Georgia Congressman John Lewis is an undisputed icon in the American Civil Rights movement, having been arrested more than 45 times for civil disobedience against segregation in the deep South.
On Thursday, he penned a “Note to Self,” on CBS This Morning, where the 77-year-old icon talks to his 16-year-old self about the travails he will experience in his “mission to help redeem the soul of America.”
He first spoke of his time in 1956 Georgia, when he went with some of his family to the public library to get library cards and found out that it was for “whites only.”
He later wrote to Dr. Martin Luther King (without telling his parents or teachers) and actually got a response, where King invited him to Montgomery, Ala. He then attended college at Fisk University in Tennessee where he participated in sit-ins:
“You’d be sitting there in an orderly, peaceful, non-violent fashion and someone would come up and spit on you, or put a cigarette out in your hair or down your back, pour hot water, hot coffee, hot chocolate on you,” Lewis says. “You got arrested the first time, and you felt so free. You felt liberated. You felt like you had crossed over,” he added.
“The Boy from Troy,” as King called Lewis, would then outline some of his highs of the movement, as well as some lows:
“Two years after you speak at the March on Washington, you will see the face of death leading the march for voting across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. You were beaten on that bridge. You were left bloody. You thought you were going to die. But you will make it. You will live to see your mother and father cast their first votes,” Lewis says.
Lewis, of course, was later elected to Congress, where he has remained since 1987.
And in one of his highest highs, he would go on to see the first Black president in the White House, Barack Hussein Obama.
“Guess what, young John? By some divine providence, as if to send a message down through the ages, that man will be nominated on the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington,” Lewis says. “And all of those signs that you saw as a little child that said, ‘White Men,’ ‘Colored Men,’ ‘White Women,’ ‘Colored Women’ – those signs are gone. And the only places you will see those signs today would be in a book, in a museum, or a video.”
Read the entire letter here.