Recalling a lovely day in John Lewis’s district

By now perhaps the hubbub of yet another Donald Trump Twitter battle has waned, soon to be replaced some fresh outrage. But this last one caught my attention.  The President-elect singled out civil rights hero and Democratic Congressman John Lewis at the dawn of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday weekend.

Lewis, of course, is no fan of Trump’s. He called him an “illegitimate president” late last week, referring to his second place finish in the popular vote and evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election. That’s harsh criticism, to be certain, and I’m not here to debate its merits. I was interested to see, however, Trump’s response.

QUOTE: “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime invested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!

Now, fundamentally, I view this as a distraction from much more important matters. The election is indeed over. The public policy implications are only beginning to be understood.

Nevertheless, I will say that four years ago I spend a lovely day in Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, the same one represented by Rep. Lewis. The same one Trump said was “horrible and falling apart.”

To the contrary, I found it to be a lovely place. It was a busy, bustling city where I met many kind people.

I wrote about that Oct. 6, 2012 day in a column at the time, but let me recap.

The writer during a 2012 visit to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s childhood church, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta.

To begin, I am, for all practical purposes, a bumpkin from the woods of Northern Minnesota. Nevertheless, I covered many miles on foot through the heart of Atlanta that day, through white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods. I rode trains and buses with everyone else without incident.

First, I stopped at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. This is the church and the neighborhood where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., grew up and gave his first sermons. It’s across the street from the King Center, where many of Dr. King’s archives and artifacts are found.

As I wrote, I felt a deep spiritual experience in the church, where generations found so much comfort and strength amid injustice and strife.

After a well spent morning, I walked a couple miles to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, also located in Lewis’s district. This was a rather stout hike, including about a mile where I was the only white person in sight. But it was a beautiful day and people were nice.

Later, I passed the hill where Gen. George T. Sherman commanded the Union siege of Atlanta, the decisive blow to the Confederacy and a key step toward the reunification of America and the end of slavery. There was a gal and her friends doing hula hoop tricks on the hill that day.

The hill where Sherman led the siege of Atlanta. PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown

A quiet afternoon at the Carter Center capped off a lovely day of sightseeing. I caught another bus and train back to the hotel in Buckhead, where my wife was at a conference. Buckhead, also located in Lewis’s district, is one of Atlanta’s ritziest neighborhoods, full of fancy bistros and nice cars. Perhaps Trump was referring to white-collar crime?

Ah, but I kid. Georgia’s Fifth District is densely urban, and features the same challenges that most any urban district faces. But I felt perfectly safe there, met some nice people, and had a profound experience.

I’d recommend the President-elect try the trip for himself. The walk may not suit him or his security detail, but the spirit of the place would.

I worry that Trump’s swipe here might be part of a remarkably effective strategy to divide America on racial and rural-urban lines. Perhaps it’s not a strategy, just how he thinks. I don’t know. But I don’t see any reason to tear down a place that has a lot going for it. I don’t think we should denigrate any part of the country. People everywhere are hurting. We all have needs. Wasn’t that the lesson of the election?

In this, I am reminded of this Mahatma Gandhi quote from the wall of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center:

“Means and end are convertible terms in my philosophy of life.” A quote from Gandhi on the wall of the King Center in Atlanta. (Aaron J. Brown)

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America. What would Dr. King want? Same as Gandhi. Peace, of course. For truth to defeat untruth in all forms. And justice for all. The same simple values that they died for, and that Lewis marched for. May these values inform President Trump, but especially you and me.

That’s what I learned on a beautiful day in GA-05.


  1. Without the illegitimate “illegitimate president” comment, Trump would not have justifiably bloodied Lewis’s nose…and you could have written about something more newsworthy..

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