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Moral Faith and the Legacy of John Lewis’s Political Vision of “Good Trouble”

Johnson, Terrence L.
Journal of Law and Religion

The late congressman John Lewis spent most of his political life engaging Black Power’s commitment to economic and political freedom through a political vocabulary that aligned with his deeply held beliefs in nonviolence, human rights activism, and moral faith. The tension between the Black radical left and establishment Black politics dates back to Lewis’s clash with elite Black leaders over the content of his prepared address for the 1963 March on Washington. The address provides a glimpse into Lewis’s complicated political legacy. The youngest speaker at the March, Lewis faced the daunting task of both representing the political philosophy of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and meeting the expectations of established civil rights leaders. Negotiating the political interests of the organizers of the March alongside the demands of SNCC foreshadowed the congressman’s political vocation: a lifetime of civil rights advocacy through a politics of respectability and Black Power’s political philosophy of freedom and economic transformation. Lewis’s political legacy is complicated; and yet, it was fueled by an unabashed commitment to Black freedom struggles, human rights activism, and racial reconciliation.