BURLINGTON, Vt. – Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) visited Vermont on Monday to discuss his graphic novel trilogy “March,” which centers around his perspective during the Civil Rights Movement.
Lewis has been an icon in the movement for over 50 years, and was inspired by the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He first heard Dr. King on an Alabama radio station in 1955, and credits his words and Rosa Park’s actions for inspiring him to “find a way to get in the way.”
“I’ve been getting in trouble ever since,” Lewis said. “My philosophy is very simple. When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to say something. To do something.”
Lewis was arrested many times throughout the 1960s for his involvement in nonviolent protests. In 1961, he participated in the Freedom Rides, which fought segregation on buses throughout the South. He was named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1963. He led 600 protestors over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. 17 were injured, and Lewis’ skull was fractured by a police officer. Before going to a local hospital, he gave a television interview.
“They asked me to say something, and I said ‘I don’t understand how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam, but he cannot send troops to Selma, Alabama to protect people whose only desire is to register to vote.”
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced Lewis at the Flynn Theater on Monday, and reflected on his dedication to activism.
“He did not descend into bitterness after those beatings,” Leahy said. “No matter how many times he was knocked down, he came back up, he came away with an undimmed faith, hope, grace and vision.”
Lewis said his wants to speak with young people during his stay in Vermont, and on Tuesday, a large group of students from the region will hear his remarks. He closed out Monday’s event with a message that echoed his life in activism.
“We all must find a way to save our country, save democracy, save our children, and create a beloved community, a beloved world,” Lewis said.
The event was hosted by the Vermont Humanities Council and the Flynn Theater.