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.

Confirmed Cases: 112123

Reported Deaths: 3223
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7796173
DeSoto670178
Harrison484483
Jackson435081
Rankin383786
Madison373993
Lee344979
Forrest296377
Jones283782
Washington252197
Lafayette242642
Lauderdale2376131
Lamar217138
Bolivar198377
Oktibbeha195854
Neshoba1814111
Lowndes174962
Panola166337
Leflore160787
Sunflower157649
Warren152755
Monroe145972
Pontotoc143819
Pike137256
Lincoln135555
Copiah135036
Marshall134826
Scott123829
Coahoma123436
Grenada120038
Yazoo119333
Simpson118649
Union115225
Holmes113560
Leake113340
Tate113239
Itawamba110424
Pearl River108958
Adams104343
Prentiss102619
Wayne98721
Alcorn96012
George93917
Marion92942
Covington92525
Tippah85921
Newton84427
Chickasaw82625
Winston82221
Tallahatchie81825
Tishomingo79341
Hancock78127
Attala77626
Clarke72349
Clay67621
Jasper67417
Walthall63327
Calhoun61412
Noxubee59617
Smith58316
Claiborne53216
Montgomery52923
Tunica52217
Lawrence49914
Yalobusha49314
Perry48122
Carroll46312
Greene45518
Stone45014
Amite41713
Quitman4146
Humphreys41216
Jefferson Davis39811
Webster36613
Wilkinson33020
Kemper32015
Benton3154
Sharkey27814
Jefferson27010
Franklin2373
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 153016

Reported Deaths: 2633
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22563372
Mobile14335314
Tuscaloosa10023133
Montgomery9759196
Madison904893
Shelby709960
Lee644966
Baldwin640569
Marshall428248
Calhoun412759
Etowah405749
Morgan396833
Houston364632
DeKalb319628
Elmore310752
St. Clair282142
Limestone270828
Walker268892
Talladega258435
Cullman227623
Lauderdale208740
Autauga201029
Jackson200915
Franklin199731
Colbert192228
Russell19053
Dallas185627
Blount184824
Chilton181731
Escambia171328
Coffee16669
Covington166029
Dale163451
Pike130512
Chambers130143
Tallapoosa128686
Clarke127117
Marion104729
Butler99840
Barbour9889
Marengo97221
Winston90413
Geneva8417
Pickens80517
Lawrence80031
Randolph79814
Bibb79114
Hale74529
Cherokee72214
Clay71912
Lowndes70127
Henry6376
Bullock63517
Monroe6319
Washington62212
Crenshaw59330
Perry5806
Wilcox55912
Conecuh55713
Fayette55312
Cleburne5287
Macon52820
Sumter46721
Lamar4565
Choctaw38712
Greene33916
Coosa1973
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