East Bay News

Civil rights icon shares life lessons

Friday, April 20, 2012

One of the pioneers of the civil rights movement talked to students in the East Bay Friday and weighed in on the Trayvon Martin case.

Congressman John Lewis of Georgia marched with Martin Luther King and was a Freedom Rider before he became chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

He spoke at Emerville High School, beginning by telling the students where he came from and how far the country has come. As a child, Lewis wasn't allowed in the town library. He couldn't eat at the lunch counter and his parents told him that's just the way it is.

But in 1955 he heard of Rosa Parks and the words of Martin Luther King, and by 1963 he was one of the keynote speakers in the March on Washington. Now he's the last living speaker who was on stage the day King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

"My mother and father, my grandparents and great grandparents said don't get in trouble, don't get in the way but I was inspired to get in trouble, to get in the way -- good trouble, necessary trouble," Lewis said.

He challenged the students to get involved and to organize against violence and injustice, and he said the killing of Trayvon Martin reminds him of the lynchings of his childhood.

"We need to talk about it. In America I think too many people are afraid to talk about it. They want to sweep it under the rug or in some dark corner, but we need to meet it face on. If not, it will continue to spread," he said.

After his talk at the high school, Congressman Lewis met with students from the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center.

"In the civil rights movement, young people, children in elementary school, middle school, high school, college -- got out there and led the way."

He told the students that now it's their turn and to get involved in politics and vote. If you're too young to vote, go out and canvas your neighbors to get them to vote, he said.

His story is a vivid reminder that too many sacrificed too much to have those votes be silenced by indifference.

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Tags:
civil rights, trayvon martin, east bay news, mark matthews
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