“Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” is a personal account of progressive U.S. Congressman from Atlanta John Lewis. This person is really outstanding from the point of his political struggle. Being the head of Student Nonviolent Coordinate Committee,John Lewis was one of those who allowed contemporary America to be treated like a country of real liberal and democratic values. Thereby, his name forever remains in history in the same line with Dr. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and Julian Bond. As for John Lewis’ famous work, it was priced with Kennedy book award in 1999, and widely known as always relevant reading about civil rights movement.
“Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” by John Lewis worth to be called the real heritage to contemporary and next generations of socially conscious Americans. This statement is based on several points that made appropriate reading unique one. First of all, readers are able to take inside look into the civil rights movements, as we know them from history classes. However, it is not some kind of surface review. It is alive story that allows millions to get sense of tension and struggle that were inherent tothat times. At second, ‘Walking With the Wind” is a kind of first hand story of person, who is known as one of the most significant figures in the history of American civil rights movements. Going from page to page, readers are welcome to learn personal experience of prominent public activist who made a back-breaking contribution to real liberal values promotion and establishment. Few first chapters of analyzed book begin with Lewis’ discussion on his recent visit to Southern city that awakens his memories about civil rights movements at the same location. In this way, undisputed interconnection of past and presence is outlined. As for entire plot, the part about author’s childhood worth special attention. As readers find it out, John Lewis was born and spent his childhood in little Southern village, largely free of white people –“ ”a small world, a safe world, filled with family and friends”. However, he still witnessed oppressive impact of Jim Crow’s segregation. Talking about writer’s childhood, two crucial moments are outlined. The first of them is Lewis’ experience in taking care about chickens, when he realized the sense of responsibility and commitment. The second is the story about his thirst to knowledge and education, with particular example when he bottled to school bus not to miss day in classroom.
Probably, one more point is not less crucial. In 1955 John Lewis heard King’s speech preaching a sermon entitled ”Paul’s Letter to the American Christians”. From that time, young John Lewis finally confirmed with his viewpoints on faith, responsibility, commitment, care, Christianity and liberal values, personal civic duty at last – “’When I care about something. I am prepared to take the long hard road. That’s what faith is all about”.
The next important part of memoir dedicated to his study in American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville from 1958 till 1959. Being the member of James Lawson’s group, John Lewis learnt much about nonviolent methods of civil disobedience to get the racial status quo and so dreamed equality. He and some of co-groupers including Lawson, Bernard Lafayette, Diane Nash and James Bevel organized Nashville Student Movement. Its members took the role of innocent victims during demonstrators in Anniston and Montgomery, Alabama, when cruelty of local authorities stressed American nation. The validity of “Walking With the Wind” is determined by its ability to show out known historical events not only in the way of time references. Every page of a book, and every described event is full of emotions, tension and drama as it was in real life. Except Anniston demonstrations, John Lewis touches our hearts and affects minds with his narrations about own speech on Washington in August 1963; the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965; turmoil inside S.N.C.C. etc. Each of historically valid events described in his books, take one more birth in minds of Americans. Generally, we used to treat civil rights movement unified, permanent, virtues directed movement in the name of one goal and for the benefits of millions. In his work, John Lewis showed that appropriate movement had much more shady way, including even factors of internal controversies. By giving the option to esteem the real origins of success, readers leave the idea that equality and tolerance, as we know them today, became the natural product of time and human’s thought evolution. John Lewis allows to get the idea that appropriate accomplishment is the result of inhuman self-sacrifice and without parallel faith of those, who found the strength to go against system.
As for subthemes of John Lewis narration, we may outline his vision of own personality in the entire civil rights movement – “people who are like fireworks, popping off right and left with lots of sound and sizzle. . . . Where will they be at the end? . . . Firecrackers go off in a flash, then leave nothing but ashes. I prefer a pilot light — the flame is nothing flashy, but once it is lit, it doesn’t go out. It burns steadily, and it burns forever”. Calling himself “pilot light”, this author used the work to express own views, life principles and experience. It is difficult to stay indifferent, when he recalls the moments of failure and depression with Kennedy’s and King’s assassinations – “It hurt so incredibly much when they were taken away,” Lewis writes. ”It was like trusting yourself to all in love again after you’ve given your heart once and had it broken.
. . . What could we believe in now?”. In the same way, readers cannot stay indifferent in the part of author’s thoughts about commitment as ”patience and persistence”, “Beloved community”, faith, Christianity.
In fact, “Walking With the Wind” is incredibly inspiring work. Except its validity to enlighten wide masses with real story of greatest time in American history, it is incredibly influential for civil consciousness forming. In other words, it is practically impossible to find out another book that will be equally influential to reach the real understanding of liberal values and theirs’ implementation in our everyday life. Notwithstanding age, race, religion or political views every one of us is welcome gather and learn real meaning and guidelines of civil responsibility, and make them example to follow even with everyday routine.
Lewis, John. Walking with the Wind: A memoir of the movement. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1998.