Remember when Congressman John Lewis visited Pike County Schools

Published 6:47 pm Friday, February 9, 2024

John Robert Lewis, the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, was an honored guest at Banks School on his 74th birthday. Standing before the students at Banks School, Lewis had to hold back tears. Lewis had come home to the same red clay fields where he had picked cotton and shook peanuts as a boy.

He had come home to Banks were his formal education began.  Banks School presented “Celebrating One of Our Own” — The Life and Times of Congressman John Lewis.”

Lewis was born in 1940 the son of sharecroppers. He grew up on his family farm in Carter’s Quarters near Dunn’s Chapel in rural eastern Pike County. He attended segregated public schools in Banks and Brundidge. When Lewis was not in school, he was working in the fields.  It was at the school in Banks that he took to heart his teacher’s advice to “Read my child, read.”

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“I read books, newspapers, just anything I could find to read and I learned everything I could. Somewhere along the line, it was invested in me that this boy could do something,” Lewis said.

What young Lewis wanted to do was be a minister. Back then, all farms had chickens and, not having a congregation to hear his practice sermons, Lewis preached to the chickens. “The chickens would nod their heads and shake their heads but they never said amen,” Lewis said, laughing. “If someone had told me back then when I was preaching in the chicken yard, that one day I would travel all over the world in an effort to make it a better place. If someone had said to me that I would go to Rome and meet the Pope, that I would be a part of the Civil Rights Movement with Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that I would know President Kennedy and Nelson Mandela. That I would work with President Carter. That I would serve in Congress under Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Barack Obama, I would have said they were out of their minds.”

Lewis said he has been blessed to be a part of the changing of the face of America. “I look out at you and see all of these young faces,” he said. “I see black faces and white faces. I see Asians and Latinos. They look like Americans. They look like you.” Lewis challenged the students at Banks School to never give up and never give in. “Keep the faith,” he said. “Never let anyone tell you that you cannot be somebody. You are the leaders of the 21st century. One day, you may be lawyers, teachers or doctors or the mayor of your town or president of the United States. Go for it.”

Lewis visited Pike County Elementary School at the request of fourth-grader Paxton Flowers. The fourth-grade students at PCES present a wax museum featuring black Americans who have made an impact from arts and entertainment to politics. Young Flowers played the role of Congressman John Lewis. He was so impressed with Lewis that he wrote and invited the Congressman to visit his school.

“Congressman Lewis is still alive after the Selma March and Bloody Sunday and I wanted to meet him,” Flowers said. “I told him that my mama said important people had to be paid to visit your school. I told him we didn’t have any money but I wanted him to come anyway.” Lewis said he was so touched by the youngster’s letter that he decided to visit him and his school. “And, he didn’t have to pay me,” Lewis said, with a smile. Flowers met Lewis wearing a tan trench coat much like the one Lewis was wearing when he and Hosea Williams led the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. “People often ask me what happened to the trench coat,” Lewis said. “Now, I’ll tell them that a 10-year-old boy in Brundidge, Alabama is wearing it.”     

Read more at: https://www.troymessenger.com/2014/02/21/coming-home-banks-school-honors-rep-john-lewis/