Our light was a little dimmer last month. John Lewis, Rev. C.T. Vivian, Charles Evers, and Emma Sanders left the earth. They left behind a legacy of dismantling white supremacy and oppression, organizing voters, pioneering boycotts, and challenging segregation and discrimination in our legislative bodies and delegations. They were trailblazers. They were legends.
I reflect on the legacy of those who came before me, those I am honored to call my family and ancestors. As John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, Charles Evers, and Emma Sanders embodied the history and resilience of their ancestors, I, too, seek to embody and honor mine and them.
Emma Sanders was the great-granddaughter of an enslaved worker, daughter of an agriculture teacher and high school principal, Abram Dunbar and Sarah Brown Miller. She graduated from Alcorn State University – the nation’s first Black land grant college. She organized voters and especially groups of young people to disrupt Jim Crow laws and the barriers that kept them disenfranchised. Her family operated Freedom Schools for Black children. Rev. C.T. Vivian was a minister, an accomplice to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and ally to John Lewis, and even the dean of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC. He also led the desegregation of a cafeteria in his first protest. Charles Evers was a veteran, Mississippi’s first Black mayor, a leader of the NAACP, and the brother of Medgar Evers. His parents were James and Jessie Wright Evers who were laborers and owned a funeral home and sawmill. He also attended Alcorn State University. John Lewis proudly came from a family of sharecroppers. He was the last surviving speaker from the March on Washington in 1963, a Freedom Rider, a congressman, and the husband of Lillian Miles who was his strongest political advisor. He led the famous march in Selma into the hands of state troopers in riot gear — not unfamiliar to us today. Their stories resonate with mine and so many of us. I was born from a history of teachers, veterans, pastors, farmers, mill workers, cafeteria workers, and activists. Their voices ring in my heart when I stand up for justice.
All four were met with excruciating violence. All four met that violence with courage, bravery, and a vision for a future that liberated them and those who would come after them.
We are continuing the legacy of their work, and we know that we are lighting the fire for those who come after us.
I hope to honor their legacies and continue lighting the flames of justice.