By Julius R. Scruggs, Pastor Emeritus, First Missionary Baptist Church

Photo Caption: Above, standing at the podium, pictured left is Congressman John Lewis, Josephine Scruggs, and Rev. Dr. Julius R. Scruggs, Pastor Emeritus, First Missionary Baptist Church and former President, National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. Congressman John Lewis, was an American politician and civil rights leader who served in the United States House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5th congressional district from 1987 until his death in July 17, 2020. (courtesy photo)
Photo Caption: (L-R) Congressman John Lewis, Forrest E. Harris, Sr., American Baptist College, and Rev. Dr. Julius Scruggs (courtesy photo)

Congressman John Lewis and The Reverend C. T. Vivian were living legends, admired by millions. Both were brave and courageous, yet humble, kind, and gentle. I speak personally because they were both my friends. John and I were schoolmates, and all three of us are alumni of American Baptist College of the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. All three of us participated in the Nashville student-led lunch counter sit-in and the Nashville stand-in movement (at theaters). John, along with Dianne Nash and others, was a student leader and Reverend C. T. Vivian was a pastoral leader, along with other pastors. All were beaten and wounded at various times for seeking justice and equality for all. It has been well documented that John was beaten near death as a policeman cracked his skull on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965 (Bloody Sunday).

Both John and Reverend Vivian were preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ—authentic preachers—who did more preaching outside the church sanctuaries than perhaps inside. They preached daily in the halls of Congress (John), in race relationship seminars (C.T.), on college and university campuses, in offices, in the streets, on bridges (Edmund Pettus), and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, etc. They preached everywhere and practiced what they preached.

They were indeed the consciences of Congress and America. Like the Apostles of the New Testament, they were beaten for righteousness sake and for the cause of social justice and equality for all. Both were prophetic preachers—like the Prophets of the Old Testament—who shouted like Moses to the Pharaoh: “Let my people go;” like Amos to Northern Israel: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream;” and like Micah who raised immortal questions: “What does the Lord require of you… but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”

I am extremely humbled to have known these two legends and to have been their friend. I am even more humbled that a building on American Baptist College Campus is named for John Robert Lewis and Julius Richard Scruggs—The Lewis/ Scruggs Leadership Center.

Mentored by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., influenced by the teachings of The Reverend Dr. James Lawson, and saved and transformed by Jesus Christ, these two giants will be forever remembered because they were intellectually respectable, socially relevant, and spiritually redemptive.