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His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope (2020)

de Jon Meacham

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This is a fine biography, but it doesn't add much to Lewis's own memoir. "Walking from the Wind," from which Meacham quotes liberally, is a powerful story, and I would recommend that everyone read that instead.

> "Oh, God, yes, I dream about those days," Lewis said shortly before he succumbed to cancer and died at home in Atlanta on Friday, July 17, 2020. "I dream of marching, of singing. I hear the music of the movement in my dreams, and the sounds of our feet on the pavement, one after another. I don't have nightmares—I don't relive the beatings in my dreams, at least not that I ever remember. I'm not sure why. Maybe in my mind the good forces are always at work. There is a power of the mind to believe and think on the higher drama of it, the higher things of it, the light, not the dark. We truly believed that we were on God's side, and in spite of everything—the beatings, the bombings, the burnings—God's truth would prevail. Sometimes I'll dream of a march, of moving forward, of light and warmth and happiness. And then I'll wake up and think, 'Oh, that was just a dream.' But you have to believe that it can be real, that it can be more than a dream."

> in 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois had captured something of what Lewis was experiencing. "One ever feels his two-ness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder," Du Bois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk.

> The fury of the segregationist South was now focused not only on black communities and their allies in the streets and in the stores but on the Kennedys, who had failed, in the prevailing white view, to shut down the civil rights movement altogether. "I hope that every drop of blood that's spilled he tastes in his throat," the mayor of Birmingham said of Robert Kennedy, "and I hope he chokes on it."

> Yet he lost, and he hated it. "John Patterson out-nigguhed me," Wallace was reputed to have remarked to a group of pols at Montgomery's Jefferson Davis Hotel after he lost. "And boys, I'm not goin' to be out-nigguhed again." ( Wallace denied this oft-repeated anecdote ever afterward.) "He used to be anything but a racist," an old political associate recalled, "but with all his chattering, he managed to talk himself into it."

> "The black man in America," Malcolm said, "is the only one who is encouraged to be nonviolent… Never do you find white people encouraging other whites to be nonviolent. Whites idolize fighters… Everyone loves a fighter. They respect a fighter. But at the same time that they admire these fighters, they encourage the so-called Negro in America to get his desires fulfilled with a sit-in stroke or a passive approach or a love-your-enemy approach or pray for those who despitefully use you. This is insane." … Why, Malcolm continued, should a black man "wait for the Supreme Court to give him what a white man has when he's born? Why should he wait for the Congress or the Senate or the president to tell him that he should have this, when if he's a man the same as that man is a man, he doesn't need any president, he doesn't need any Congress, he doesn't need any Supreme Court, he doesn't need anybody but himself to bring about that which is his, if he is a man?" Baldwin took a different view. "Malcolm X wants us to act like men," Baldwin said. Yet for Baldwin, masculinity and heroism were not synonymous with the capacity for violence.

> Goldwater declared, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…[and] moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." San Francisco signaled a rightward move in the Republican Party away from the temperate conservatism of Eisenhower. The tone of the GOP convention was such that Jackie Robinson, until that point a loyal Republican, remarked that being black at the Cow Palace that week gave him "a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany." Nothing about the politics of 1964,

> Obama got it: The lesson of Lewis was that sustained personal witness to injustice, borne in the public arena where opinions are shaped, laws enacted, and reality changed, is vital. ( )
  breic | Jan 2, 2021 |
I'm so disappointed in His Truth Is Marching On. I'm a great admirer of John Lewis, and I know that Meacham is a noted historical writer. There is just too much extraneous detail in this book. What I really wanted was a deeper examination of Lewis' life and career, including more about his work in the House of Representatives. I got the same biographical and Civil Rights Era basics that I've gotten from plenty of other sources, and a whole bunch of super-detailed conversations among others, not even pertaining directly to Lewis.

In fact, I felt like parts of this were possibly wholesale repeated from Meacham's The Soul of America. Like that book, this one could have done with a serious editing/paring both for continuity, order, and length.

My partner brought up the idea that perhaps Meacham's publisher has been rushing his books because of the upheaval of the current administration. Maybe so. Given that these are my only exposures to Meacham so far, I'm not encouraged to read more of him. ( )
  joyblue | Nov 25, 2020 |
Outstanding book by Jon Meacham about Civil Rights leader John Lewis. I learned a lot about the Civil Rights movement listening to this ten hour audiobook. ( )
  MrDickie | Oct 29, 2020 |
It is hard to accept that in such A relatively short space of time , two wonderful people like John Lewis and RBG have been taken from us. Two who represented the best of society and politics. The best of us.

John Lewis was a man of deep faith, a man who wanted to improve the lives of his people, and did it peacefully, legally. He was beaten, thrown in prison, yet his resolve never wavered. Meacham due a fine job showing us what compelled him on to this path and what he hoped to accomplish. He was a man of integrity, a man with a deep, commanding voice that demanded to be heard. This is the man one reads about in this book. The kind of man we need more of in this country, where dishonesty is now so often portrayed as truth.

In the back of the book we read Lewis in his own words. Impressive and unforgettable, as was the man himself. ( )
  Beamis12 | Sep 21, 2020 |
Summary: An account of the life of Congressman John Lewis, focusing on the years of his leadership in the civil rights movement and the faith, hope, commitment to non-violence and the Beloved Community that sustained him.

We lost a hero this summer in the death of Congressman John Lewis. We may remember the last photos of him, days before his death on Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC, one more expression of the arc of a life spent in the hope that the nation would recognize the gift that his people are and that one day, his hope of Dr. King’s Beloved Community would be realized. We might also remember the image of him being clubbed to the ground on the approaches to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, a day he nearly lost his life. There is so much that came before, and between these images. In this new work, historian Jon Meacham offers a historical account coupled with Lewis’s recollections, that helps us understand not only the heroic work of this civil rights icon, but the wellsprings of motivation that spurred his long march.

Meacham begins with his ancestry, great-grandchild of a slave, child of sharecroppers in Troy, Alabama, growing up deep in the Jim Crow South in segregated schools, where a look, an inappropriate word might cost one’s life if you were black. Lewis was a child of the black church who knew he wanted to be a preacher, and practiced on the chickens on his parents farm. His faith, and early uneasiness with the inequities that did not measure up to the American dream meant “that the Lord had to be concerned with the ways we lived our lives right here on earth, that everything we did, or didn’t do in our lives had to be more than just a means of making our way to heaven.” Then he heard the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio and heard someone who gave voice to his growing calling and conviction., leading to pursuing seminary studies at the American Baptist Seminary in Nashville.

Meacham accounts how this led to sit-ins at restaurants, the Freedom Rides, the Children’s Crusade and the March on Washington, where he gave one of the most impassioned speeches as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), refusing to back away from criticism of the Kennedy administration. Meacham describes the death of Kennedy, the civil rights leadership of Johnson, and Lewis’s growing exile from SNCC, from those like Stokely Carmichael who had tired of the slow progress of non-violent protest, that left him to go to Selma alone rather than with the SNCC. Again and again his principles led him to get into “good trouble.”

Through it all, including the deaths of King and Bobby Kennedy, he persisted, through multiple beatings and arrests. Much of this work chronicles his years in the civil rights movement, leaving the final chapter to summarize his years in Congress and legacy. What Meacham focuses on throughout are the theological convictions, rooted in Lewis’s belief in the Spirit of History, his faith in a loving God, and his belief that America’s ideals would prevail over America’s failings. Second is a focus on Lewis’s bedrock conviction of pursuing non-violent resistance rooted in a belief of the dignity of all people in the image of God, even one’s enemies, developed from the Bible, Dr. King, James Lawson and the Highlander Workshops, and the principles of Gandhi. The narrative is one of how Lewis “walked the talk” bearing numerous beatings without retaliation, sacrificing his leadership for his principles. Finally, Lewis lived toward a vision of America as Dr. King’s “Beloved Community.” From marches and activism to his years in politics, Meacham shows how he strove for the peace with justice that would overcome divisions between black and white. Meacham gives John Lewis the last word in his afterword:

"We won the battles of the 1960’s. But the war for justice, the war to make America both great and good, goes on. We the People are not a united people right now. We rarely are, but our divisions and our tribalism are especially acute. Many Americans have lost faith in the idea that what binds us together is more important than what separates us. Now as before, we have to choose, as Dr. King once put it, between community and chaos."

John Lewis never lost faith that what binds us together matters most and never stopped pursuing community rather than chaos. Meacham’s book leaves us the question of what will we believe and pursue in the days ahead. How we answer that may be decisive not only for our lives but also for our country.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
  BobonBooks | Sep 6, 2020 |
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Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then said I, Here am I; send me. - The Book of Isaiah
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For all who toil and fight and live and die to realize the true meaning of America's creed
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Overture: The Last March.
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We were beaten. Tear-gassed. Bullwhipped. On this bridge, some of us gave a little blood to help redeem the soul of America. - John Lewis, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, commemorating the Bloody Sunday march of 1965
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