Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, responded to remarks made by right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh indicating Lewis would not "have been beat upside the head" during the march to Selma in 1965 if he had a gun.
"If a lot of African-Americans back in the '60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma?" Limbaugh asked on his Friday radio show. "If John Lewis, who says he was beat upside the head, if John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?"
As Atlanta-Journal Constitution columnist Jim Galloway noted on his blog, "Who knew Rush Limbaugh was a Black Panther?"
Lewis responded today in a press release:
"Our goal in the Civil Rights Movement was not to injure or destroy but to build a sense of community, to reconcile people to the true oneness of all humanity," said Rep. John Lewis. "African Americans in the 60s could have chosen to arm themselves, but we made a conscious decision not to. We were convinced that peace could not be achieved through violence. Violence begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was through peaceful means. We took a stand against an unjust system, and we decided to use this faith as our shield and the power of compassion as our defense.
"And that is why this nation celebrates the genius and the elegance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s work and philosophy. Through the power of non-violent action, Dr. King accomplished something that no movement, no action of government, no war, no legislation, or strategy of politics had ever achieved in this nation's history. It was non-violence that not only brought an end to legalized segregation and racial discrimination, but Dr. King's peaceful work changed the hearts of millions of Americans who stood up for justice and rejected the injury of violence forever."
600 peaceful, unarmed protesters were beaten by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March of 1965. They were marching from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery in support of voting rights for African-Americans. Lewis himself suffered a concussion on the bridge.
Following the march, President Lyndon Johnson introduced a bill that ultimately became the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices that were responsible for the wide disenfranchisement that effected African Americans.
David Frum wryly notes that Lewis resisted the temptation to ask the question:
"I wonder what Rush Limbaugh would say about a black protester who actually did fire upon state troopers and sheriff's deputies?"