To remember John Lewis, remember the real John Lewis — and his righteous fight

Many Americans, when they remember the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, reflexively turn to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, quoting selective passages about content of character. But my sister Joan, who stood under a shaded tent that day, making signs with freedom slogans for out-of-towners to raise high, had a different answer when I asked for her thoughts. Not to take anything away from King, she told me, “It wasn’t just that speech. It was all the speeches.” And what impressed her teenage self most were the words of a man who was just 23, a few years older than she was.

On that day, John Lewis was already stirring up the “good trouble” he favored when he said: “To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!”

It was a speech that, in an early draft, was a tad fiery for some elders in the movement for equality and justice. Lewis did tone it down — but not enough to lose its urgency.

Some of the tributes to Lewis, who died last week at the age of 80, emphasized his generosity of spirit, evident in his ability to forgive and embrace those who beat him into unconsciousness. But the picture is incomplete without acknowledging the impatience, the fury to make it right, that saw him through more than three dozen arrests, five after he was elected to Congress. Just as those who would have been or probably were in that majority of Americans who considered King a rabble-rouser then and revere him now, many are all too eager to recast Lewis as a secular saint who just wanted everyone to get along.

Of course, they would. It would let them off the hook.

Tribute to John Lewis on Sree Sreenivasan’s call-in show

Coping with COVID-19, Sree Sreenivasan’s call-in show on WBAI in New York City: featuring a tribute to civil rights icon John Lewis

Mary C. Curtis: Confederate Monument Controversy

CHARLOTTE, NC — Over the last few weeks we’ve seen the removal of confederate monuments across the United States.

Here in North Carolina, the controversial “fame’ statue was removed from downtown Salisbury.

In Gaston county, a panel is having talks this week to decide the future of a confederate statue outside the courthouse.

Here’s WCCB Political contributor Mary C. Curtis with more on the debate.

Opinion: Did Everyone in the White House Take a Nap During History Class?

In forward-looking America, history is sometimes regarded as a roadblock to progress, a nuisance. And that, as has been repeatedly proven, is a mistake.

Why look back when the future is so important? Well, because failure to do exactly that has consequences.

The latest to get caught up in “he must have dozed through class that day” is White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has been criticized for his reading of the Civil War.

 

The GOP’s Civil Rights Amnesia

When the face of your opposition on any issue is John Lewis, you need to choose your words carefully: “Publicity stunt” probably should not be the go-to phrase.

Congressman Lewis, a Democrat representing Georgia, brings with him a moral gravity because of his courageous place in the country’s progress toward equality.

But it is very clear in the response of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan to the sit-in on the floor of the House over an impasse in gun control legislation that the Republican from Wisconsin is not a student of history – that of his esteemed and respected colleague, his country or his own party.

Ruby Dee, a graceful yet fierce theatrical and political trailblazer

She always looked so beautiful – a beauty that came from within, from knowing that even when silent you are fighting the good fight. Whether speaking at the March on Washington in 1963 or sharing a movie scene with Denzel Washington or a stage with James Earl Jones, Ruby Dee – small in stature but not influence – commanded attention. Just last weekend, Tony award-winner Audra McDonald called Dee’s name as she thanked “all the shoulders of the strong and brave and courageous women that I’m standing on.” She was not the only one who felt that way. On Thursday word came that Dee, 91, had died.

Yes, Greensboro Four pioneer Franklin McCain, you did plenty

CHARLOTTE — Franklin McCain never thought he was doing enough.

An icon of the civil rights movement, McCain was one of the Greensboro Four, college students who changed the world by sitting down at a whites-only lunch counter at F.W. Woolworth. Their simple request for service denied inspired many others in Greensboro, N.C., and across the country, where the “sit-in” spread.

But when I interviewed him 50 years after that Feb. 1, 1960, event, and asked the man who continued his activism throughout his life to grade himself, McCain thought for a bit before he said, “C-plus.” He continued: “I look at the all the situations I’ve been in and all the efforts I’ve been a part of, and I ask the questions, ‘Could I have done more? Could I have done it in less time? Could I have impacted more people?’ Each time I ask those questions, the answer is ‘yes, yes, yes.’ ”

McCain also gave advice to those who felt a little self satisfied: “Look around you. Do you see things that are not just? Do something about it.”

Franklin McCain died Thursday in Greensboro, his family has announced. While the world lost a civil rights champion, I lost someone who inspired me – not from a history book – but close up.

Celebrating Civil Rights Progress in Charlotte


 

 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, the Civil Rights Movement continues to resonate in Charlotte. Contributions of local legends like Franklin McCain, one of the original Greensboro Four who sat at Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, are still being celebrated along with King. Mary C. Curtis talks about how this history remains rich throughout the years and what it means for Charlotte today.

‘In the presence of justice’: remembering Julius Chambers

CHARLOTTE — Though his name may not be as well-known as other civil-rights champions, the soft-spoken Julius Chambers fought passionately and tirelessly and got results. At his funeral service in Charlotte on Thursday, mourners remembered him, what his legacy meant, and how they could best carry on his work.

As speakers, friends and those he touched traced his amazing journey, they also cautioned that the fight for equality is a constant struggle. As legislators in the state he especially loved and served rush to enact rules rolling back progress in voting and education funding, his life is a history lesson North Carolina and the country could use right about now.

Franklin McCain, 53 years after Greensboro sit-ins, sees parallels in current North Carolina rights battles

t’s been more than 53 years since Feb. 1, 1960, the day when Franklin McCain, David Richmond, Joseph McNeil and Ezell Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan) bought a few things from the F.W. Woolworth in Greensboro, N.C., sat down at the lunch counter, asked to be served and were refused because of their race. The actions of the four North Carolina A&T State University served as an inspiration, part of the sit-ins and civil rights efforts that changed the country.

The significance of that day has been honored and celebrated — with the International Civil Rights Center & Museum opening in the shell of that long-closed Greensboro Woolworth exactly 50 years later and a small section of the lunch counter on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. But in 2013, are the results of that historic youth-led challenge being rolled back in North Carolina, the state where it began?

Franklin McCain said he believes they are.

“Unconscionable,” he called the wave of conservative legislation pushed through this year by Republican super-majorities in the state House and Senate, with mostly support from GOP Gov. Pat McCrory. “I would love to sit here and be telling you today that we’ve conquered a whole lot of things,” he said in a recent conversation with theGrio in his Charlotte home. “It irritates me that things that we thought we solved 40, 50 years ago have raised their ugly heads again.”