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: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 540083

Reported Deaths: 11038
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson798481529
Mobile41283809
Madison35157506
Tuscaloosa25925455
Shelby25302249
Montgomery24723593
Baldwin21411310
Lee15993172
Calhoun14574319
Morgan14425280
Etowah13925353
Marshall12280225
Houston10648282
Elmore10158206
Limestone10070151
St. Clair9948245
Cullman9768194
Lauderdale9460243
DeKalb8865188
Talladega8341176
Walker7261278
Autauga7005108
Jackson6840112
Blount6773139
Colbert6322135
Coffee5581118
Dale4877113
Russell445738
Chilton4373113
Franklin426382
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4044153
Escambia394877
Chambers3596123
Dallas3569153
Clarke351561
Marion3140101
Pike312077
Lawrence303098
Winston275873
Bibb264764
Geneva254178
Marengo249865
Pickens234862
Barbour232056
Hale224078
Butler219169
Fayette212862
Henry189943
Cherokee184845
Randolph182542
Monroe178141
Washington167839
Macon161350
Clay157257
Crenshaw153557
Cleburne149641
Lamar143336
Lowndes140653
Wilcox127430
Bullock123242
Conecuh110829
Coosa109228
Perry107826
Sumter105032
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
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