Remembering Congressman John Robert Lewis and his “Good Trouble”

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

Today Civil rights icon, John Robert Lewis, who passed away last week after dedicating nearly sixty years of his life to lifting his voice to quell the injustices of systemic racism in this country lies in state on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda in Washington DC. I would like to take a moment to reflect on the Good Trouble that he made as I filter it with an incident from my past.

As I watch the news, I am reminded of a song that I heard last night, “At Last” made famous by singer Etta James being played in the background of a television commercial. It is a song that evokes so many memories and deep emotion for me. Not only are the lyrics beautiful and Ms. James’ voice remarkable, but the song reminds me of my dad. It was one that he played often when I was a child. I think songs like “At Last” with the verses of hope that a love would come along offered hope in a time when he, a hard working Black man who struggled to support his family in the face of racial discrimination at every turn, found solace in the promise of love, not necessarily from a person, because he was very blessed in that arena but a love from the society in which he lived.

My dad was born in rural North Carolina and left his home as a young man to escape the violence of an abusive father. He told me on several occasions that he had nearly starved to death trying to make it on his own, but by the beginning of World War II through diligence and intellect he was promoted to a supervisory position at a local federal ammunition depot.

My dad was highly regarded by the people that worked under him. I had the opportunity to meet some of them over the years, as we went about our daily lives getting groceries or attending church. The one constant comment that these former charges would make to me was, “Your dad was the best boss that I’ve ever had.” But as well-liked and successful as he was, Dad was relieved from the position and demoted by several grades, to a much lower paying job at the end of World War II when he was replaced by a White supervisor, with the explanation that White people could not be supervised by Blacks. End of story, he was left with little recourse for appeal and just like that his livelihood was diminished and our family suffered. As we often do, he got on with life. After trying to make ends meet for us with the salary cut; he left his federal position for a job on the local docks.

So today as I think about my dad, his racially motivated dismissal, and the countless others that have suffered and continue to suffer racial injustice and mistreatment; I want to offer my deepest thanks and humble gratitude and to acknowledge the courage and sacrifices that Congressman Lewis, Charles Evers, Rev. C.T. Vivian (all of whom passed away recently) and the many other Civil Rights heroes that picked up the mantle to champion the cause of ending racial inequality and who sought to make our world better for each of us.

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