John Lewis on His Graphic Novel Memoir

>>CONGRESSMAN LEWIS: We wanted to make it plain, clear, and simple. For another generation to understand not just my story, but the story of a long and ongoing struggle to bring about justice in America. To make America better for young children, but also for teachers and another generation. To feel what happened and how it happened in the long struggle to redeem the soul of America. As I talk and meet with young people, many young people are shocked when they hear about certain campaigns in the movement. Hear about certain incidents. Many young people know very, very little. They recognize Martin Luther King Jr. They may remember hearing about Emmett Till or Rosa Parks. But they know very little about the ongoing struggle to bring about justice for all Americans, and sometimes I’m really, really shocked. And I’ve said to young people, even in a city like Atlanta who have never visited the Martin Luther King Center, who have never traveled to Birmingham or to Montgomery or to Selma, I’ve said, “Why don’t you go on a field trip? Go to Montgomery. Go to Birmingham. Go to Selma. Go to Mississippi. ” And it is almost unreal– almost unbelievable. And these young people, these students, they want to know. They want information. They need to know so we will not repeat the dark past. My advice to young activists and to all young people: if you see something that is not right, that is not fair, and not just, you have to speak up. You have to speak out. You have to find a way to get in the way. And I was told over and over again by my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, and others: “Don’t get in trouble.” But I got in trouble. If young people during the ’50s and the ’60s hadn’t been willing to stand up and get in good trouble– necessary trouble– as a nation and as a people, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I saw children in Selma in ’63 and ’64 and ’65 carrying signs saying: “Let my teacher register to vote.” And: “I’m not old enough to vote, but my teacher is.” The children were helping to lead a movement. In Birmingham, there was a children’s crusade. In Selma, it was the little children getting arrested and going to jail. And to help inspire, the teachers– they get involved. And one day in Selma, it was a teacher’s march. All of the teachers just marched out of their classrooms down to the courthouse to attempt to get registered to vote. Young people, other teachers, and all America need to know that story. We were sitting down at a lunch counter at a Woolworth’s store, and the local police officer came by and said, “You must move. If you refuse to move, you will be placed under arrest.” I stayed anchored on that stool until they hold me under my arms and led me out of the store to a wagon to be taken off to jail. I felt free. I felt liberated. I felt like I had crossed over. I was not afraid. I had lost all sense of fear. Education is a civil rights issue. Every child, every person, but every young child has a right to the best possible education. And young people have to stand up and fight for it, not just their teachers, not just their parents, but children must demand a good education.

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