Statement on the Passing of Congressman John Lewis

The Boxser Diversity Initiative mourns the passing of one of the last lions of the Civil Rights Movement, Congressman John Lewis.  John Lewis, in addition to being one of the icons of the modern civil rights movement and an outstanding member of Congress helped organize and participate in the Freedom Riders Movement in 1961. 

In November 2017, on the campus of New College of Florida, the Boxser Diversity Initiative commemorated the lasting legacy of these Freedom Riders by presenting a program honoring the riders and celebrating their legacy.  Among the guest for a panel discussion in conjunction with the event was Ellen Ziskind, a Freedom Rider and longtime friend of the Diversity Initiative.  We asked Ellen if she would reflect on her memory of John Lewis.  Here is what she told us:

“I would be honored to say something about John Lewis He touched me more than any other public (or private) person I can think of. 

I have a story that so depicts the man:

In 2011, Oprah Winfrey invited the Freedom Riders to Chicago to mark the 50th anniversary.. One of them was John Lewis. At some point, Oprah gestured for someone backstage to come out. A white-haired, elderly man with a southern accent came forward and sat down next to Congressman Lewis. This is the story they told. As the bus was burning in Anniston, Alabama on May 14,1961 and John was lying on the ground choking from the smoke and bleeding from being beaten, this man came over and asked if he was okay. John indicated that he was and the man said something like, “Well, if you’re okay now, you not gonna be” and proceeded to beat him more. Decades later, this man contacted Congressman Lewis’ DC office and asked if he could come to apologize for what he’d done all those years ago. And he did. And they’d been in touch ever since. The entire time they were together onstage, John had his arm around him. What more is there to say? 

It’s just 1 more remarkable thing about this dear, dear, brave beyond words, remarkable man. I don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of him again, though I certainly hope we will”