New Documentary Explores Rep. John Lewis’ Civil Rights Struggle

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John Lewis
U.S. Rep. John Lewis

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) is the subject of a new documentary that explores his role in the Civil Rights Movement and his political career.

Lewis, who represents the city of Atlanta and some of its suburbs, is featured in a 65-minute film, Get in the Way: The Journey of John Lewis. The film debuted on Dec. 3 at the Newseum in Northwest D.C. and the film writer and director, Kathleen Dowdy, said it was a labor of love to work on the project.

“Wherever John Lewis would go, people would ask him to tell his life story and he would,” Dowdy said. “His stories spoke to me and they moved me to do something. The passion for this project was so strong that each person that got involved in the film became very, very deeply committed to it.”

Charles Floyd Johnson served as the film’s producer. Prominent participants in the project included former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver III (D-Mo.), D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Juanita Abernathy, the wife of civil rights icon Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

The film is supported by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the National Association of Black Journalist. It covers Lewis’s early life in rural Alabama, his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as a college student and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, his post-civil rights era career as the director of the Voter Education Project, an Atlanta city council member’ and member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The film also goes into detail about the strategies for the sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee, his participation in the Freedom Rides of the early 1960s in which he was beaten by White mobs and police officers while traveling in the deep South, the 1963 March on Washington where he was the youngest speaker on the program, and the Selma, Alabama march on March 7, 1965, where he and other participants were beaten by state troopers for advocating for voting rights for Blacks.

The motion picture shares Lewis’ surprise victory over Julian Bond in the 1986 Democratic Party primary for the congressional seat he presently holds. The film also talks about Lewis’ support for the Affordable Care Act, immigration reform, gay rights, and his fight for those in poverty.

Lewis attended the screening of the film along with U.S. Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who serves as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Karen Bass (D-Calif.). Butterfield said the movie inspired him. “John Lewis is an absolute living legend,” he said. “He is a champion of human rights and an agent for change. I have traveled with him around the world and he is recognized everywhere he goes.”

Lewis spoke briefly, saying that the film production team “did a superb job.” He said that the film brought back memories on why he got involved in the Civil Rights Movement. “I remember growing up where you had those ‘Colored’ and ‘White’ signs and I kept asking my mother why they were there,” he said. “My mother said that was the way it is and advised me not to get into trouble. I didn’t listen and I got into good trouble.

“There are forces that truly want to take us back,” he said, ” . . . if you see something that’s not right, you have an obligation to speak up and speak out.”