I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.
This is Book #1 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.
The name of John Robert Lewis is one that is fairly new to me, though I have come to realise that this man was more than a feisty congressman who sought to fight against the injustices he saw in America. Jon Meacham, one of the best political/presidential biographers I have had the pleasure of reading, chose Lewis in his latest book exploring how American history and politics go hand in hand. Born to a large family in Troy, Alabama, John Lewis developed a passion for the Lord, as well as for the spoken word. He took as his first congregation the flock of chickens on his family farm, though few would so much as listen to him, as Meacham extols in the early part of the book. From there, Lewis sought to educate himself on the ways of becoming closer to God, while also living under some oppressive laws governing the southern states at the time. In the late 1950s, as Lewis was finishing high school and fighting to uphold the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the US Supreme Court, he met a young Martin Luther King, Jr. and became mesmerised by all this boisterous preacher had to say. Lewis soon began a life that was not only dedicated to the teachings of Jesus, but for the non-violent means by which King sought to change the laws in the United States as it related to the treatment of Blacks. Meacham explores in-depth the violent ways that Lewis, King, and many others were treated during the bus boycotts, sit-ins, and marches, culminating in the (in)famous one in Selma, Alabama. Lewis suffered many injuries, including a fractured skull, during his years seeking justice and yet he would not back down, nor would he raise a fist to his White oppressors. Meacham tells the story in much detail, offering interesting perspectives from political and social leaders on both sides of the civil rights movement, all of whom knew John Lewis well. Even when Lewis took a step back from the movement, he was passionate about protecting Black rights in the United States. He mourned the loss of King in 1968 and sought to make changes when he moved to Atlanta. Finally successful in winning a seat in the US House of Representatives in 1986, Lewis used his voice to push for change, not only in Atlanta, but for people all across the country, never forgetting the need to put the rights of Blacks into all legislation. In the closing portion of the book, Meacham touches on Lewis’ sentiments during the recent political goings-on, including the Trump inauguration and impeachment proceedings, two events Lewis used to state his strong opinions in non-violent and anti-vitriolic means. Most telling of all, when Lewis passed away in July 2020, and many on both sides of the political spectrum flocked to pay their respects to a leader in America’s civil rights movement, President Trump refused to do so. While no surprise to many, one would have hoped that, like Lewis, Trump might have looked past politics and looked to the core of the man. A sensational piece that permits Jon Meacham to offer not only a mini-biography of John Lewis, but also provide a biographical outlook of the civil rights movement, the earlier push for the importance of Black lives in America. A must read for all those who love learning about American political history, and strongly recommended for anyone who looks out at America today and has yet to cast their ballot for president.
Even though I knew little about John Lewis, as soon as I discovered that this book would touch on American civil rights in the 1960s, I was firmly committed to tackling it. When I found out that Jon Meacham was at the helm, there was no doubt that I would take the time to read this book and discover all that I could. Meacham handles the story with aplomb, pulling out many of the well-known stories about abuse at lunch counters, riots outside bus stations, and the marches that turned bloody as soon as the police arrived on scene. Meacham adds the voices of those from both sides of the movement, not only the protestors, to give the reader a more complete view. The White House message, the gubernatorial declarations, the police views, and even the general public, as well as the prayers and proclamations of King, Lewis, and others who sought to rally Blacks to stand up for themselves, but turned the other cheek. There is wonderful contrast in the book as well with the violent movement of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X as they sought to strike and kill in retaliation to push for Black rights. Meacham never strays from his message, which seeks to explore the mindset of John Lewis, and divides the book into key chapters according to timelines, all of which help to better hash out America’ reaction to the non-violence in the 1960s. I kept thinking to myself, if Meacham could do so well with this, a snapshot of Lewis’ life, how wonderful it would be to see a complete exploration of the man into the 1970s and through to his death in 2020. One can only hope that someone will pick up from here and ensure young people know those pioneers that came before them to make America great, even if bigotry remains simmering on the back burner. Meacham almost begs the reader to draw parallels between the 1960s and today, as violence seeks to divide the country again. Perhaps, like Lewis and King, Americans can choose the non-violent means of pushing back, by casting an all-important ballot for president in 2020. Don’t let the blood be shed in vain!
Kudos, Mr. Meacham, for sparking my passion in US politics and social movements. I cannot wait to see what else you find to explore, as you educate readers so effectively.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons