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The "Biggest Bell in US Politics" Keeps Ringing Courtesy of Charles Rangel and John Lewis


Hey, when emotions are high let’s at it a bit.

James Carville says, accurately, that with the Clinton’s provocation, “The biggest bell in American politics just got rung.”

Newsweek has the whole sordid aftermath.

The thing that interests me in the Newsweek piece above is the following from John Lewis:

Rep. John Lewis (Ga.), a prominent Clinton supporter, raised criticism of Obama to a new level. In an extensive interview, Lewis, a King lieutenant and icon of the civil rights movement, called Obama “a friend” but added: “He is no Martin Luther King Jr. I knew Martin Luther King. I knew Bobby Kennedy. I knew President Kennedy. You need more than speech-making. You need someone who is prepared to provide bold leadership.”

Aside from John’s unfortunate Lloyd Bentzen reprise, originally in reference to JFK, his dismissal of Obama prompts me to recall a time when John and I walked the same picket lines in front of H. G. Hill in Nashbille in 1961. And learned nonviolence together at the feet of James Lawson.

I was also attentive when John won his seat in Congress. And when he did not answer my email effort to restore some contact after all these years.

We had, after all, driven together out of Mississippi from Clarksdale during Mississippi Freedom Summer. But ad Bob Dylan suggests, things do change.

I have no objection to John Lewis evidently being for Hillary Clinton. It would presumably be the wise political choice. How much that choice reflects positive change I would question. But that is a civil discussion to which there are two sides.

What I strongly object to John Lewis throwing out emotional code words and assuming that it is all fair play.

I was also the person who was among the first in 1966 to see the necessity of RFK’s campaign against LBJ. I have archived correspondence to show that there was even in 1966 the glimmer that RFK would run. I shared with Gary Hart and probably you and many others those two months of hope in the spring of 1968 before the bullets flew in California.

I happen to be certain that if RFK were able to communicate with us today that he would not want to be named as you have named him in your dismissal of Barack Obama as a speech maker. Concede, John, that the vein that Barack Obama is tapping into is that very same vein of hope that existed back then.

Some of us have waited a very long time for that vein to be tapped and we do not take it lightly when people we marched with and admired use the memory of RFK to besmirch Barack Obama.

Sorry. Worry not. I am having a good day if 100 people come by here in a 24 hour period. I do this to maintain some sense of personal relevance, to myself, if no one else.

Still I do hope when the history of this crucial campaign is written that we will not have to examine the shards of a broken bowl which held hope and life.

And if this ever comes before your eyes, I hope you will take its vehemence as coming from someone who values the time we spent and the community we were part of. To the point of being unwilling to be silent when I feel one of its members has made a serious error with words.

john lewis
james carville

I am pasting here a piece I wrote sometime ago, unrevised and verbatim.

John Lewis and I Drive to Memphis in 1964

They have finally gotten around to arresting the Mississippi preacher accused of the 1964 murder of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.

The three murdered young men were part of Mississippi Freedom Summer — a large push for voter representation. They had trained up in Oxford, Ohio, and set out a little ahead of the others.

Schwerner wore a beard.

I thought that wearing a beard in 1964 in Mississippi was courting danger. And said so. Whether that was a factor I have no idea.

Later, after the murders, I went to Clarksdale, Mississippi, for a meeting to more or less re-motivate the participants. I had flown from Chicago to Memphis and rented a car for the drive into the Delta region.

After the meeting I offered John Lewis, now a Congressman but then the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a person with whom I had demonstrated in Nashville in the summer of 1961, a ride back to Memphis.

We were largely quiet as we sat side by side in daylight heading for the Tennessee border. To say we never thought of what had recently happened, and of the potential consequence of two civil rights workers — one white, one black — being seen together in an out-of-state car — would be false.

The silence broke as we entered Tennessee.

Palpable relief at being a few miles closer to relative safety.

The last time I was in Mississippi was with my friend and colleague Will Campbell. Will was riding along with a Waylon Jennings tour that I’d joined for a few days. Waylon was deep into drugs and Jessie Coulter, his wife, had asked Will to help keep Waylon straight.

Will and Jessie and I sat at a table in a big old restaurant in Jackson. Times had changed. Mississippi was no longer the foreboding place where — as I discovered on the campus of Ole Miss the night James Meredith enrolled — wearing a beard could get you shot dead in the dark: the source of my cautions in 1964.

For a little while, a stalwart and courageous group put life on the line to achieve a decent thing. Proving that it can be done.

Today the issues are more huge and less easy to grasp and confront. We have a responsibility to redefine the very values that we live by — turning courage into the courage to make peace and honor into the fortitude to live without the props of false patriotism.

How we will do this I do not know. But the time is coming when we will start to find out — all over again.

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One thought on “The "Biggest Bell in US Politics" Keeps Ringing Courtesy of Charles Rangel and John Lewis

  1. Pingback: Remembering James H. Robinson and Others | Stephen C. Rose

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