Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), an icon from the American Civil Rights Movement, and a good friend of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., issued a grave warning to the nation about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump Saturday, claiming that the candidate and his campaign could set the country back with its divisive rhetoric and demagoguery against immigrants and Muslims.
At a series of speaking events throughout Los Angeles, Lewis cited Trump as a primary motivation for young activists around the country to continue agitating and fighting for equality no matter who or what opposes them. After one of these events at the Cal State L.A student union theatre, Lewis stated the following in an interview with the L.A Times:
I’ve been around a while and Trump reminds me so much of a lot of the things that George Wallace said and did. I think demagogues are pretty dangerous, really. … We shouldn’t divide people, we shouldn’t separate people.
As a young, African-American civil rights activist himself in 1961, Lewis participated in the peaceful Freedom Rides, in which he and a handful of other white and African-American activists travelled in buses around segregated Alabama to register black voters, often attempting to cross into “whites-only” waiting rooms and bus seating. In a 2001 interview with CNN, 40 years later, Lewis stated the following, describing what happened to him during the rides:
It was 13 of us on the original ride — seven whites and six blacks. The bus was burned in Anniston, Alabama. We were beaten in Birmingham, and later met by an angry mob in Montgomery, where I was hit in the head with a wooden crate.
It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious.
Lewis also had his skull fractured after he and other activists were beaten with night sticks by Alabama state troopers during the march over Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Needless to say, Lewis knows a thing or two about the dreadful impact that hateful and racist rhetoric can have on the lives of many throughout the nation. He’s got the scars to prove it.
Returning to the subject of Trump however, Lewis continued to state the following:
Sometimes I feel like I am reliving part of my past. I heard it so much growing up in the South. I heard it so much during the days of the civil rights movement. As a people, I just think we could do much better.
It should be noted, however, that Lewis was not intending to inspire cynicism and a sense of hopelessness with his remarks about Trump, and how much of what his campaign is doing conjures echoes of a past many Americans would unfortunately prefer to forget. Just the opposite, in fact. Lewis was using his own experiences to urge activists of the current generation to continue resisting the forces that seek to divide people in the name of hate. He has cited Black Lives Matter favorably as a pertinent example of how this struggle can best take form in the twenty-first century.