Rep. John Lewis placed three chickens on the table in his office. They never fluttered, pecked or shrieked, just sat idly on a solid round table.
“I bought this at an auction. I think there’s a little hen over in this one,” Lewis said, walking over to a wooden cabinet with glass doors.
“My first nonviolent protest was when my mother and father wanted [me] to kill the chickens that we raised,” said Lewis, one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a Democratic House Member from Georgia since 1987.
He looks at the iron statuettes and glass figures as if each of them were one of the chickens he practiced preaching to as a kid growing up on the farm in Troy, Ala. “I keep the chickens around to remind me of another period in my life,” he said.
That period was a time he wants to hold on to, a part of his childhood he says was stolen from him.
The chickens represent a lesson in patience, one of the six life lessons that Lewis ponders in his new book, “Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change.”
“It’s not a book so much about my past or my history,” he said in an interview. “It’s not a memoir or a biographical sketch. It’s about ideas; it’s about lessons I learned that guided me throughout my early days and through the civil rights movement.”
Faith and Redemption
Propped up against a stack of enlarged photos is one from March 7, 1965.
“Six hundred of us walked across that Alabama bridge, and a few minutes after that point, this picture was taken,” Lewis said of the photo in his hand, from “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., when nonviolent marchers were attacked and beaten by state and local police.
“During the Freedom Rides, during the sit-ins, during the march from Selma to Montgomery, when we crossed that bridge, we were prepared to die,” Lewis said.