About a month after his death in July, this mural of John Lewis appeared on Lafayette Street. It’s the product of Charles Key, who signs his work JamersonSGC (and also at times Low Key Art). It seems appropriate to post this today, just a couple of weeks before the 2020 election ends, as well as the night of the last presidential debate. Key’s mural, one of many pieces he’s done in the neighborhood, makes good use of the architecture, with the peak above giving it strong framing.
Lewis of course was an iconic figure of the Civil Rights movement and the struggle for voting rights. The mural quotes one his most famous lines, taken from a June 27, 2018 tweet: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Lewis was certainly not afraid of good trouble, and I can hardly list out all of his extraordinary accomplishments here. But I will recount two of my favorite anectdotes.
Before his death, Lewis was the last of the speakers still alive from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Martin Luther King Jr. gavehis famous speech. But the speech Lewis gave was not exactly the speech he wrote. As historian Angus Johnston explains, the Catholic Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle who was supposed to give the invocation (and others) found Lewis’s original draft to be too incendiary, and threatened to pull out. Lewis negotiated with King and A. Philip Randolph, one of the elders of the Civil Rights movement, practically up to the moment before he began speaking. Lewis accepted a number of changes, and here’s the thing – you would not have known it from his performance. He delivered the speech with all the passion he would have given with the original draft. He knew the fight was a team effort, not a battle of egos.
Another anecdote: When Lewis went to Comic-Com International in in 2015 to promote March, the graphic novel about his life, he cosplayed himself. He acquired a coat and backpack and other clothes like the ones he wore on March 7, 1965 when he led the people who marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. At Comic-Con, he led children around the convention hall in a mini-march. He repeated this at two later conventions. (Here’s a couple pictures if you can’t get past the Times paywall.)
Located at 20 Lafayette Street. The mural is on the south side of the building, facing away from downtown. There is plenty of on-site parking.