Jan Crawford Greenburg has a pretty great piece discussing John Lewis's comments. Greenburg is white and from Alabama, and so it's interesting getting the context for racial violence from the perspective of white native Southerner:
The laws then said blacks were unequal; the politicians would come to preach that blacks also were dangerous. The governor of my home state declared "segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever," and crowds cheered. He later stood in the schoolhouse door to keep blacks students from entering the University of Alabama, and emboldened crowds threw bottles and sticks and hurled epithets.
When I was a student at Alabama decades later, I used to walk by that building, Foster Auditorium, on my way to class. I saw R.E.M. play there on Sept. 22, 1984. But I can still imagine Wallace, standing in the schoolhouse door.It was just the other day.
One thing that's come to me, during this election, is how so many people view pre-Civil Rights movement America as this distant aberration. There's sort of this belief that--at some point in the past--there were slaves in this country. And then Abe Lincoln ended it all and saved the union, though the people who fought Abe were honorable men themselves (can't forget that caveat). Then later someone put up some signs saying "Whites Only." A few bad apples killed some black people who didn't like the signs. Then Martin Luther King proclaimed he had a dream, and it was huggie time--until some fool, motivated only be his own individual sense of evil, killed him. But we're mostly all better now.
I think that's the narrrative that McCain/Palin are working from. A lot of folks think that these guys are intentionally stirring up these old forces--but that gives McCain/Palin too much credit. They don't really know how close this stuff is to us--that this country sacrificed 750,000 of its best men on the altar of white supremacy. They don't really know what the 60s cost John Lewis. They don't know that the only successful coup d'etat in America's long illustrious history, was led by white racists. Wilmington still hasn't recovered from that. They don't know anything about housing covenants, black vets lynched in their uniforms, the government conspiring to keep black neighborhoods poor, states conspiring to make black children stupid, or Alabama sharecroppers being used as guinea pigs. They just have no idea how history walks with us all, that all of this happened just the other day.