Activist Lewis honored decades after civil rights arrest

The first time John Lewis traveled to Mississippi in 1961, he was arrested and jailed with other Freedom Riders, black and white, who challenged segregation in a bus station.

Posted: Feb 23, 2018 1:32 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The first time John Lewis traveled to Mississippi in 1961, he was arrested and jailed with other Freedom Riders, black and white, who challenged segregation in a bus station.

Lewis, who is African-American, remembers going into a restroom labeled for white men only. A Jackson police officer told him and other young people in the group to leave. They refused.

"The next words he said: 'You're under arrest.' And that was my introduction to the state of Mississippi and the city of Jackson," Lewis told The Associated Press on Thursday in a phone interview from Atlanta.

After 37 days of being locked up in sweltering local jails and a notorious state prison on the disorderly conduct charge, Lewis was released. He continued working for racial equality in Mississippi and across the South in the 1960s, and as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he helped organize the 1963 March on Washington. Georgia voters elected him as a Democrat to the U.S. House in 1986, and he remains in office.

Lewis, 78, returns to Mississippi on Friday, one of five people being honored for advancing civil rights.

A private group called Friends of Mississippi Civil Rights organized a gala Friday and symposium Saturday to celebrate the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

Lewis' jail mug shot hangs in a gallery at the museum with those of other Freedom Riders. He was scheduled to speak at the museum's state-sponsored opening in December but canceled his appearance because Republican Gov. Phil Bryant invited President Donald Trump.

Lewis said Thursday that he has never met Trump but, "I felt that I couldn't be there with him after he said some unbelievable things about individuals and about groups — whether it's members of the African-American community or the Latino community or the Dreamers," younger immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children and have been protected under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

"I just couldn't be there with him," Lewis said.

The opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the adjoining Museum of Mississippi History capped the state's bicentennial observation.

The two museums are in downtown Jackson and are separate entities under a single roof. They are a short distance from the bus station where Lewis and the other Freedom Riders were arrested. The general museum skims 15,000 years of history, from the Stone Age to modern times. The civil rights museum concentrates on the intense period of social change from 1945 to 1976.

Lewis grew up south of Montgomery, Alabama, and was 15 years old when a black 14-year-old from Chicago, Emmett Till, was lynched while visiting relatives near the small town of Money, Mississippi. A cousin who was with Till said he had whistled at a white woman in a country store.

"I kept thinking that if something like this could happen to Emmett Till, it could happen to cousins of mine that were living in Buffalo, New York, or were living in Detroit, Michigan, when they came to Alabama to visit during the summer," Lewis said.

One of the other people being honored Friday for civil rights work is Rita Schwerner Bender, who demanded answers from Mississippi officials after her first husband, Michael Schwerner, and two other activists, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were killed outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964 — a case that became known by its FBI name, "Mississippi Burning."

Bender, now an attorney in Seattle, said Wednesday that in accepting the award in Mississippi, she intends to urge people to stand up for justice.

"Most social change doesn't happen without a demand side," she said.

Bender said she also would emphasize the importance of public education: "How can we be a thriving democracy which provides for the intellectual development of all our people, for the health of our people, for our place as contributors on the world stage, without high quality education?"

The other honorees are Ruby Bridges, a Tylertown, Mississippi, native who faced threats and ostracism when she became the first black child to integrate a public school in New Orleans in 1960; former state Rep. Robert Clark, who in 1967 became the first African-American of the 20th Century to win a seat in the Mississippi Legislature; and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 259117

Reported Deaths: 5668
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17436187
Hinds16524328
Harrison13876199
Rankin11000217
Jackson10652187
Lee8981141
Madison8413168
Jones6552112
Forrest6101121
Lauderdale6034189
Lowndes5463119
Lafayette507393
Lamar496465
Washington4877124
Bolivar4068109
Oktibbeha401681
Panola378380
Pontotoc372155
Monroe3628105
Warren3619101
Union350563
Marshall349569
Neshoba3433152
Pearl River3380104
Leflore3079108
Lincoln300687
Sunflower289272
Hancock285360
Tate276762
Alcorn268854
Pike266580
Itawamba266261
Scott253448
Yazoo250156
Prentiss249552
Tippah245850
Copiah244549
Coahoma243654
Simpson240069
Leake234367
Grenada221171
Marion218473
Covington216972
Adams210170
Wayne206432
Winston205267
George202739
Attala195761
Newton195745
Tishomingo192461
Chickasaw186144
Jasper176038
Holmes169868
Clay162735
Tallahatchie154935
Stone148424
Clarke143562
Calhoun138021
Smith125825
Yalobusha120234
Walthall113437
Greene112129
Noxubee111425
Montgomery110936
Carroll105922
Lawrence104317
Perry103231
Amite99926
Webster94324
Tunica87621
Jefferson Davis87327
Claiborne86825
Benton84023
Humphreys83624
Kemper79120
Quitman7029
Franklin68716
Choctaw62313
Wilkinson58825
Jefferson55920
Sharkey44217
Issaquena1606
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 432536

Reported Deaths: 6379
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson63523957
Mobile30967562
Madison27627201
Tuscaloosa21122268
Montgomery19495326
Shelby18941126
Baldwin16798188
Lee12901102
Morgan12447129
Etowah11911178
Calhoun11365205
Marshall10322119
Houston8813156
Limestone823176
Cullman8159106
Elmore8056104
DeKalb7796102
Lauderdale773399
St. Clair7705122
Talladega6347109
Walker5993174
Jackson590341
Colbert543274
Blount541186
Autauga527061
Coffee454160
Dale405482
Franklin371948
Russell345712
Chilton340972
Covington334168
Escambia328344
Dallas310196
Chambers297370
Clarke290536
Tallapoosa2665107
Pike258830
Marion250155
Lawrence249150
Winston231442
Bibb219848
Geneva206946
Marengo205229
Pickens198631
Hale180842
Barbour177836
Fayette174528
Butler171358
Cherokee162530
Henry157523
Monroe150718
Randolph143236
Washington139527
Clay128546
Crenshaw121644
Cleburne119724
Lamar119621
Macon119637
Lowndes112536
Wilcox105822
Bullock101428
Perry99118
Conecuh96320
Sumter89726
Greene76723
Coosa62215
Choctaw51624
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