Turn to John Lewis for answers on guns


Many Americans don’t realize how inextricably John Lewis thought is woven into the heart and soul of this nation. In fact, on television we often see John Lewis pleading in the White House debate chambers: ”My friends, do the right thing.” Yet, we fail to realize who he is and how his civil rights activism of the ’60s helped pave the road for Barack Obama’s presidency.

Columnist Walter Williams’ article ”Why the Second Amendment” appeared in the Tribune Chronicle. He criticized a comment John Lewis made in reference to gun legislation: ”The British are not coming. We don’t need all these guns.”

As usual, this was an opportunity for Walter to give us yet another history lesson about the Second Amendment and the intent of the founding fathers.

In his article, Walter implies that such a comment was made of ignorance. Does he really know who John Lewis is?

John Lewis’ civil rights activities have crossed the span of half a century. In my opinion, his story is richer and more powerful than most of the civil rights icons of the 1960s. In fact, when historian Howard Zinn was asked to tell the story of the civil rights movement, he chose to tell it through the eyes of the SNCC (Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). John Lewis was one of its founders and president (1963-1966).

Just before the 2012 November presidential election, Lewis gave a speech in Youngstown at the Mahoning County Board of Elections across from the old graveyard site off of Oak Hill Street. He talked about freedom rides, sit-ins and sacrifices that led to the Voting Act of 1965.

To this date, John has scars from beatings he received in an attempt to bring about what he called ”that more perfect union.” John often talks about ex-Klansmen Elwin Wilson. During the freedom ride years in the ’60s, Elwin had mercilessly beaten John at a southern bus station. Years later, after Elwin had learned that John had become a representative in Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, he made that historic phone call. Elwin told John that he couldn’t rest and felt great remorse for what he did. The two would eventually lock arms at the White House in apologetic embrace.

At this late date, some pundits have yet to place John Lewis in proper historical context. We have forgotten about the affirmative action programs of the ’60s. We pretend we don’t remember anything about those student loans and grants that helped propel us through college. We get to a level of success and begin riding that wave of arrogance. We begin to think that we did it all on our own. We criticize John Lewis even though the success that we presently enjoy is in part due to his leadership.

Who is more instrumental in paving the road to the Barack Obama presidency than John Lewis?

It is my connection that John’s comment about guns was appropriate. In the wake of these recent killings in Connecticut, it’s apparent that Americans have to begin to see gun ownership from a different perspective. This nation is over two centuries removed from the American Revolution. We no longer have to worry about British tea taxation. This is the 21st century. The British aren’t coming. We don’t need all these guns.

Alfred Spencer