People For the American Way Foundation

Representative John Lewis: “There’s other bridges to walk across”

Just 11 days ago, on June 14, 2013, Representative John Lewis was honored as a 2013 Progressive Champion by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.

Representative Lewis offered an impassioned call to action:

We’ve come too far. We’ve made too much progress to stop now or to go back. But we must move forward.

After recalling the ultimate sacrifice made by his contemporaries from the Civil Rights Movement, Representative Lewis continued:

We must be prepared to fight the good fight. And never, ever give up.

He was specifically urging his audience to press on regardless of the Supreme Court’s imminent ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which we now know gutted the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 remains on the books and remains constitutionally valid, but without Section 4, no part of the country is actually covered by Section 5.

As Representative Lewis marks the 50th anniversary of his chairmanship of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), we cannot forget that this is a man who put his life on the line to get the VRA passed in the first place.

On March 7, 1965, what became known as Bloody Sunday, voting rights marchers were beaten in their attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Fifty-eight marchers were treated at a local hospital for their injuries, including then twenty-five-year-old Lewis. It was a tragedy that touched many, including members of what would later become the PFAW Foundation family.

Representative Lewis concluded his ACS remarks with a message to those of us who weren’t there that day in Selma:

You didn’t walk across the bridge, but there’s other bridges to walk across.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby is a setback, or as Representative Lewis put it to ABC’s Jeff Zeleny earlier today:

What the Supreme Court did was to put a dagger in the very heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But it’s also part of the voting rights bridge that we must continue fighting to get across.


ACS, Alabama, American Constitution Society, Bloody Sunday, disenfranchisement, John Lewis, John Roberts, Selma, Shelby County v. Holder, SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act, VRA