The Huffington Post
By Mayor Cory Booker
August 24, 2011
Last week, I was in Atlanta for a day. I went directly from the airport to meet Congressman John Lewis at the King Center, where he and I were to be filmed for a program that Henry Lewis Gates is putting together about our ancestry. As I juggled cell phones dealing with urgencies back in Newark, I approached the visitor’s center and instantly felt that I was upon hallowed ground. Amidst greeting producers, the cameraman, museum staff and others, I gathered the gravity of the moment. I stood on sacred soil, in a hall of historic memory across from the legendary Ebenezer Baptist Church, and feet away from Dr. King’s final resting place. And I stood, waiting for Congressman John Lewis, a true American hero — one of my heroes.
What transpired over the next hour will be a cherished memory for a lifetime. I walked with the Congressman, peppering him with questions and listening intently to his firsthand accounts of moments of the modern civil rights movement that have captured my imagination since I was a child.
He told me about the freedom rides and what it was like to escape a bus as a fire bomb filled it with smoke and flames while the doors were blocked with the evil intention that he and other activists would burn inside.
He spoke of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, detailing his recollection of standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, facing lines of Alabama state troopers who gassed and beat him and the other marchers. I listened to him calmly tell me how, after having his skull bludgeoned by a trooper’s baton, he lost consciousness while amply bleeding that bridge red.
Our conversation continued as we walked past a beautiful statue of Mahatma Gandhi and along the Civil Rights Walk of Fame, where the footsteps of countless heralded leaders are preserved. Congressman Lewis paused at the outline of his feet. He joked about how long it took him to get his shoes back from those who used them to memorialize his actual footsteps into the stone. And then he encouraged me to stand — upon his block; he asked me to stand — in his footsteps; he asked me to step forward and stand. And so along a walk of heroes, before a statue of Gandhi, and at the encouragement of a seasoned soldier of the American civil rights movement, I stepped forward and stood.
I am part of a generation that stands on the shoulders of giants. We were born after the modern civil rights movement, after the deaths of Dr. King, after Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Andrew Goodwin, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, and countless others who sweat, bled and died to make real on the promises of our democracy, so that all American children could have an equal shot to make it in this nation. My generation of Americans, the scions of daring dreamers, the children of the fearlessly faithful and the offspring of many of history’s most audacious actors — we, together, drink deeply from wells of freedom, liberty and opportunity that we did not dig.
And now our generation is called to no less of an urgent state of affairs. The dream of our democracy — advanced and protected by heroes past and present — is still not yet achieved. We still have yet to fulfill the five words said in our national pledge — a pledge repeated by our children, like a call to our consciousness, every week in our schools: that we are a nation with, “liberty and justice for all.”