“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird 1960
Other quotes may be about walking in a man’s shoes or his moccasins. Regardless, we do not understand why people say what they do or act a certain way until we have some understanding of where he is coming from or his experiences in his life’s story.
I found this true recently when I heard that Representative John Robert Lewis and others would boycott the swearing in of our new President of the United States. Under our Rights as a nation, which I wrote about in my last blog, these people have every right to do so. Peaceful protest is welcome in our nation…note the word is “PEACEFUL.” I believe that it is in North Korea, as in other dictatorships, that the people are ordered to assemble to show approval of their leader. Not doing so is definitely not an option. No one is forced to attend the inauguration.
All of this led me to do some research on Representative Lewis of Georgia. Where had he walked in his past? Many may not agree with his political views or his decision to not be a part of a peaceful swearing in of a new President, elected by the people of the United States. Nevertheless, where his “shoes” have walked may help us understand him. I point this out because we all need to see people more carefully from their viewpoint.
Here are some historical facts about John Robert Lewis:
- Lewis was born in racially segregated Troy, Alabama on February 21, 1940, and was one of ten children.
- The Lewis children were raised in a religious atmosphere and as he saw discrimination, his parents tried to keep him from becoming involved.
- While listening to the radio, he heard Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, who inspired him…even thinking that he may also be called to go into the Christian ministry.
- Lewis was only a teenager when he heard about the bus boycott being led by King, Abernathy and members of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), as well as sit-in protests of restaurants where African Americans were not allowed or made to ride in the rear of the buses.
- He was inspired to be a part of the protests, but first decided to get an education. He enrolled in the American Baptist Seminary and at Fisk University in Nashville, whose student bodies were primarily African American.
- Lewis later joined the demonstrations, knowing that he was heading into uncharted territory and danger. The federal Civil Rights Act was not passed until four years later in 1964, but Lewis had already been jailed and beaten many times. He also suffered a fractured skull.
- August 28, 1963, March on Washington, 250,000 African Americans and white people staged a peaceful march for equal opportunities. Lewis became director of Voter Education Project (VEP). From 1970 through 1977, Lewis organized southern African American voters. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Lewis to be director of US operations for ACTION, a federal agency for economic recovery programs at the community level.
- Later, Lewis became part of the Atlanta City Council and was eventually elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
- His passion for Civil Rights has led him to say, “Do not give up, do not give out, and do not give in. We must hold on and we must not get lost in a sea of despair.”
(Taken from Encyclopedia of World Biography)
CONCLUSION: (On the week before the swearing in of the new President of the United States…2017)
Of course, John Robert Lewis will not give up, in 2017, his life-long walk of protest and boycott. It is where his shoes have walked and his “moccasins” fit comfortably there. He has breathed dissent for all these decades. He would feel he had let down all those who walked with him in the past and the protesters of the future.
Sometimes, we must understand, people have difficulty not living in the past because of what they have lived and suffered speaks so loudly. The loudness of this experience, when facing the future, may drown out the very objective of those who marched…to judge ALL men and women “by their character”…thus bringing racial harmony. Even after Americans of all races voted in twice the first African American President, racial divide and discontent is exacerbated by those who cannot move on. I think I am beginning to understand what fuels the fires of distrust and opposition…it is one’s own experience. Perhaps our new, incoming President should keep “moccasins” in mind before he tweets out his rebuttals to his opponents.