Remembering Congressman John Lewis and his visit to Rock Hill

Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 9:30 PM EDT
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(WBTV) - Vicious Police brutality was unleashed in Selma, Alabama on the day known as Bloody Sunday, which receives the lion’s share of attention validating the life-threatening violence John Lewis endured as a civil rights protester.

However, four years earlier, another documented moment of hatred would unfold less than 30 miles south of Charlotte during the first days of the Freedom Riders.

Lewis was part of a black and white group known as Freedom Riders which took on the task of integrating the nation’s bus stations as a means of testing new federal laws designed to eradicate Jim Crow practices.

“On May 9th 1961, we arrived at the Greyhound Bus Station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, " Lewis recalled in 2005. ”And we tried to enter a white waiting room. The room was marked white waiting, and the moment we entered the doorway a group of white men attacked us. Beat us and left us in a pool of blood.”

The South Carolina attack was carried out by members of the KKK.

Elwin Lewis apologized to Lewis 47 years later and sat down with WBTV in 2010.

“I hit him upside the head one time and I hit him again and knocked him down,” Lewis said.

Lewis also endured the worst of what Sheriff Jim Clark and his deputies dished out.

“This man was very cruel. He was vicious. He wore a gun on one side, a nightstick on the other side. He carried an electric cow prodder in his hand, and he didn’t use it on cows,” Lewis said.

Clark, whose deputies stopped protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, said in 2005 that voting rights demonstrators were anything but peaceful.

“When the state troopers got there? They all fell out into the ground and they pulled out straight razors, knives, broken bottles, and to attract the troopers and trooper fed nightsticks,” Clark said.

One-night stick landed squarely on the head of John Lewis.

“The only thing I could recall when I fell to the ground, I felt like I was going to die. I thought I saw death,” Lewis said.

Fifty years after the blood, violence and pain, Selma, Alabama is a very different place.

From the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Lewis told a crowd of thousands, “We come to Selma to be renewed. We come to be inspired. Our country will never ever be the same because of what happened on this bridge. If someone had told me maybe were crossing this bridge that one day I will be back here, introducing The first African American president, I’m going to say you’re crazy. President Barack Obama.”

Not only did he introduce the president, but he also crossed the bridge with Mr. Obama and the first lady.

Five years later, he would return to Selma for the last time in 2020 during the Bloody Sunday anniversary and asked for prayer in his health challenge.

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