John Lewis is one of the most well-known figures from the Civil Rights Movement. As a young seminarian he was the first one who let himself be beaten to a pulp on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
He led a procession of blacks who were demonstrating for the right to be registered as voters. Lewis was not afraid of the blows by the police, since he was used to that. But, he was afraid that the state troopers would throw him off the bridge, because he could not swim.
Lewis was not much of a talker, but rather somewhat shy. Other activists became famous for their pronouncements, Lewis for his wounds. On every group photograph from around that time, with Martin Luther King inexorably in the middle, Lewis stands to the side.
It is all discussed in his autobiography “Walking with the Wind.” The title refers to an incident when Lewis was just four years old. On a certain day, a tremendous thunderstorm burst over Pike County in Alabama, where his parents worked in the cotton fields. His aunt Seneva called all the children, 16 in number, to help her keep her ramshackle wooden house from blowing away.
As Lewis describes it, the children held on to the house, four at each corner, the same way as one would try to keep a flapping tarpaulin from flying skywards. Anyway, the house was saved.
Young John, who hated everything that had anything to do with cotton, was crazy about chickens. During his early youth, already steeped in religion, he preached to the gathered flock of chickens and held a religious funeral service whenever a member of the brood passed away.
In 1986, somewhat surprisingly, Lewis was elected to the House of Representatives, representing a district in Georgia. He holds a seat there, and is still a very valued member who has risen to become the Chairman of the Black Caucus. Politically speaking, this Democrat was still very close to the Clinton couple.
Because of the mere fact that he is a member of Congress, Lewis belongs to the 796 so-called super-delegates, party barons who at the Democratic convention in August have voting rights without themselves having been elected through a primary (see my weblog: “Will Democrats later on be so democratic.”)
Lewis had already said last year that he would vote for Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. But that was when Barack Obama was still miles behind. In the meantime, Lewis’s voting district voted for Obama 3-to-1 during the Super Tuesday primaries.
A few days later, the senator from Illinois said that the inherent undemocratic character of a nomination where the party barons become the decisive factor (should it come this far) can be neutralized. This can be done if the super-delegates promise to follow the will of the voters in their state or district.
Lewis has told the New York Times that his supporters are strongly insisting that he vote for Obama at the Convention. Lewis said that , because of democratic considerations, he was very sensitive to that call.
Then there is something else. When Lewis on that summer day more than 40 years ago in Selma let himself be beaten up , it was, among other reasons, because the day would come (then, unbelievably far away) when a “negro” would have a good chance to become president of the United States. That day has now arrived. Thus, it would be strange if, of all people, John Lewis would withhold his vote from Barack Obama.