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Most Americans alive today were either not yet born or were small children when the civil rights movement took place. Congressman John Lewis was a student leader of the movement. He, along with Martin Luther King Jr. and others, risked their lives many times over to fight for equality for all races. To help younger generations better understand that critical period in American history, Congressman Lewis and a young co-author have embarked on a trilogy of graphic novels. They join us to talk about the trilogy and what they hope to accomplish.
Excerpted from “March: Book Two” by Rep. John Lewis,Reprinted with permission from Top Shelf Productions. All Rights Reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. As a young man, Congressman John Lewis became a leader in the civil rights movement. At age 23, Lewis was an architect of the march on Washington where Martin Luther King made his "I Have A Dream" speech. Lewis, himself, was one of the keynote speakers. To commemorate the era and perhaps inspire a new generation of social justice activists, Lewis and a young historian have retold the story in graphic novel form.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the second book in the "March" trilogy, Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. I do invite you, as always, to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to both of you.
REP. JOHN LEWISWell, thank you very much. We're delighted and very, very pleased to be here. Thank you so much for having us.
MR. ANDREW AYDINIt is a true honor and I can't thank you enough.
REHMThank you so much. Congressman Lewis, talk about how this project came about.
LEWISWell, I must tell you, Andrew Aydin, my co-author, came to me at the end of my '08 campaign. He had been serving as my communication person. And it was a discussion going on, people saying, what are you going to do? The campaign is all over. And some people were saying this and that, I'm going here I'm going there and Andrew's saying I'm going to a comic book convention, a conference. And people started laughing, just laughing.
LEWISAnd I said, you shouldn't laugh. I remember there was another comic book called "Martin Luther King, Jr. And The Montgomery Story," and that book inspired me to get involved in the civil rights movement. And so later, Andrew came to me and said, Congressman, you should write a comic book. You, too, should write a comic book. I said, oh, no. And then, he kept coming back over and over again. And I said, yes, if you do it with me.
REHMI have that first comic book right here in front of me. You know, it brings back such memories. It's got the price on it of ten cents. "Martin Luther King And The Montgomery Story," December 5, 1955, walk to freedom, December 21, 1956, Victory for justice. Andrew, talk about your own thinking in these lines.
AYDINWell, the comic book, "Martin Luther King And The Montgomery Story," served as a primer for so many individuals who were trying to understand how they could use non violence to affect social change. Later, I did my graduate research on this comic book and found out that Dr. Martin Luther King himself has edited the script, something I had never imagined, you know, Dr. King pouring over a comic book script at his desk in 1957. But it was used by Dr. King and Jim Lawson and A. Philip Randolph and others to help inspire some of the earliest acts of civil disobedience of the civil rights movement.
AYDINAnd then, it went on to be translated into other languages. It was used in South Africa. It was banned there for being incendiary by the South African government and then it went on, most recently, to be used in Tahrir Square in 2011 to help educate the activist there how to properly use non violence.
REHMA comic book.
REHMIsn't that extraordinary. And then, Congressman Lewis, when "March: Book One" came out, you must have been surprised by the reaction.
LEWISI couldn't believe the reaction that we received all over America. People started reading the book, making telephone calls, writing notes and letters. Students, we'd go into a book signing here and there and you'll see these young people getting the book, taking it to a desk and start reading. It's amazing, the reaction of the book. As a matter of fact, it's been translated in French and several other organizations and groups are considering translating the book.
REHMIt was a New York Times bestseller, received a 2014 American Library Association Award, Coretta Scott King Book Award, an ALA Notable Children's Book designation, which I find interesting, and was one of the Young Adult Library Services Association 2014 Top Ten Graphic Novels for teens in 2014. I think that's extraordinary because what it says is young people really want to understand how all this happened, Andrew.
AYDINAbsolutely. I think this generation is hungry to understand how they can deal with many of the frustrations they see in our society today and I think they want to know how it was done by another generation. Part of what I think made "Book One" and now "Book Two" so successful is the Congressman's story is one of a young person growing up poor in rural Alabama with everything stacked against him.
AYDINAnd through perseverance, hard work and self discipline and a profound belief in the philosophy and discipline of non violence, being able to rise above that and challenge not just the status quo, but governors and presidents. And I think another important part of this book is the unbelievable art of Nate Powell.
REHMI was about to ask you about Nate Powell.
AYDINNate is, I believe, going to be known as one of the greatest artists of this generation. He has a spectacular talent for developing a storyline visually that compliments the Congressman's words and deeds and brings a kinetic activism to the page that instills a sense of inspiration in any reader.
REHMHow did you find Nate Powell, Congressman Lewis?
LEWISWell, our publisher, Top Shelf, located Nate Powell. And this young man was born in Arkansas. He lived in Mississippi and Alabama. He's now living in Indiana. He has the ability to make the words sing, make the words jump off the pages. When I would go to Dr. Martin Luther King's church and hear him preach, his father would be there and his father would say, make it plain, son, make it plain. So Nate Powell is making it plain.
LEWISAnd sometimes I feel like just crying when I see the artwork of his. Sometimes we'd be doing a book signing, Nate would be signing first, Andrew next and then I would be signing. And by the time the book get to me, Nate would draw a chicken.
REHMOh, I love it.
LEWISAnd it would make me laugh because Nate knows the story and knows it so well, when I was a little boy, I used to preach to a chicken. I used to talk to the chickens.
REHMTalk about that story, the chickens, Congressman Lewis.
LEWISWell, growing up there, it was my responsibility to care for the chickens and I fell in love with raising chickens. I used to talk to the chickens with the help of my brothers and sisters and cousins because I wanted to be a minister. We would gather all of our chickens together in the chicken house, in the chicken yard, and my brothers and sisters and cousin would line the outside of the chicken yard, but they would help make up the audience, the congregation.
LEWISAnd I would start speaking or preaching and when I look back on it, the chicken would bow their heads, some of them would shake their head. They never quite said amen, but some of those chickens that I preached to during the '40s and the '50s tended to listen to me much better than some of my colleagues listen to me today in the Congress.
LEWISAnd some of those chickens was just a little bit more productive.
REHMAnd now, what happened when your parents started using those chickens in a somewhat different way?
LEWISWell, I would protest. It was my first non violent protest. I wouldn’t speak to them for a day or so and I wouldn't eat any of the chicken.
REHMIt's really something. And you, Andrew, going back to the first time you met Congressman Lewis, you were a very young man.
AYDINI was just a kid. I...
REHMWhat, 3 or 5 or what?
AYDINYeah. He's been my congressman since I was 3. I couldn't have been more than 4 or 5 the first time I met him. I grew up in Atlanta. I was born in Atlanta. He was a hero to -- and he still is a hero to everyone there. And, you know, I'll never forget going to the King Center when I was in kindergarten. My mom dug out a picture of me with my kindergarten class in front of the sign there right after the Congressman and I went back to the King Center and did a book signing.
AYDINAnd she had a little tear in her eye, because it was sort of all that hard work of hers.
REHMReally. Absolutely coming full circle. But the idea of entering into this project with him, I mean, that's a huge commitment.
AYDINWell, I think I was young enough where I didn't know any better. I didn't know enough to be scared or intimidated at the magnitude of what we were trying to do, but that's what's so wonderful about being that age. I idolize what the Congressman has done, but more than anything, having gotten to know him, his spirit is something that I wish we could capture and show to every single person in this country because to have the hope and optimism that he has, having been through what he has been through, if everyone could hold onto that and embark on a journey that infused that into their lives, we would be a better place.
REHMAndrew Aydin and Congressman John Lewis, we're talking about their graphic novel just out, "March: Book Two." I also have in front of me, "March: Book One." Stay with us.
REHMIf you're just joining us, here in the studio with me, Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. And they are co-authors of "March: Book Two," and "March: Book One." Both books illustrated by Nate Powell. They are the story of the Civil Rights Movement. And "Book Two," Congressman Lewis, focuses on the Freedom Rides. Remind us of that campaign.
LEWISWell, in 1961, when I was 21 years old -- the same year that President Barack Obama was born -- black people and white people couldn't board a Greyhound bus together, a Trailways bus together, in Washington, D.C., and travel through Virginia, through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. We were on our way to New Orleans to test a decision of the United States Supreme Court. It was my first time coming to Washington. We spent three days going through an orientation, seven African-Americans and six white Americans.
LEWISI remember so well, Diane, I remember so well, just like it was yesterday. The night of May 3, we went to a Chinese restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C., to have dinner. And someone said, you should eat well because this may be like the Last Supper. I never had Chinese food before. It was a wonderful meal. The next morning, we got up. Some boarded a Greyhound bus, some boarded a Trailways bus. And the first major incident occurred in a little town called Rock Hill, S.C., about 35 miles from Charlotte, N.C. My white seat mate, the two of us tried to enter a so-called white waiting room, where it was marked, white waiting, and a group of Klans-people attacked us and beat us and left us lying in a pool of blood.
LEWISThe local police officials came up and wanted to know whether we wanted to press charges. We said, no, we come with peace, with love and nonviolence. Several years later, to be fact sure, one of the guys that beat me and beat my seat mate came to my office in Washington in February '09 and said, Mr. Lewis, I'm one of the people that beat you. His son had been encouraging his father to seek out the people that they wronged. His son was in his 40s, he was in his 70s. He said, will you forgive me?
LEWISI want to apologize. And I said, I forgive you. I accept your apology. His son started crying, he started crying. They hugged me. I hugged them back and I started crying.
REHMI want to go back to that orientation. Because I think that's extremely important here. And, Andrew, maybe you want to chime in. But I'd like to understand exactly what that orientation involved: what you were told, what you could expect, and how you were instructed to react.
LEWISWe were told what could happen, that we could be beaten. We could be arrested. We could be jailed. We could be seriously hurt. Or we could die, we could be murdered. Well we were taught to adhere to the philosophy and to the discipline of nonviolence. We were taught to look straight ahead. If were sitting in at a counter in a little restaurant or in a waiting room, be peaceful and orderly and never, ever show any sign of fear or show any bitterness or any sign of hate, and become like one family. And that's what we did.
REHMAnd yet "March: Book Two," Andrew, is really filled with much more violence than, say, "March: Book One."
AYDIN"Book One" was an introduction to John Lewis. And it was an introduction to the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. What the students in Nashville faced was violent but paled in comparison to what the Freedom Riders, what the folks in Birmingham faced, as we show it in "Book Two." I think what is important about what we show in "Book Two" is that it's very similar to what so many activists are going through right this moment. Going into these workshops, trying to understand what their legal rights are, trying to understand the dangers that they face simply from making their voice hear, which may be in opposition to the status quo.
AYDINAnd for too long, publishing has in some ways ignored these folks who maybe aren't mainstream, who may be a little maladjusted. And this is an opportunity to show these young people that there is a hero that exists, who is real, who has been through this, who has survived and who's made a difference.
REHMHow difficult was it for you, Congressman Lewis, to maintain that aura of, I will not react?
LEWISWell, by the time of the Freedom Rides, I had accepted the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence as a way of life, as a way of living. I came to the conclusion that I had to respect the dignity and worth of every human being. And not anything was going to make me dislike or hate someone because of what they might do to me. And that's the way I've lived since my early involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, as a student in Nashville. So you get beaten, you get arrested. You're left bloody, unconscious. But you never give up, you never give in. You keep the faith and you keep your eyes on the prize.
REHMYour relationship with your parents suffered during that period.
LEWISOh, during that period I felt like I had lost my mother and my father.
LEWISThey didn't understand what I was all about. They thought I had lost my mind. They said, we sent you to school to get an education. And now you're getting involved in that mess, my mother would say. You're going to get hurt, you're going to get killed. We're going to lose the farm, we're going to lose the land.
REHMBecause they felt the power of outside forces coming against them, because of your actions?
LEWISOh, yes. My mother and father felt very strongly that something could happen not just to me, but could happen to them and to my sisters and to my brothers.
REHMSo what happened during that period? You simply were out of contact with them.
LEWISWell, for a long time, we were sort of separated. As a student, I was in Nashville. They were many miles away in Alabama. And I would write letters and they would write a letter, my mother would, urging me to stop, that something was going to happen to me. She really thought that I was going to lose my life.
REHMAnd you spent your 21st birthday, February 21, 1961, in jail.
LEWISI was in jail. I was in jail in Nashville, Tenn., when I became 21 years old. And the first time I got arrested, I tell you, I have not looked back since. Being arrested the first time, I felt free, I felt liberated. Because people had used jail as a threat that you would stop, you would get out of this mess, you'd get out of this movement. But it made me more determined.
REHMHow were you treated while you were in jail?
LEWISWell, from time to time, we were treated well. But when we went on the Freedom Ride and were arrested and jailed in Jackson, Miss., but we filled the city jail, filled the county jail, and later we were taken into the state penitentiary at Parchman. And there was hundreds of us, almost four hundred young people and people not so young. There were ministers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, college professors, black, white, Asian-American, Latinos, came from all over America and went to jail. And we'd be arrested together. We'd get there. They'd separate us on the basis of race, put all of the white men, all of the black men in a particular bullpen. And they treated us like we were animals in a cage.
LEWISYou walking against there, sing your freedom songs now. We have ends here. They're going to eat you up, they're going to beat you up. Then, you didn't have any clothing on there. We had to strip naked. And then they told us to take a shower. And while you were taking your shower, they have a rifle, a shotgun drawn on you. And if you had any facial hair -- a mustache, a beard -- you had to cut it off. And then, in twos, you were asked to go into your cell, after finishing the shower. And they gave us a pair of Mississippi State Penitentiary shorts and a shirt. And you can only take one shower a week. You can only attempt to write one letter a week. You couldn't have any books. The only books you could have was the "Bible."
LEWISAnd a group came from the Salvation Army and brought us the "New Testament" and "Psalms," "The Book of Psalms."
REHMAnd what about food?
LEWISThe food was not the best. It was not the best. I tried to learn to drink coffee, but I couldn't take it. It was not the best. It was on a tin tray. And it would be syrup and biscuits, and the syrup was so bitter. I don't think we had grits. But somehow and some way, we survived. I was there for 44 days.
REHMForty-four days. And then somehow all of you were released simultaneously?
LEWISWe all were released. We all tried to get out within 44 days in order to appeal our cases.
REHMBecause that was the limit when you could appeal?
LEWISWell, we paid -- we had to pay $250 or serve 60 days. And we all got out within 40 days -- 44 days.
REHMAnd then you appealed your cases?
LEWISWe did. And finally the State of Mississippi dropped all of the charges against us. And the signs that said, white waiting, colored waiting, white men, colored men, white women, colored women came tumbling down on November 1, 1961, when Bobby Kennedy and President Kennedy got involved with the Interstate Commerce Commission.
REHMCongressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, along with Nate Powell, they have produced "Book Two" of "March." "Book One" came out last year. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Andrew, I know that Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin are prominent in "Book Two." Tell us about them and whether you feel as though, up to now, they haven't gotten the credit that they deserve.
AYDINA. Philip Randolph was an unbelievable leader, who in any other day could have been president. In 1941, he actually stared down FDR, threatened to march on Washington if he didn't integrate the military industrial complex and FDR gave in. He was an unbelievable leader. And Bayard Rustin was his lieutenant. When the organizers of the March on Washington met to decide who would be the chair, a few of the leaders did not want Bayard to lead it because he was gay and they thought that would be a liability.
AYDINBut Randolph, John Lewis, Martin Luther King, James Farmer, they came up with another plan. They would nominate Randolph to be the chair of the march and allow him to appoint Bayard his deputy so that Bayard could still do the organizing. Congressman Lewis calls people like this, doers. They have this incredible capacity to make things happen, with limited resources and nothing but ingenuity and the sweat on their brow. And I think history has tended to overlook some of these people. Bayard, I think, suffered an unbelievable disgrace at the hands of the United States Senate, when Strom Thurmond entered into the congressional record proof of his homosexuality, effectively outing him in front of the entire nation.
AYDINYou know, and that needs to be remembered. The sacrifice of some of these individuals whose names necessarily haven't been in lights. That's what I think "March" is about. "March" is about showing that there was an entire community of doers who did not do this on their own.
REHMAnd think, today, Congressman Lewis, about those couples in Alabama -- gay couples who would like to be married -- who have gone ahead with their marriage plans, despite judges in Alabama saying to others, you can't do this. And yet Supreme Court has, by virtue of allowing the initial judgment to stand that homosexuals could be married, they've gone ahead and done it.
LEWISWell, it's a shame and a disgrace, what is happening in Alabama today, my native state. It's almost like Wallace standing in a schoolhouse door. You cannot have equality and justice for some and not for all. Under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, it's not right, it's not fair and it's not just. And I believe that the Supreme Court is going to do what is right, going to make the decision that is seven states are already a line of people and Alabama is going to become a part of the 21st century and going to become what it should be.
LEWISYou know, in the State of Alabama and some of the other southern states, Dr. King was there to try to keep people who had been married to another race. And Dr. King used to say, racists don't marry -- racists don't fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married. And I said a long time ago, when I spoke out against the Defense of Marriage Act, that it's wrong, it's not right, it's not fair and it's not just.
REHMCongressman John Lewis. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, it's your turn. We'll open the phones.
REHMIf you've just joined us, Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin are here in the studio. They are co-authors of "March: Book One" and the just released, "March: Book Two" with the illustrations created for both these graphic novels by Nate Powell. Congressman Lewis represents Georgia's Fifth District. He's also the author of "Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of a Movement." Andrew Aydin is Digital Director and Policy Advisor to Congressman Lewis and a lecturer on the history of comics and the Civil Rights Movement.
REHMWe're going to open the phones. First to Matt in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi, you're on the air.
MATTGood morning, Mrs. Rehm, Congressman Lewis and Mr. Aydin.
MATTThank you so much for taking my call.
MATTMy name is Matt (word?) and I'm a 17-year old senior from Cincinnati, Ohio and I actually have a question for the Congressman.
MATTI'm also an African-American. I just wanted to add that in there. So, Congressman, in light of all that has transpired in the past couple of months regarding racial tensions in Ferguson, Cleveland and New York, in what direction do you think this country's heading regarding race relations in light of your experiences?
LEWISWell, thank you very much, Matt, for the question. I think, as a nation, and as a society, we're headed toward the creation of the beloved community. There may be some setbacks. There may be some disappointments. But as a nation, and as a people, we will get there. We will not turn back. We will create a society that will serve as a model for the rest of the world. We must lay down the burden of the vision and move as a people where no one is left out or left behind because of their race, their color or their nationality. We're one people, we're one family, we're one house. We all live in the American house.
REHMWhat do you believe needs to happen as far as police training transparency is concerned? For example, do you regard the addition of cameras for police to wear as something that you would be in favor of?
LEWISWell, I think it's important for police officials to be trained. We need to teach police officers and the larger community the way of peace, the way of love, the way of non-violence. And help us respect police officers, respect our young people and we need to bring young people and police officers together. A lot of police officers are studying the movement, they are studying the way of non-violence. They all should read "March." And no what happened in another period, in another time.
LEWISI seen occasion where police officers have come to understand the significance of non-violence. Non-violent training is good for police officers and it's good for our young people.
REHMAll right, let's go to Cleveland, Ohio. Norman, you're on the air.
NORMANHi, what a great show, and thank you so much, Ms. Rehm, for having this.
REHMMy honor, sir.
NORMANOh, it's my honor to be able to listen and to talk to you and to say hi to Mr. Lewis. Bayard Rustin, I was doing fundraising, I'm 68, and so we're almost, we're just about in the same generation. And I was doing fundraising for SNCC at NYU and in New York. And Bayard Rustin came, but he didn't talk. He sang. And you know what a wonderful voice he had? And it was just so wonderful. I want to ask Mr. Lewis, we were a very activist generation. We stopped a war. We integrated. And I'm wondering what your thoughts are on today's youth as opposed to the youth of our day.
LEWISWell, thank you very much. One reason for, during "March: Book One" and "Book Two," is to inspire another generation of young people to stand up, to speak up and to speak out.
REHMDo you think they are not doing that today?
LEWISWell, as a group, not enough enduring just that. People need to make some noise. When you see something that is not right, that is not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to find a way to get in the way. My mother and father used to tell me, don't get in the way. Don't get in trouble. But Dr. King and Rosa Parks inspired me to get in the way. And that's what I did. I got in good trouble, necessary trouble. And people read "March: Book One" and "Book Two," they will get out there and push and pull and help change America.
LEWISWe have to educate and we have to inspire. That's why I spend so much time speaking to young children. Middle school, elementary, high school, telling them, they too can make our world a better world.
AYDINWe've been on the road for almost two years now talking about what the National Student Movement did, what Snick did, and the dividends are already becoming apparent. We've received emails, phone calls, tweets from students all across the country who've read "March" and who've used the National Student Movement and SNCC to model their own organizations after. They look at police brutality, they look at voting rights, they look at student loans, these scourges that have placed a generation in a form of bondage. And their organizing around that.
AYDINThey're trying to make their voice heard through direct action. And what we've found, as we've released now "Book Two," which shows how the Civil Rights Movement went from being localized to being a national movement that took on the Attorney General, that took on the President. We're trying to show them a road map for how to do that too.
REHMLet's go to St. Louis, Missouri. Hi there, Gloria. You're on the air.
GLORIAGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
GLORIAMy question may be a little redundant, a little branching forward a little bit. I'm 76-years old and I was in on 1956 when the YWCA was first starting the desegregation movement. And we were being taught and indoctrinated in those days. And jump forward, my question is, what does the black community expect? What are their expectations at this point from the white community? We've been through all the Jim Crow things. My question is, you know, I'm in my home and I'm kind of cloistered, so to speak, but you're out there in the rest of the world, in the nation.
GLORIAIs the rest of the nation still not understanding? Are we still at the point of trying to get the word out of the history and what these people have been through? Is there no understanding? Are we still at that level? So, that's the basis of my question.
AYDINI think that this country has failed to adequately teach the Civil Rights Movement. If you look at the teaching tolerance report that's issued most recently, about a year and a half ago, and has been issued several times in the past, states across this country are not doing a good enough job. I think the most recent number was 47 states failed to adequately teach the Civil Rights Movement. And that's what we're trying to change. So far, we've got "March" in schools in more than 40 states.
AYDINYou've had freshmen reading programs at schools like Michigan State, Marquette University, Georgia State. Now we're going to have the University of Illinois and Henderson State and several others who are bringing this to freshmen. And if we can do a better job of educating young people on what happened, how it happened, and what they can do to make sure that this doesn't happen again, then maybe we can actually fix this for the long term. But this is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year. It's the struggle of a lifetime.
REHMBut does Ferguson, Missouri, indicate that somehow we've slipped backwards?
AYDINAbsolutely. I think when we look at Ferguson and we look at Eric Garner, we look at the situations happening all across this country, we have taken a step back, and it's our own fault. We became apathetic in some ways. I think that's why, you know, I say often that it is a deliberate and systematic effort of the people purporting to protect the status quo that we aren't teaching the Civil Rights Movement, we aren't empowering young people. Because it's the young people who are the most dangerous to the status quo.
REHMAnd Congressman Lewis, certainly, there have been setbacks. What's your view on the voting rights and the reaction in 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act?
LEWISWell, I must tell you, when that decision came down, I wanted to cry. But I couldn't cry. As you well know, people suffered and struggled for the Voting Rights Act. In my native state of Alabama, it was hard and difficult. In the state of Mississippi, and parts of Georgia and other parts of the South. 11 states of the old Confederacy. In some places, people had to pass so-called literacy test. Count the number of bubbles on a bar of soap, the number of jellybeans in a jar. And 50 years ago, next month, we were beaten, left bloody, almost died on that bridge in Selma.
LEWISAnd to see what the Supreme Court did, we got to fix it. And then the Congress, a group of us, Democrats and Republicans, we got to it and we got to do it on our watch.
AYDINWe have to ask ourselves what happened to the activist class that made the 60s so progressive? And I believe that has a great deal to do with student loans. We have put a burden on a generation that no other generation has had to endure. And it has created, essentially, a class of indentured servants who are forced to repay debt and who cannot pursue activism that springs from their education. Something that always struck me as deeply heartfelt and shocking at the same time was when the Congressman got married in 1968, the wedding announcement said, Lillian Myles to wed unemployed political activist John Lewis.
AYDINPeople who were ahead of their time pay a price. And what we've done with student loans is ensure that no one is even capable of paying that price. And then, we as a society, ultimately bear the brunt of that, because that activist class is what saves us from ourselves.
REHMThere is a caller here who would like to ask you about Governor Wallace. Jim in Mount Airy, Maryland, you're on the air.
JIMThank you. I'm so honored to speak to -- on "The Diane Rehm Show." Diane, I love your show.
JIMAnd I couldn't be more honored, excuse me, I couldn't be more honored than to speak to Congressman Lewis. I grew up in Pike County in Brundidge, Alabama. I'm sure he's familiar with that area. And I just want him to help me with my memory and my recollection, because I do think things get better. I do think people change, they get better. And specifically, George Wallace, he has been demonized by that stand in the schoolhouse door. But compare that to what happened in Mississippi. Compare that to what happened in Georgia handing out axe handles to beat people.
JIMCompare that to Arkansas. I mean, George Wallace made a calculated political decision, but did not he have a change of heart? Many of us have come through and had changes and believe that we now understand how the world should be better and people should be treated better. And thank goodness we've elected Barack Obama.
REHMJim, thank you so much for your call. Before you respond Congressman, let me just say you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Please comment on Governor Wallace.
LEWISWell, thank you very much. I grew up in rural Alabama. I grew up in Pike County. Attended school in Brundidge. You mentioned Brundidge. High School, Banks. We were bused passed the Pike Schools, were segregated, broken down buses. The used books, but I've had an opportunity to go back to the elementary school. Back to the Mills School. Back to the old high school, and one day last year, I visited four schools in Pike County and in Montgomery County. And I saw young black children and young white children studying together.
LEWISIn one school, they put on a play and they played me. One little boy was wearing something like a backpack. And another one was wearing a trench coat that I -- was similar to the one I walked across the bridge in Selma on March 7, 1965. Things are better. Things are much better in Alabama. I applied to go to Troy State College, not Troy University. And I never heard anything from the school. But they invited me back and they gave me an honorary degree.
REHMI knew you were gonna say that.
LEWISSo, things are better, but we still have a distance to go, not just in Alabama, but in Georgia, and all over our country.
REHMDo you believe that Governor George Wallace truly had a change of heart?
LEWISWell, I truly believe that Governor Wallace really didn't believe all of the stuff that he was preaching and saying. That he really was using the issue of race as a political football. And in the process, he did become a changed man and a different man. He asked people to forgive him.
REHMI also want to ask you very briefly about the movie, "Selma." And its portrayal of President, then President Lyndon Johnson.
LEWISPresident Johnson must be looked up on as one of the great Presidents. I remember the night on March 15th, 1965, he made one of the greatest speeches any American President had made on the question of voting rights, of Civil Rights. When he started that speech off that night by saying, I speak tonight for the dignity of man and for the destiny of democracy. He was responding to Selma. He introduced a Voting Rights Act and he concluded that speech by saying, and we shall overcome.
LEWISHe was the first American President to use the theme song of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King cried. I cried when we heard the President say those words.
REHMAnd you bookend "Book Two" with the election of President Obama. It's a beginning, but not an ending.
LEWISIt's not an ending. It's a significant step on a long journey, and we are not there yet. But we are on our way.
REHMSo much more to do. Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, together with Nate Powell as the illustrator, have created "March: Book Two" which has just come out. And last year, "March: Book One." Thank you both so much for being here.
LEWISThank you so much for having us.
REHMBeen my delight.
AYDINA true honor.
REHMThanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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