I met John Lewis in 1993 on Capitol Hill as he was leaving a cleaners and I was leaving a print shop–we actually bumped into each other. He apologized when it was clearly my fault. When I realized who he was I introduced myself. He said, “I know that name” I walked him back to his office and we talked sports all the way. We exchanged business cards and I promised to stay in touch.
It would be several years later before our next encounter. An associate Richard Evans invited me to attend a book signing for the Congressman at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Maryland. He remembered me and he joined the Kids In Trouble team.
In 2000, I convinced Boston Celtic legendary coach, the late Red Auerbach and Congressman Lewis to co-host a tribute to NBA pioneer Earl Lloyd during the NBA All-Star Weekend in 2001. Lloyd was a local guy from Alexandria, Virginia. He felt he had been overlooked for the NBA Hall of Fame and wanted me to campaign for him–I said OK.
He was the first black player to play in a NBA game. He was drafted by the Washington Capitols in 1950. He never got the chance to play for Capitols. Lloyd was drafted into the Army and was traded to the Syracuse Nationals on his release. There he would win an NBA Championship. Lloyd would later become an assistant and NBA Head coach, second only to the Boston Celtics Bill Russell.
Lloyd knew I had led the campaign to get our friend Washingtonian and Green Bay Packer great Willie inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1989.
Red and Congressman Lewis were all in. Congressman Lewis wrote a letter to Lloyd.
When John Lewis arrived in Washington, DC in 1963 for the historical march, he was only 23 years old. The youngest of “The Big 6” the march organizers. During the meeting of the minds before the march the Elders thought his speech was a little harsh. They prevailed on him to tone it down a little.
Thrown out were the harshest criticisms of the John F. Kennedy administration’s civil rights bill as well as a fiery passage, he threaten that the movement would “march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own scorched earth policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground — nonviolently.”
Yet even the softened speech was radical for the context. At a time when civil rights leaders were commonly referring to African-Americans as Negroes, the Lewis speech used the term Black: “In the Delta of Mississippi, in Southwest Georgia, in the Black Belt of Alabama, in Harlem, in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and all over this nation the Black masses are on a march for jobs and freedom.”
To the dismay of many, the 23-year-old Mr. Lewis described the movement as “a revolution,” appealing to all who listened to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until a revolution is complete. We must get in this revolution and complete the revolution.” It looks and sounds like he has left the revolution in good hands world wide.