Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Civil Rights as an Extension of Faith

BOND: One thing in common, many of these figures here like Reverend Kelly Miller Smith, Reverend John Lewis Powell, Reverend Jim Lawson, and Reverend James Bevel have is they're all ministers and you're studying to be a minister at this time. What does religion have to do with all this, for you and for all the people involved?

LEWIS: Well, I think many of us saw getting involved in the civil rights movement during those early days as an extension of our faith -- that we couldn't be true to our faith, we couldn't be true to our calling unless we somehow in some way got out there and pushed to desegregate the South, but we also had individuals like Martin Luther King, Jr., and maybe even Jim Lawson before Dr. King in Nashville talking about the Beloved Community. That is the essence of the kingdom that -- we talk about bringing the Kingdom, creating the Kingdom here on Earth as it is in heaven, so if you're going to create the Kingdom, you've got to create the Beloved Community. You've got to create a community at peace with itself. When you forget about race and color and see people as people, as human beings, as sisters and brothers, as part of the wholeness of humanity. So it was very much, I think, an extension of our faith.

And religion also gave us this sense of hope, that -- this sense of, "Yes, you may beat me, you may arrest me, you may jail me, you may shoot and kill me, but in the process -- in the process -- we're going to redeem the soul of America." And that's what Dr. King preached about on many occasions. We're going to change America. We're going to redeem the soul of America. We're going to make America something different, something better.