Thomas Gallatin / July 20, 2020

John Lewis’s Mixed Legacy

He will be remembered more for civil rights advocacy than congressional record.

History is replete with stories of individuals who started out well but finished poorly. No one is entirely right or entirely wrong, but rather is a mix of both. Georgia Democrat Congressman John Lewis, who died Friday at the age of 80 after a bout with pancreatic cancer, was a man who arguably typified both of these realities.

Lewis is rightly regarded as an icon of the civil rights movement. He worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight to end the injustice of racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S. Lewis stood with King in their unwavering activism to bring about racial equality through nonviolent means, even after Lewis suffered a fractured skull from being hit by police during the famous 1965 march in Selma, Alabama. To his great credit, Lewis never deviated from his belief in peacefully advocating for change and justice.

In 1986, Lewis won a congressional seat representing Georgia’s fifth district, a seat he would hold until his death. It was during his 33 years in Congress, however, that Lewis’s record as a staunch advocate for civil rights took some significant hits, most notably regarding the Second Amendment.

Recall back in 2016, in a stunt aimed at replicating the 1960s civil rights advocacy, Lewis joined his fellow House Democrats in a staged sit-in on the floor of Congress as they demanded a vote to pass new “gun control” measures. Nate Jackson noted the irony of a civil rights icon standing — or rather sitting — against civil rights: “Gun control began in the 1800s as a racist method of keeping guns out of the hands of blacks. You might even say those blacks were on government lists meant to deny their rights. Who else was on an FBI watch list? A gun-owning Martin Luther King Jr. Yet now a man who claims King’s legacy, and declares on his website that he is ‘one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,’ is using old methods to deny civil rights.”

Furthermore, as is all too common with members of Congress, the longer they reside in DC, the more Potomac water molds them into out-of-touch elitists who allow Washington concerns to trump their constituents back home, and Lewis was no exception. This reality was made patently clear with the Democrats’ politically orchestrated stunt to further the fallacious narrative of President Donald Trump being a racist. Lewis teamed up with fellow Representative Bennie Thompson in late 2017 to castigate Trump over his plan to attend the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. “I think [Trump’s] presence would make a mockery of everything that people tried to do to redeem the soul of America and to make this country better,” Lewis blasted.

It’s unfortunate that Lewis came to personify the Democrats’ turn from the colorblind and character-focused ideals of MLK to the color-obsessed race-baiting cadres of radical leftists that they are today. They killed MLK’s dream, and Lewis helped.

Fortunately for Lewis, most tributes will remember him more for how he started than how he finished, though we view it as more of a cautionary tale.

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