Those words dated back to about two decades prior. While on break from Harvard Law School, a young, hopeful Obama carried around a copy of Taylor Branch’s “Parting the Waters,” according to an account by the New Yorker. The trilogy covered Martin Luther King Jr.‘s rise to civil rights icon and the folks who were instrumental in that rise, including Lewis. Around that time, he so happened to meet Lewis when he confirmed the pedestal he had placed the diminutive-physically, but massive-figuratively icon on.
The decade of the 2010s saw John Lewis receiving honors and lifetime achievement awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented by President Barack Obama in an East Room ceremony in 2011. Obama said of Lewis, "Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now." (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
Credit: Carolyn Kaster
Credit: Carolyn Kaster
“I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders.”
Once he became president, Obama recalled the radical speaker who championed getting into “good trouble” congratulating him on the unbelievable feat of becoming the first Black president.
“Congratulations, Mr. President,” Lewis whispered in his ear.
Obama smiled at the sound of that and said, “Thank you, John. I’ll need your prayers.”
“You’ll have them, Mr. President. That, and all my support.”
Of that day, Lewis described the young Black president’s election as “bewildering.”
“It is almost too much, too emotional,” he said at the time. Preaching at the Shiloh Baptist Church on Ninth Street N.W., Lewis had told parishioners that he would have thought that only a “crazy” person would predict the election of a Black president in his lifetime. He told listeners at the time that the “saints and angels,” including Harriet Tubman and Carter G. Woodson, Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois, Nat Turner and Frederick Douglass, John Brown and Sojourner Truth, would also be in awe.
Before Obama’s election, Lewis, a longtime colleague and friend of the Clintons, rooted for former Sen. Hilary Clinton to grab the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. However, on the day of Obama’s inauguration, Lewis saw a sight that spoke to just why Obama deserved to take office.
“Barack has lifted people,” Lewis said, as he posed for pictures with some women from D.C. “Old people, young people, children, black and white. Look out on the Mall here. You can see it in their walk, can’t you?”
Barack Obama's First Post-White House Speech
In his statements about Lewis’ passing earlier this month, the former president eloquently explained just why he wrote the note on the congressman’s program that January day.
“In so many ways, John’s life was exceptional. But he never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country might do. He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey toward a more perfect union.”