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Civil Rights Pilgrimage ‘Difficult’ This Year for Members of Congress

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U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (at mic), part of the Civil Rights pilgrimage organized by the Washington-based Faith & Politics Institute, outside The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute as Rep. Steny Hoyer, Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, looks on. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Nearly 20 members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, began an annual pilgrimage through Alabama’s civil rights sites on Friday, a trip that was “undeniably difficult” compared to past years, Sewell said.

Difficult because the tour was without the late Rep. John Lewis, who led the events, organized by the Washington-based Faith & Politics Institute, from 1998 to 2020.

“But I know that Congressman Lewis’ spirit is all around us, and he also gave us the roadmap. He told us time and time again, if we see something that’s not fair, that’s not just, that’s not right, we all have a moral obligation to do something about it,” said Sewell, after an opening service at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, where four Black girls died in a racist bombing in September 1965.

Among those visiting Sixteenth Street Baptist Church with Sewell were House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, of South Carolina; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, of Maryland; Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and dozens of area residents.

Sewell said the pilgrimage offers the representatives to learn from the experiences of “freedom fighters” and “Foot Soldiers” who were in Birmingham and other places during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

The pilgrimage also includes stops at the national lynching memorial in Montgomery as well as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s first church in Montgomery and Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Lewis was attacked in 1965.

“I think that what we fail to remember is that those Civil Rights activists were tacticians, were strategists…so I think that our generation and future generations can really learn from the strategies and the mobilization and organization of the past,” Sewell said.

Lewis believed it was important to honor the Civil Rights past of places like Birmingham and that people understand the importance of what happened at places like the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Sewell said.

Hoyer, a longtime friend of Lewis’s, said he has made the pilgrimage 16 times.

“I do it because I love the people that I go with, I love the people I see, and I am inspired every minute of this trip by what people did to make me freer, not because my people were enslaved, but because Martin Luther King was right, if you enslave one, we’re all subject to being enslaved,” Hoyer said.

Marian Daniel who grew up attending Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham’s Collegeville neighborhood and is a survivor of a 1962 bombing of Bethel Baptist was also in attendance.

Daniel said she too misses Lewis. “He was such a great person in my eyes, and having been here with him, on two occasions, it really hurt to lose him, but his spirit will live on forever . . .”

Associated Press contributed to this post