John Lewis’s memoir Walking with the Wind was a delightful read. After finishing Shame of the Nation, I needed either a break from reading for a week or a lighter read. I heard about Lewis’s memoir within Shame of the Nation as Kozol interviewed him. Little did I know that Lewis’s book was the perfect book for me to grab a hold of.
Walking with the Wind is a long read (503 pages) but is simple and accessible in its wording and approach. The story starts with Lewis’s upbringing in the rural Alabama town of Troy. Lewis grew up and attended college in Nashville where he became active in nonviolent protests. His belief in nonviolence for the attainment of the Beloved (not hateful, not violent, not uncaring, not unkind) Community (not separated, not polarized, not adversarial) was central to him then as it is now as he serves as Congressman for the 5th U.S. Congressional district of Georgia. His stances have often brought on the labels of “anti-black” or “soft” because of his integrated and nonviolent approach to democracy.
Lewis documents his first hand participation in the Nashville sit-ins, strikes, marches in Selma and Montgomery, and his work thereafter. He didn’t watch this stuff on TV, read it in the paper, or hear it on the radio: he was there. As he and hundreds of others attempted their first march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama (a 56 mile walk, by the way), he was clubbed in the head and landed a fractured skull. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr, Baynard Rustin, Ralph Abernathy, A. Phillip Randolph, and tens of thousands of nameless men, women, and children all for the sake of equal voting rights, equal usage of facilities (Boynton v. Virginia), and for the ultimate end of racism in the South. He worked for Jimmy Carter’s administration, helped Bobby Kennedy campaign, was called to private and group meetings lead by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and is the only House Rep today to of been arrested over 40 times.
What I enjoy about John Lewis’s character is that he holds no punches yet he isn’t judgmental. His book is not a polemic against likely enemies such as Newt Gingrich, George Wallace, plethora of racist southern elected officials, et al. He does call out those for being slow to act, for not upholding laws, and for what he sees as right and wrong. Ultimately, Lewis sees everyone through the eye of a key nonviolence movement tenet: everyone will have to deal with the decisions they make. Their conscience will bear that and he has no room to step in between anyone and their decisions. Much of his book comes off as him reporting the times, not opining every bit of it.
I felt that Lewis’s book dragged for the last 120 pages after the last of the marches ended and MLK / Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations. Walking with the Wind is well worth the read for anyone interested or intrigued by justice, compassion, nonviolence, and the piece they all hold in this puzzle known as America.