs and beaten with night sticks. John Lewis, whom was also beaten badly by storm troopers escaped to a nearby church just in time to speak with the news and television stations before heading to the hospital. Coincidence maybe?

In 1966 Lewis was voted down as chairman of SNCC and replaced by Stokely Carmicheal (Kwame Toure). Members of SNCC felt that John Lewis was out of touch with the organization and despite the organizations overall disappointment in the two party political system and wanting to form its own independent political party, Lewis opted to encourage locals and members to vote for the Democratic party. At that point, John Lewis, although being an American civil rights hero had sold out the African American peoples hopes of true liberation and independence. Sowing seeds for him to do so again later in his political career.

John Lewis eventually took a job in American politics first working for Jimmy Cater as the co director for Action, a volunteer program for retired seniors. He held that position for two and a half years up until the he ran and won an at large seat on the Atlanta City Council which her served until 1986.

Then-Atlanta city council member John Lewis speaks outside Atlanta City Hall on October 11,1982. (Floyd Edwin Jillson / AJC file)

Afterwards John Lewis went on to run against Julian Bond for a seat in the US House of Representatives. Lewis went on to pull an upset victory over Bond, whom was the choice candidate of the Black community at the time. Lewis’ victory caused riffs in the Black community throughout Atlanta. Atlanta Black community leaders did not endorse John Lewis.

Julian Bond, a charismatic figure of the 1960s civil rights movement, a lightning rod of the anti-Vietnam War campaign and a lifelong champion of equal rights, notably as chairman of the N.A.A.C.P..

As a matter of fact Lewis was endorsed by the newspaper and was considered the favorite candidate of the white liberal establishment. The newspapers at the time ran ads against Bond accusing him of cocaine usage and lying about his past civil rights activism. John Lewis went on to get elected 17 more times. A majority of those times unopposed.

In 1994, after an extraordinary amount of presidential pleading to the Congressional Black Caucus by President Bill Clinton. John Lewis, as well as two other Democratic Black Caucus members who formerly voted against the President’s $33 Billion dollar crime bill folded and succumbed to the will of the president. In coming to rescue of the presidency of Bill Clinton John Lewis along with the Congressional Black Caucus got little in return for the future of Black America. In fact, the Republican Party, lead by House GOP Newt Gingrich said that “the price for picking up Republican votes could be as high as $6 billion dollars in cuts from crime prevention programs which help the Black community!” 

At that moment, the Congressional Black Caucus which had 38 “House Democrats” was large enough to have power in affecting almost any bill that passed. Instead, in a moment in history that could forever change the future for Black America only 10 out of the 38 delegates voted against the 1994 crime bill. A bill which applied the death penalty to sixty more crimes than before, provided provisions for 100,000 more police officers with an additional $9.7 billion in funding for private prisons and $6.1 billion allocated for police officer designed crime prevention programs. A bill that set the stages for the issues faced today within the African American community and the nation at large.

This 356 page bill was originally written by Delaware Senator Joe Biden and with the help of John Lewis and the Congressional Black Caucus was passed by President Bill Clinton. John Lewis went on to state that the pressure to reverse his vote against President Clinton’s anti-crime bill was every bit as intense as leading marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. John Lewis’ decision to reverse his vote against the 1994 crime bill strongly went against his moral code of “non violence” due to the bills expansion of the federal death penalty. Lewis, speaking on his decision stated that “This is a different type of pressure, during those times it was very clear, There was no grey. It was clear black and white. Now, it’s much more difficult, really, It was easy to walk across the bridge in Selma.”

The struggle for civil rights of the African American people have always been a tale of two sides. Always only one side of the story is told. Historically the true Freedom fighters and liberators for Black Liberation never get recognition. Those who have died in the fight for their true un-compromised freedom. Those who took a firm stance against any wrongdoings to the Black community.

Instead the tale is told by the victors. Those who went on to to have careers in the very establishment that they fought against. Those that when given the opportunity to make real change for the Black community when in position chose to adopt moderate, neo liberal political policies that have adversely affected the overall improvement of the Black community over the course of the last 30 years. As the world continues to turn and the people continue to fight the uphill battle against militarized police forces in over policed communities. Thank John Lewis. The straw that broke the camels back.


Author: Armstrong Ransome

I break bread, ribs and hundred dollar bills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s