Braylen Howell, a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Georgia College Early College, was the youngest person to speak at a special ceremony remembering the legacy of the late civil rights icon, U.S. Rep. John Robert Lewis last Saturday in Milledgeville.
Howell said although he never had the opportunity to meet Lewis personally that it nevertheless was an honor to pay public tribute to the longtime U.S. Congressman and pioneer.
“I am here to speak a few minutes today about what Congressman Lewis’ legacy means to me,” Howell said told a crowd gathered outside Allen’s Market in Milledgeville.
On the day that Lewis passed away, Howell said social media was flooded about the death of Lewis and that he, too, wanted to share a personal post about the man that he greatly admired.
“Rest in peace, John Lewis,” Howell said. “A few hours after I made this post, I was shocked to see how many of my friends replied to this post, asking who was John Lewis?”
Howell said right then he realized that a lot of work remains to be done.
Lewis was affectionately known as the “Boy from Troy,” by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the civil rights movement for many years in America.
Howell said Lewis was a humble servant, icon and a legend.
“No matter how he was referred to there is no denying the impact he had on shaping American history,” Howell said.
The teenager said he became familiar with Lewis while watching the movie, “Selma” in 2014.
“From that point on, I learned more about him and his work with civil rights, especially the right to vote,” Howell said. “I am amazed about all he endured at sit-ins, marches and even suffering a dramatic blow to the head on Bloody Sunday. I soon learned that he was a fierce and courageous man.”
Lewis never made it a secret how he felt about the importance of voting, he said.
“In fact, he reminded us about this every chance he could,” Howell added.
He recalled that Lewis was once asked by a group of young people what he would charge the next generation to do, he simply responded, “Participate in the democratic process, participate so that every vote counts.’”
Erin Weston, president of the Baldwin County Federation of Democratic Women, also spoke to the nearly 100 people who gathered outside Allen’s Market to hear tributes about the civil rights pioneer.
Lewis began his political career as a city councilman in Atlanta and then sought office on a national level. He first ran for the 5th District Georgia Congressional seat that Julian Bond held for several years and lost. Two years later, Lewis defeated Bond to win a Congressional seat — one he kept for 17 consecutive terms.
“He was known as the conscience of Congress as a powerful and outspoken leader,” Weston said.
Westin said when parts of the Voting Rights Act were dismantled in 2013, Lewis called for a renewed focus on the right to vote.
“Speak out against voter suppression, and make sure that you, your friends, your family are all registered to vote,” Weston said.
She said Congressman Lewis was beaten and jailed numerous times for the right to vote.
“Please honor him by getting everyone to the polls,” Weston said.
State Rep. Rick Williams, (R-Milledgeville), who represents the 145th District that includes all of Milledgeville and Baldwin County and the southern portion of neighboring Putnam County.
“As I’ve sat listening today and watching the freedom of assembly that we have in Milledgeville, Ga. and the United States of America, and it’s thanks to veterans, such as Mr. Griffin (Floyd L. Jr.) and other veterans,” Williams said. “If you’re a veteran, would you raise your hand. Thank you for your service.”
Williams then told everyone there that the nation’s freedoms are because of the American flag.
He then led those in attendance in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Because we live in a free country, John Lewis was able to be free and fight for more freedom,” Williams said. “I thank you for joining me in that pledge to our flag.”
He later was asked to by Milledgeville Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan to read the comments from U.S. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Greensboro) concerning his colleague in the U.S. Congress.
“There is no question that all of us who served with John Lewis mourn the passing of this towering figure,” Williams said of what Hice wrote. “He dedicated so much of his life for fighting for freedom and equality. A son of an Alabama sharecropper, John Lewis demonstrated that in America, a single man even one from the humblest of origins can influence the course of history.”
Rising to major leadership role during the civil rights movement, Lewis worked hand-in-hand with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other American heroes who sacrificed their lives to ensure that all Americans of all races may live in liberty, Williams said, reading from what Hice authored.
Lewis and so many other American icons during the civil rights era had their causes rooted in truth and peace.
“He wrote release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge,” Hice wrote concerning Lewis. “Release all bitterness. Hold only love and peace in your heart.”
Hice said Lewis knew that good already won over evil.
“Lewis knew that it was right and necessary to fight to create a better American and confront the sins of society, but it must be done peacefully, and through non-violent means, or else we sow the seeds for further sin and future discord,” Hice wrote. “I deeply respected John Lewis for his courage and dedication, and I always counted him as a friend. Our institution will be poorer and a less vibrant place in his absence.”