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Book review: Across that bridge: A vision for change and the future of America by John Lewis

John Lewis was a United States Congressman and Civil Rights Leader who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His book talks about his vision for change and how Americans can uplift one another to make a better community. He begins his story on the topic of faith and how faith can "make a way out of no way". John Lewis believed that if faith had meaning, its benefits should accrue not only after death, but it should have the capacity to answer the cries of humanity here and now. He was an advocate for the poor people's campaign and wanted to liberate African Americans from their current distraught situations. John said "Faith will be the lifeblood of all your activism, and it has the power to make a way out of no way. You may be in your darkest hour, it may be darker than ten thousand nights on your path to lasting change, but there is something in you that keeps you moving, feeling your way through the night until you can see a glimmer of light. That is the power of faith."

When you pray, move your feet. - African Proverb

Patience for the right to vote

In the 1960s, the civil rights movement started in the South and specifically in Alabama. John discusses the "grandfather clause" which stated that "anyone whose grandfather had the right to vote before the Civil war could continue to exercise that right without any impediment. But if a person's grandfather had not been eligible before the way, then he or she had to take a so-called "literacy test" in order to qualify to register to vote in federal elections."

The literacy test

The test comprised three parts. One portion was to write out a long technical passage of the Constitution either by copying the text or taking dictation from the registrar. Most black people were made to take dictation. The registrar noted any errors the applicant made in reproducing the text. The second part was to interpret the portion of the Constitution. The last section was a quiz on county and state law.

The literacy test was completely irrational for people to take to register to vote. In many cases, the copying of the constitution is graded for errors by another individual that deemed if the applicant makes any "mistakes" simply copying the text. The interpretation of the Constitution can vary from people that make their own decision to vote. The person should have the right to vote or determine the law in their own manner. The last section was to practically memorize the county and state laws to make a decision. These tactics in the literacy test were used to determine how a person would vote if they were accepted as an applicant. The number of people that were able to pay to take this literacy test and pass the test was very small. Although, there were many people that could vote by their age and citizenship according to the 15th amendment to the United States Consitution. Judges were on the council to determine if the applicant's literacy test passed and their decision could not be appealed or reversed.

The test even included irrational measures of counting the jelly beans in a jar or bubbles in a soap jar to frustrate potential voters.

John Lewis fought for civil rights through the tactics of nonviolence. They helped train African Americans in the tactics of nonviolence to prepare them psychologically for the difficulties that lay ahead. He trained them on harassment, threats, possible beatings, arrest, imprisonment, and even death.

Six Principles of Nonviolence

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.

  2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.

  3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims.

  4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences of its acts.

  5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. Nonviolence resists violence to the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolence love is active, not passive. Nonviolence love does not sink to the level of the hater. Love restores community and resists injustice. Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.

  6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.

John Lewis tells the truth about segregation and the Brown decision. "Even though we had been rejected by society, we believed that all people had the capacity to be good. We believed not only we, but the perpetrators of violence, were victims as well, who began their lives in innocence but were taught to hate, abuse, and draw distinctions between themselves and others. We could not waste time harboring bitterness or resentment. We knew that our focus had to be on what we hoped to create, not the indignities we were pressing to leave behind." I found this section of Truth very inspiring because, in the age of nonviolent protesting, we must focus on the objectives to change our current situations. Active participation means choosing your battles wisely and determining new pathways to alleviate the strains that come from fighting the opposition.

John Lewis thought that if the law became suppressive and tyrannical when human law violated divine principles, it was not only their right, but their duty to disobey. The civil rights movement protested against the systems that kept Black and Brown Americans at a lower socioeconomic standard than their counterparts. The civil rights protesters were beaten, called Communists and hippies, agitators and troublemakers. The government infiltrated their organizations and investigated them. The news and media floated false information and accusations about them. The police and sheriffs ran them down with horses and bludgeoned them with billy clubs and baseball bats. The civil rights protestors were jailed, beaten, bombed, and sprayed with tear gas and fire hoses.

It takes a lot to read the story that John Lewis portrays in his book. The passion for the civil rights movement was beginning but has not stopped in this country. Today, people organize in different grassroots organizations and foundations that promote the general welfare of all human beings. The progress of civil rights leaders shows in their legislative votes, judicial opinions, professional policies, and their faith in protecting the civil rights of all humans.

Soul Force is the ability to counter the forces of injustice with fearlessness, knowing that your soul is connected to the greatest force in the universe. Threats, violence, and aggression are simply tools that are used to make us doubt our capacity to overcome them.

John Lewis reflects on Selma, 50 years later.

President Obama delivers Remarks on the 50th Anniversary of the Selma Marches

Soul Force: March on Washington w Congressman John Lewis YouTube.

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