WASHINGTON – Last night Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) joined many of his colleagues honoring the late Congressman John Lewis on the floor of the House of Representatives. In his spoken remarks, which were required to be shortened to one minute of floor time allotted to each Member, Cooper urged the public to support the HBCU institutions that trained Congressman Lewis. The following statement was submitted into the Congressional Record by Rep. Cooper:
“No one loved Nashville as much as John Lewis. The self-described ‘boy from Troy’ Alabama arrived in Nashville on a bus, with a ticket purchased by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King wanted John to study at American Baptist College, one of Nashville’s four legendary HBCUs. For anyone wondering how to honor the legacy of John Lewis, think of his alma mater, American Baptist, or the other justly-famous Nashville HBCU he later attended, Fisk University. If you want more John Lewis’s in our world, those were his beloved training grounds.
“John loved reminiscing about Nashville. Once, when John was trying to integrate the Krystal restaurant on West End, the manager panicked and locked John inside alone. The fire-suppression system was turned on, filling the building with gas. John could have suffocated but he somehow managed to escape unharmed. Yet he never hated the manager whose panic could have killed him. He understood the man’s fear and tried to ease his fear.
“John loved learning non-violence from Dr. James Lawson who led seminars, including at the Highlander Folk School, about how to resist the overwhelming urge to fight back during protests despite the taunts, the insults, the cigarette burns, the physical blows, and even the broken bones. They practiced hurting each other so they knew they were battle-hardened. The young activists knew the danger. They made out their wills before joining the Freedom Rides.
“As congressman, John was always kind to meet with visitors, interns and staffers from Nashville, and even individual families, who wanted a moment with the great man, the historic figure, the living saint. After the meeting, they were starry-eyed, often crying from the intensity and purity of the encounter. John also accepted as many invitations as he could to speak in Nashville, once bringing the Faith & Politics pilgrimage to Nashville.
“John made history again with his anti-gun-violence protest on the floor of this House in 2016. We on the Democratic side were honored to follow his leadership, his empathy for victims, his impatience with injustice, and his moral courage. His friends across the aisle could not quite comprehend his motivation or his actions, but he forgave them anyway.
“Nashville’s current District Attorney, Glenn Funk, contacted me a few months ago to ask John how he would like his Nashville arrest records handled: expungement, apology, or even, it sounded like, a ticker-tape parade. Much like when I personally witnessed Montgomery’s police chief officially apologize to John for his treatment at the hands of local authorities, I was happy that John was finally being recognized by Nashville, the city he loved, for causing Good Trouble, only Good Trouble, just the way his mother preferred it, if he had to get in trouble at all. I believe that John was called by God to get in Good Trouble and I am thankful that he accepted that call, for the sake of us all.”