Rep. John Lewis walks arm in arm with (from left) House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Assistant Leader James Clyburn as the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. follows across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on Sunday, the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when Lewis was beaten during civil rights protests.
Lewis stands on the bridge, this time surrounded by his Congressional colleagues, and retells the story. He tells them about the beating that left his skull fractured, and the pop of tear gas being released, and the feeling that he was going to die right there on the bridge.
But he also recalls for them what was in that backpack. “I had a few books I wanted to read in jail and one apple and one orange, and my toothbrush and toothpaste,” he says.
On the very spot where the beating took place, hearing those small details seems to waken ghosts and fold the past into the present. The lawmakers gather around Lewis in a tight knot, asking questions in hushed voices.
“Had you been beaten before?” Reid asks. Lewis nods.
Earlier in the weekend, Lewis issued a simple set of instructions to the group: Hold on to the feelings that visiting these places stir.
“We meet in a sacred place,” he said. “Remember it. Don’t forget it.”