Rep. John Lewis (second from right), with activist Roy Wilkins of the NAACP (left), the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and labor leader A. Philip Randolph
Rep. John Lewis (second from right), with activist Roy Wilkins of the NAACP (left), the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and labor leader A. Philip Randolph

Rep. John Lewis rankled President-elect Donald Trump when he told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” in an exclusive interview that he does not believe Trump is a “legitimate president.” The comment provoked Trump to lash out at the civil rights icon on Twitter, decrying Lewis as “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”

Trump’s series of tweets criticizing Lewis set off a flurry of reaction on the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Several Democrats rallied behind Lewis, a Freedom Rider and top organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, calling him an “American hero” and revered civil rights leader.

Republicans stayed mostly silent amid the back-and-forth, NBC News reported — the latest to highlight Trump’s willingness to take on anyone, from war heroes to celebrities, whom he believes slighted him.

But challenging Lewis, a Democrat representing Georgia, could end up pushing more members of his own party to skip Friday’s presidential inauguration in protest, the network said.

Lewis, the last surviving speaker from the March on Washington 50 years ago, spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just before King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963. Lewis has often reflected on that, telling media outlets about his fondness for King and his belief that everyone should continue to work toward the fulfillment of the late leader’s dream.

“Martin Luther King Jr. taught me how to say no to segregation and I can hear him saying now … when you straighten up your back — no man can ride you. He said stand up straight and say no to racial discrimination,” Lewis told NPR in 1999.

As a young student, Lewis said he became involved in studying the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence.

“And as students, young people Black and white we would go downtown in Nashville, Atlanta, Birmingham and other cities in the South … and we would sit down and we did what we called sit-ins at lunch counters,” Lewis said.

“These places refused to serve Black students. And while sitting, sometimes people would come in and beat us, light cigarettes out in our hair, down our backs, throw us off the lunch counter stools, and sometimes kick us and leave us lying down on the floor,” he said.

Born in 1940 outside of Troy, Alabama, Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties and building what he calls “The Beloved Community” in America.

His dedication to the highest ethical standards and moral principles has won him the admiration of many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

He has been called “the conscience of the U.S. Congress,” and Roll Call magazine said he is “a genuine American hero and moral leader who commands widespread respect in the chamber.”

It is that respect and admiration that have many backing Lewis in the exchange with Trump.

“By disrespecting John Lewis, Donald Trump dishonored Lewis’ sacrifice and demeaned Americans and the rights he nearly died for. Apologize,” said NAACP President Cornell William Brooks.

Stacey Brown photo

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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