Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Ending Acts of Violence

BOND: And you believe we can?

LEWIS: I think we can. We have to. For the sake of humanity, we have to. It's good in itself. It's good in itself to do away. How can we teach our children and generations yet unborn? How can we spread the news of peace and love when we continue to engage in acts of violence and intolerance?

BOND: Have there been times in your life when you've questioned this belief, this philosophy, and you've said, "John Lewis, maybe you're not right on this? Maybe I have some doubts about it?" Have there been times like this?

LEWIS: No. Since the early days of 1960, I don't think I ever questioned the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence.

BOND: You mentioned the Freedom Rides before as a turning point. And the Freedom Rides are '61, but yet now you're saying '60. What is that happened either in '61 on the Freedom Rides or earlier in 1960 when the sit-in movement explodes? What is it about this period that confirms this belief?

LEWIS: Well, the '60s changed my life forever and gave me a sense of direction, a sense of purpose, gave me something to hold onto, something to believe in. It made me committed to the discipline and to the philosophy of non-violence, to this concept of the Beloved Community, that love is stronger, more powerful than hate, that non-violence is a much better way, a more excellent way than the way of violence. So on the Freedom Rides, I thought I was going to die. But if I had died, Dr. King probably would've said it was better to die a physical death than to die a psychological or a spiritual death.

On the march from Selma to Montgomery, when I was beaten at the foot of that Pettus Bridge, I thought I saw death. I thought I was going to die. I thought it was the last protest for me. But it's -- I don't regret standing there, taking the blows, giving a little blood. In the process, I'm a better human being. I'm more committed to the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence now than ever before.