JCRC Statement on the Loss of Civil Rights Icons 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Today, the Indianapolis Jewish community joins the rest of the country in mourning the loss of American civil rights icons Congressman John Lewis and Reverend C.T. Vivian.  These two men dedicated their lives to challenging American society, and challenging each of us, to fight as long as necessary to secure equity and justice for all.

Reverend C.T. Vivian was one of the early leaders of the Civil Rights Movement helping establish local chapters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, leading lunch counter sit-ins as early as the late 1940s, and advocating for the philosophy of non-violence, even as he himself was the victim of violence on many occasions, including being beat by Sheriff Jim Clark on the steps of the Selma, AL Court House as he tried to register Black voters.  Later in his career, Reverend Vivian continued to fight the Klu Klux Klan and worked with the Department of Education to raise graduation rates of Black students.

Congressman John Lewis has been for so long, our moral compass, always pointing us towards peace, love, understanding, and righteousness.  As a young man in his early 20s he was at the forefront, leading the struggle for civil rights and racial equality as one of 13 original Freedom Riders, chairing the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, sitting-in at lunch counters, standing alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and marching from Selma to Montgomery.  He was bloodied across the Jim Crow South, arrested dozens of times, and was beaten to near death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the footage of which spurred support for the passage of the Voting Rights Act. 

Congressman Lewis was elected to represent Georgia’s 5th Congressional District in 1986, and never wavered in leading the just fights for human rights, voting rights, poverty reduction, quality education, accessible health care, LGBTQ+ equality, sensible fire-arms reform, and so many other issues. 

David Sklar, JCRC’s Assistant Director, said the following, “It is difficult to lose these men, particularly at this moment in time.  They taught us that the struggle for what is right and just is constant.  The memory of these two men will continue to guide, support, and implore us as we stand up to speak, march, and advocate for true and lasting equality for all.”

Both Congressman Lewis and Reverend Vivian were longstanding friends of the Jewish community, with Lewis playing an integral role in Black-Jewish coalitions from Atlanta to the halls of Congress.  The biblical charge that leads the JCRC’s work is Deuteronomy 16:20 which begins, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” – “Justice, justice shall you pursue!”  These men demonstrated every day what it means to pursue justice because they never wavered in the fight. 

JCRC Executive Director, Lindsey Mintz, is currently serving on the Board of the Kennedy King Memorial Initiative.  She shared the following: “I had the honor of meeting Congressman Lewis twice, once in 2016 after he and Professor Susannah Heschel, daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, addressed a gathering of Jewish leaders to reflect on the strength of the connection between the Black and Jewish communities – and between Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel personally – and the necessity of building those relationships among next generations to continue to the joint struggle for human rights today.  The second meeting was in Indianapolis on April 4, 2018, when Congressman Lewis spoke at KKMI’s 50th anniversary ceremony marking Dr. King’s assassination and Senator Robert Kennedy’s famous speech announcing the news to a stunned crowd.  John Lewis was with Robert Kennedy that night in Indianapolis, and 2018 was the first time he had been back.  I will never forget hearing him speak on that unseasonably cold April day, uttering prophetic words he often shared, but pierced through the cold as if he was speaking directly to me: ‘Stand Up! Speak out! Be bold! When you see something that is not right, that is not fair, you have an obligation to say something! Do something! And not be quiet.’ John Lewis is an American hero. The best way we can honor his memory is to continue our collective fight and the forever pursuit of justice for all.”

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For all media inquiries: Aaron Welcher, JCRC Communications Coordinator, 317.376.0468