by Treopia Green Washington
July 20, 2020
Last week marked the passing of a true hero – a “Gentle Giant”, whose imprint on this country far exceeded his physical size.
Congressman Lewis was linked, with my family, in many ways. Those links are directly related to my brother, Ernest Green, and his experiences as one of the “Little Rock Nine”. These were the nine students who successfully, through pain and anguish, integrated Little Rock Central High School, in 1957. Ernest was the only senior among the “Nine”, and thus, at the end of that horrific year, became Central High’s first black graduate.
Ernest first met John Lewis, during the 60 ‘s Civil Rights Struggle. Mr. Lewis, whose experiences are well documented, told Ernest that he was inspired by the endurance and fortitude, demonstrated by Ernest, during the 1957 integration Crisis at Central High School.
In 2007, during the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the 1957 Integration Crisis, the National Park Service dedicated the new, Little Rock Central High School Historic Site. The keynote speaker for the dedication of this new museum – Congressman John Lewis.
Fast forward to the spring of 2019. I received a call from a Hartford, CT teacher, Joe DePasqua, whom I remember talking with, at the 60th Anniversary Celebration of the ’57 Crisis, in 2017. He explained that five of his Middle School students were entering the National History Contest. These students, from the Montessori Magnet School, were: Saoirse Noyes, Walter Vallecillo, McKenna Semerano, Marlon Vallecillo, and Luis Nunez. Their topic – the Little Rock Central High School 1957 Integration Crisis; and, they wanted to interview me. Of course, I was delighted to help. After several telephone discussions, this original dramatization, “Paying a Price for Education”, was completed. The entry won first place in the Hartford regional contest. Next, it won second place in the Connecticut state contest, which qualified them to enter the National History contest. That competition was held, last summer, at the University of Maryland. The really, exciting news, however; was the invitation from Congressman John Lewis, to perform the entry, for him, at his office! I was invited, with my son, to attend the event, as special guests.
On the day of the presentation, Congressman Lewis arrived at his office, after casting a vote in the House. He then invited us into his conference room. Truly memorable, was his command to his entire staff, to stop whatever they were doing and come to the presentation. Several staffers mentioned work that needed to be done, but the Congressman insisted that this was more important, and was something they needed to learn about.
The students did an awesome job; in fact, almost brought me to tears. After the production, we were invited to take several pictures with Congressman Lewis. I will treasure mine forever. The Congressman then inquired about my brother, Ernest, and asked that I let him know he asked about him.
John Lewis was truly a “Gentle Giant”. I will always remember him as one whose humility and grace are as memorable as his outstanding contributions to the pursuit of equity and equality, for the citizens of this country.