US Civil Rights Veteran Urges Faith In Peace Process

Posted By: April 25, 2014


Congressman John Lewis says he is looking forward to his visit to Londonderry on
A US congressman and renowned civil rights leader has urged political leaders in
Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to keep their eyes on the prize.

News Letter (Belfast). Thursday, April 24, 2014

John Lewis, who led peaceful protests over segregation at the height of the movement
in 1960s America, said they should take inspiration from his own past.

The veteran campaigner was in Dublin along with governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley
and Montgomery, Alabama police chief Kevin Murphy as part of a delegation from the
Faith & Politics Institute (FPI).

Last year, when a group from the institute visited the Alabama state capital Mr
Murphy apologised to Mr Lewis for beatings meted out to him and other civil rights
activists in 1961 on the historic Freedom Rides.

The police chief also offered him his badge as a symbol of reconciliation.

In the inaugural Frederick Douglass/Daniel O’Connell lecture at the Department of
Foreign Affairs in Dublin, Mr Lewis said politicians should be guided by the
liberator O’Connell and his own experience as one of the Big Six leaders of the
Civil Rights Movement.

“Sometimes the reconciliation we seek may take years to see, but you must know your
work is not in vain,” he said.

“We must never, ever leave that house. We all live in the same house, one house, the
world house. In the final analysis, we are one people, one family, the human family.

“So my friends, keep the faith. Don’t give up, give in or give out. Don’t get lost
in a sea of despair, but keep your eyes on the prize.”

Mr Lewis was arrested more than 40 times and beaten during the campaigns against
segregation in southern states but remained devoted to non-violence.

After Barack Obama was elected US president in 2008, Mr Lewis was honoured with the
highest civilian award in the US, the Medal of Freedom.

He was also approached by one of the men who had beaten him in Rock Hill in 1963 -
former Ku Klux Klan member Elwin Wilson who apologised for his actions almost 50
years on.

The FPI five day trip is part of a congressional mission to learn more about the
divisions in Ireland, north and south, and gain a greater understanding of peace and
reconciliation efforts.

Mr Lewis added: “The longer I live I have come to believe that non-violence is one
of those immutable principles that should never be violated. It is the natural
companion of the highest values of love, peace, and compassion.”

As part of the visit Mr Lewis will walk the Peace Bridge in Derry with Nobel
laureate and former SDLP leader John Hume.

“I look forward to walking across the Peace Bridge in Derry-Londonderry, a bridge
that unites a city once divided,” Mr Lewis said.

“I hope that as the marchers share our stories and experiences that we can encourage
continued reconciliation in both our nations - America and Ireland alike.”