A link with the pastWritten by Dianne Collins
When people trace their ancestral roots they sometimes discover a link within the family which has relevance to their present day life and so it was to be for John Lewis. On Sunday, 25 March 2012 John Lewis’s family history was featured in PBS’s new genealogical series called, “Finding your roots”. In 1956 when John Lewis was 16 years old he discovered he could not borrow books from the local library as it was for whites only. He was angry and wanted to do something about it, but his parents did not want any trouble and told him “not to rock the boat”.
That advice did not rest easy in young Lewis’s mind. A couple of years later after hearing Rev. Martin Luther King Junior’s speeches on the radio, he travelled to Georgia to meet him and became one of the strongest activists in the civil rights movement. He canvassed door to door encouraging black people to register to vote. In the 1960’s he took part in the March from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery and participated in the Freedom Rides. He was among the many who was subjected to mob violence from whites who opposed them, and was beaten and jailed yet he persevered in these terrible hardships.
His sacrifices along with the heroism of the others in the civil rights movement eventually brought the nation to its senses and won for all American citizens freedom from discrimination in public places and included the right to vote.
It was well known that John Lewis was a descendant of slaves but it has only recently come to light that his great great grandfather, Tobias Carter registered to vote in Alabama in 1867, two years after he was freed from slavery. So there is the link: a great great grandfather, an ex-slave, who registered to vote and a great great grandson who is a congressman and civil rights activist who worked tirelessly in order to obtain black people’s right to vote.
The urge for freedom and voting rights extended from Lewis’s ancestral past through generation after generation, until it reached its full potential. John Lewis has stated “that the right to vote is a powerful instrument in a democratic society”. These are words that Nevisians would do well to reflect on. Our American counterparts struggled hard to gain their civil rights, including the right to vote. We too should treasure and respect our freedoms and guard against any infringements against the right of every citizen in Nevis to vote. Our link with the past demands it!