Selma’s celebration for John Lewis provided personal milestone

Published 11:10 am Thursday, July 30, 2020

Having a role in the city of Selma’s tribute to Civil Rights Icon and longtime Congressman John Lewis last Saturday was the last thing I expected.

As News Editor of The Selma Times-Journal, my goals were to attend the event. Listening to the speakers and taking a photo outside the church of the Armed Forces Casket team bringing Lewis’ casket inside were my two objectives.

Twenty-four hours earlier, Anthony Coley of the Lewis family offered me the role of pool reporter for the event.

Without hesitation, I accepted.

For the first time in 28-year journalistic career, I became a pool reporter. My job was to paint a picture for the media members outside the church about the ceremony. Once I emailed the story, media members were free to edit it or use it as they saw fit.

It was an assignment that I enjoyed: telling the media what was going on inside. I was their access.

An hour before the ceremony, an instrumental version of Eric Clapton’s 1970’s hit song “Wonderful Tonight” was played.  In my opinion, Clapton is one of the greatest musicians ever, but I found it weird having a Classic Rock song played at a Civil Rights tribute.

The traditional African-American gospel songs, “We Shall Overcome” and “Precious Lord” perfectly fit the ceremony.

The range of emotions were priceless.

Seeing Senator Doug Jones, D-AL and Martin Luther III bumping elbows and trading notes was unique, representing the traditional values of the Democratic party.

But to me, the biggest emotional scene of the night involved U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL.

During the ceremony, Sewell displayed the poise of NBA legend Michael Jordan in the final seconds of the NBA Finals with the title on the line. Sewell’s eyes were focused and spoke calm about the man who became her mentor, father figure, colleague and friend.

After the ceremony ended and Lewis’ family departed, it was a different story. Once Sewell viewed Lewis’ body, tears ran down her face.  Sewell had every right to display her emotions. It was understandable.

I appreciated the hospitality of Brown Chapel Pastor Leodis Strong, who allowed me access for the two-day event.

The only negative for me was not getting a chance to talk with King, Jones and Grammy nominated singer Ruben Studdard after the event because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the end, I was grateful to make a contribution to my profession.