John Lewis missed at Alabama civil rights pilgrimage

Published 7:53 am Saturday, March 5, 2022

Nearly 20 members of Congress began an annual pilgrimage through Alabama’s civil rights sites Friday without the person who inspired so many to attend in past years: the late Rep. John Lewis.

From 1998 to 2020, Lewis led the events, organized by the Washington-based Faith & Politics Institute, and his spirit was felt at an opening service at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, where four Black girls died in a racist bombing in September 1965.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland who has participated in the pilgrimage 16 times, said it was different being in Alabama without Lewis, who grew up in the state and was beaten by state troopers while leading voting rights marchers in Selma on March 7, 1965. The annual trip coincides with the anniversary of the attack.

“What I loved about him is he would call me brother and he meant it,” Hoyer said in an interview. “It wasn’t just some, ‘Hey, brother.’ It was a, ‘You’re my brother.’ And I called him brother.”

Eighteen members of Congress, mostly Democrats, planned to attend the pilgrimage, which will include stops at the national lynching memorial, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s first church in Montgomery and Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Lewis was attacked in 1965.

One of Lewis’ last public appearances was at the Pettus Bridge in March 2020, a few months before his death.

At the service at 16th Street Baptist, the Rev. Arthur Price told the story of the bombing and its aftermath, which included inspiring the civil rights movement and global recognition for the horror of what happened. A stained-glass window donated by the people of Wales is a reminder of the bombing and its impact.

“The bomb that went off here literally was heard around the world,” he said.

Three Ku Klux Klan members were convicted of murder in the blast and died in prison.