ASPEN, Colo.—What makes John Lewis such an important link to the crucial period of the civil-rights period isn’t just that he was there. It’s that he can conjure dates, faces, and details from those experiences with such impressive command.
The longtime Georgia Democratic member of Congress demonstrated a little of that Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is hosted by The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute.
He spoke about the powerful feeling he got the first time he met Martin Luther King, when Lewis was still a teenager: “To be in his presence, to be able to talk with him, just made me feel stronger and more daring.”
He remembered exactly what was said in the moments before Alabama State Troopers attacked the peaceful marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma: Hosea Williams asked Officer John Cloud for a moment to pray, but the mass of troopers attacked instead. (Lewis’s skull was fractured by a nightstick that day.)
He remembered the meal he ate with fellow Freedom Riders the day before they boarded buses in Washington, D.C., headed south. It was the first time he’d ever had Chinese food. “Someone said, 'You should eat well, because this might be your last meal,'” Lewis recalled.