To the Editor:
There are many lessons from the life of the late Congressman John Lewis – from courage on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to 15 years of tenacity to create the National Museum of African American History Culture and Heritage. But for those of us interested in local government, there’s a great John Lewis story that teaches a lesson about commitment and principle.
Before he was Congressman Lewis, he was Atlanta Councilman Lewis from 1981-1986. When he ran in 1981, he opposed a four-lane super-highway in downtown Atlanta to connect with the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. Councilman Lewis believed it would increase traffic, cause middle-class and business exits, and hurt Black neighborhoods.
Jimmy Carter wanted the project badly. As President, he’d named Lewis Associate Director of the ACTION Agency, responsible for VISTA and other programs. The new Mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Young was also strongly for the project. He’d been John Lewis’ partner in the civil rights struggle for two decades.
President Carter and Mayor Young worked relentlessly but unsuccessfully to change Councilman Lewis’ position. The project passed but because of the opposition from Councilman Lewis and others, a compromise turned it into a two lane road.
Lewis’ stance on the highway hurt him politically. He never served on an important committee or chaired any committee on the Atlanta City Council in the next five years. But the feared devastation of the original project was avoided by the compromise version. He took a firm stand to protect the people he served and was unconcerned about what it meant to him personally. But that was no surprise – it is who John Lewis was as a civil rights leader, Councilman, Congressman and American icon.
The Carter Library and the road were built. That road, originally named Presidential Parkway, was renamed Freedom Parkway years later. But since August 2018, it has been the John Lewis Freedom Parkway.
Thanks, John Lewis, for your enduring lifetime of lessons, which should always guide us here at home.
Democratic Candidate for
Croton-on-Hudson Board of Trustees