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Across That Bridge

A Vision for Change and the Future of America

By John Lewis
13-minute read
Audio available
Across That Bridge by John Lewis

Across That Bridge (2017) is a poignant account from one of America’s most powerful activists on the qualities that protestors need to embody to bring about lasting change. Activists in the US and all over the world look to the American civil rights movement of the 1960s for inspiration on how to challenge injustice. Here, Lewis uses personal recollections – from freedom rides to bus boycotts to the March on Washington – to impart lessons about nonviolent protest to the next generation of dreamers.

  • Anyone who wants to speak truth to power
  • People inspired by the historic victories of the civil rights movement
  • Those interested in nonviolent communication

John Lewis was one of the most influential American activists of the twentieth century. A close friend and colleague of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, Lewis played a crucial role in ending legalized segregation in the South. He also ushered in vital civil rights legislation in the 1960s. He was elected to the US Congress in 1987 and served until his death in 2020.

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Across That Bridge

A Vision for Change and the Future of America

By John Lewis
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Across That Bridge by John Lewis
Synopsis

Across That Bridge (2017) is a poignant account from one of America’s most powerful activists on the qualities that protestors need to embody to bring about lasting change. Activists in the US and all over the world look to the American civil rights movement of the 1960s for inspiration on how to challenge injustice. Here, Lewis uses personal recollections – from freedom rides to bus boycotts to the March on Washington – to impart lessons about nonviolent protest to the next generation of dreamers.

Key idea 1 of 8

The civil rights movement shows how nothing can stop the power of people determined to make a difference.

On March 7, 1965, John Lewis led a group of peaceful protestors onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He and the other activists planned on marching to the state capitol as a protest against voter discrimination. But as he came to the top of the bridge, hundreds of Alabama state troopers – and deputized citizens – came into view. The troopers and the enraged posse, armed with firearms, tear gas, and nightsticks, had no intention of letting the protestors get through. 

Dozens of peaceful demonstrators were brutally beaten, and several were hospitalized. Lewis himself suffered a fractured skull and bore scars for the rest of his life.

It was one of the darkest episodes of the American civil rights movement. But for Lewis, all of the uncertainty and suffering was worth it. Since that awful day, America has made great progress toward bridging its racial divide. And the movement set a precedent for meeting today’s challenges. 

The key message here is: The civil rights movement shows how nothing can stop the power of people determined to make a difference.

The civil rights movement was just one step on the long road to America’s spiritual destiny. The work is far from done.

Lewis, who later became a US representative, believed that our modern era has been marked by a unique hostility. At times, for him, the rancor seemed even worse than it was in the 1960s.

Remember when we thought Barack Obama’s 2008 election meant we’d entered a post-racial America? No one believes that anymore. Not in the wake of attempts to ruin the president’s legacy, militarize the police, and weaponize the government to serve as an agent of oppression. In fact, the lowest point of decorum that Lewis ever witnessed was during a State of the Union address when President Obama was called a liar.

But people seem to be waking up. They’re reengaging with their responsibility for the democratic process. They’re remembering, or realizing for the first time, that we are one family, one people. This reawakening reminded Lewis of the civil rights movement – the mighty wind that blew through America and transformed the moral character of the nation.

This history is an important reminder that things may seem dark, like they did when Lewis stood on top of that bridge. But these dark times are really just a starting point for something better.

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