(Congress member John Lewis issued this press release Friday through his office, to answer speculative assertions about gun possession and civil rights violence. One talk show host said possessing a gun may have prevented the severe injuries Congress member Lewis sustained during the Freedom Rides and other demonstrations. It is also instructive to recall the reaction of authorities to the possession of guns for defense by Black Panthers. A number of Panthers were shot to death. Further back, a number of lynchings and deaths are directly connected to social conservatives and white supremacists using guns.)
In an effort to encourage people to resist new gun control legislation, a statement was made on The Rush Limbaugh Show today which misrepresents Civil Rights Movement history. In the shadow of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, in the year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in August, and a little more than a month before the annual celebration of the events in Selma, Rep. John Lewis was glad to address this inaccuracy.
“Our goal in the Civil Rights Movement was not to injure or destroy but to build a sense of community, to reconcile people to the true oneness of all humanity,” said Rep. John Lewis. “African Americans in the 60s could have chosen to arm themselves, but we made a conscious decision not to. We were convinced that peace could not be achieved through violence. Violence begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was through peaceful means. We took a stand against an unjust system, and we decided to use this faith as our shield and the power of compassion as our defense.
“And that is why this nation celebrates the genius and the elegance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and philosophy. Through the power of non-violent action, Dr. King accomplished something that no movement, no action of government, no war, no legislation, or strategy of politics had ever achieved in this nation’s history. It was non-violence that not only brought an end to legalized segregation and racial discrimination, but Dr. King’s peaceful work changed the hearts of millions of Americans who stood up for justice and rejected the injury of violence forever.”
WHAT HAPPENED IN SELMA ALABAMA?
On March 7, 1965, 600 peaceful nonviolent Civil Rights workers attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in Alabama. The march was led by John Lewis and Hosea Williams. They were met on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers who beat the unarmed marchers. Lewis suffered a concussion on the bridge. A few days after the march President Lyndon Johnson introduced a bill to the Congress which became the Voting Rights Act of 1965, described as one of the most effective pieces of legislation Congress has issued in the past 50 years. An important section of the Voting Rights Act is currently in jeopardy and will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in February.