By Emmitt Hayes Jr.,
‘The boy from Troy’ are words of Martin Luther King Jr.; a playful set of words, loaded with pride. John Lewis was such a regular looking fellow, so unassuming that you would easily miss him in a crowd. Partly because of his 5 feet 5 inch frame, but mostly because he was a regular looking dude.
But downloaded into him, I believe, as one of his many “gifts” is service. Service by a man, sent from God. I mean, when you think about this regular fellow, he didn’t have the oratorical ability of King but his words were so similarly powerful to a country that needs redemption.
He did not have the great athletic ability and strength of Muhammad Ali; but nonetheless, he pummeled so many detractors of the civil right movement into submission. Lewis did not have the cat quick feet, strength or power like Walter Payton – but a common thread that runs through these great people is courage and tenacity. He indeed had a courage that was of the divine source, as in 23 Psalms … as he “walked through the valley of the shadow of death,” he knew that death is a price he could pay.
At the age of 17, John Robert Lewis sent a letter to King indicating he wanted to attend the all-white Troy State College and had submitted his application. He did not get a response from Troy but, it gave rise to the idea that he would send a letter about this to King
Time passed and he had already started college in Nashville, TN when King responded by sending him a bus ticket to Montgomery to meet him. When he entered the room, King, along with Ralph Abernathy asked, “Are you the boy from Troy?”
This story opened my spiritual eye and I saw something very similar had occurred as Jesus walked along the shores of a fishing village and began to collect his disciples. He did not send bus tickets, but He offered two brothers an opportunity to become fishers of men. King was so moved as he apparently sensed the spirit within this young man, that it was not long before these men were walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to a vicious confrontation with pure unmitigated hate.
Locked into the divine vision of nonviolence, Lewis, at 5 feet 5 inches tall, was at the front of the line of hundreds of the redeeming forces lined up, two by two, marching into what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” As the marchers moved to the crest of the bridge, they witnessed unbridled hatred of racists whose vile thoughts were to be a part of and witness to the annihilation of people, who simply wanted to cross over and continue the march to Montgomery.
After seeing that vicious crowd, hearing the words of hate, this man of God, Lewis, himself, felt this would be the day he would die. Certainly, when he was the first to be clubbed, he saw “…the valley of the shadow of death,” but his faith was bolstered, he continued forward, “…As he feared no evil” for God was with him and the hundreds of others that followed. The demonic force and rage was released by the evil, hard-hearted racist who apparently did not view them as human beings, But GOD.
“The Boy from Troy,” did not complete the march to Montgomery on that day. But King, who had walked alongside him, did however, complete the march.
But Lewis did not stop marching there. He marched to and sat at lunch counters where Jim Crow laws said he could not; he marched and registered voters during a time when voter suppression and intimidation were bold and right in your face, unlike today.
Lewis marched into Congress and many soon found that he could “walk with kings and maintain a common touch” as he was able to reach both democrats and republicans to the extent that he became known by them as the “conscious of the Congress.” “Thou have prepared a table before me, in the presence of mine enemies, my head is anointed with oil.
Lewis authored the bill for the National Museum of African American History. He fought for it, and then saw it signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush.
In his last days he marched to Washington D.C. and stood in the middle of the Black Lives Matter sign where, it seems he passed the baton, and had one last bridge to cross – the one that crosses the River Jordan, where he was met by his Savior saying, ‘Welcome my good and faithful servant.”
Thank you John Robert Lewis, thank you Boy from Troy, we thank God for you.
Emmitt Hays, Jr., CEO of Let There Be Light (LTBL) Consultants, is a native of Jackson, Mississippi. He resides in Austin, Texas, having retired in 2014 as director, Probation Services Division, Travis County Probation Department. He is a graduate of Tougaloo College with a Psychology degree.