His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope
By Jon Meacham (Random House)
“Hagiography” refers to writing about the lives of saints, and the term sometimes is applied derisively to biographies that paint too perfect a picture of their subjects. A rare biographer dares to call his subject a saint—not just once but repeatedly in the book’s first 15 pages—while also dealing honestly with his humanity and imperfection. Jon Meacham is that writer, and John Lewis is his subject.
Civil rights pioneer Lewis marched in Selma and was beaten savagely on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, sustaining a fractured skull and a concussion. He went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 until his death this summer.
Make no mistake: Meacham views Lewis as an American hero. In describing Lewis and his colleagues in the civil rights movement, Meacham observed: “The heroes of this story laid down no fire, but rather walked into fire. The heroes of this story drew no blood, but rather shed their own.” (p. 13) Rather than a full-blown biography, Meacham focuses nearly all his attention on the period from 1957, when Lewis began his peaceful protests as a student in Nashville, through the end of 1968, the year Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.
Meacham knows politics and social movements, but he grasps a truth some political scientists and sociologists fail to recognize fully. The nonviolent resistance at the heart of the civil rights movement was spiritual in nature. True, Gandhi provided the tactics. However, Jesus offered the inspiration, and the Holy Spirit supplied the empowerment.
At heart, Lewis was a Baptist preacher who took literally and seriously the red-letter words in his New Testament about “love thy neighbor” and “turn the other check.” The title of the book’s epilogue, “Against the Rulers of the Darkness,” makes it clear the battle Lewis fought was spiritual warfare, and the Beloved Community envisioned by King really is the kingdom of God.
His Truth is Marching On is a timely book offering timeless inspiration for the living of these days.
Ken Camp, managing editor