Sept. 1, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Civil Rights Trip Is Personal Journey

Courtesy Byron Buck
From left: Reps. Mike Quigley and Sheila Jackson Lee, Kerry Kennedy and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

 

Members of Congress might not be so different from the BlackBerrys they carry. 

The gadgets need to recharge every now and then, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer noted — and so do lawmakers. The Maryland Democrat, speaking to a group travelling across Alabama to the sites of the civil rights movement, described his own purpose for attending the annual Congressional trip: plugging in to seminal events of the past in order to confront the challenges of today. 

“It’s not just learning, but being reinvigorated and revived,” said Hoyer, who has made the trip many times. “It’s being told once again that it wasn’t just ‘them’ and ‘their time’ because there are people in our time who don’t get it.”  

Many of the 16 Members of Congress describe the lessons that they learned on the three-day journey, led by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and sponsored by the Faith and Politics Institute, in similar terms. 

Some joined the trip, which took lawmakers and other guests to churches, parks and museums, in order to revisit their own place in the movement.

Assistant Leader James Clyburn remembers meeting his wife, Emily, in a jail where they were both serving time for protesting. The South Carolina Democrat wants to make sure that the civil rights story is complete, that it includes the chapters that took place in his home state. 

“In South Carolina, so much of what happened was never recorded,” Clyburn said. “I like to see how the history is being told, how it all weaves together.”

Others came to fill in gaps in their own experience. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was a young Capitol Police officer in 1963 during the now-historic march on Washington, D.C., organized by Martin Luther King Jr. 

“I remember seeing yellow bus after yellow bus after yellow bus,” the Nevada Democrat said. “I didn’t know there were that many yellow buses in the world.” 

Reid said he wanted to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Lewis, whom he called a dear friend, simply because he didn’t the first time. “I was not there that day, but it is why I am here today,” Reid said. 

Sen. Tom Harkin sought a connection to the events that he watched unfold on television while he served in the Navy in the 1960s. The Iowa Democrat said he felt echoes of the civil rights protests that took place then in his own work in Congress securing rights for the disabled, and he wanted to pay tribute to the forebears of the disabled rights movement. 

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