LOS ANGELES — A local activist wants the city of Los Angeles to take immediate steps to honor civil rights icon John Lewis, who died July 17 at the age of 80.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, founder and president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, is calling on civic leaders to designate a public facility or a local landmark in Lewis’ name.
“To honor John Lewis, we call on the L.A. City Council and Mayor [Eric} Garcetti to designate a public facility ‘John Lewis Square’ in Los Angeles,” Hutchinson said. “This is a fitting honor to his colossal fight for civil rights that had tremendous meaning for Los Angeles.”
“John Lewis was more than a civil rights icon and congressman. He set a national template for consistency, longevity and unswerving commitment to the fight for economic and social justice and political empowerment for all Americans.”
Lewis, who had represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987, was an iconic civil rights activist widely considered the conscience of Congress. His death sparked an outpouring of heartfelt tributes from political and civil rights leaders from throughout the country.
“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” former President Barack Obama wrote in a Medium post. “And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who worked with Lewis on many of the same causes over the years, also had praise for his colleague.
“John Lewis, with his quiet courage and his forceful moral vision, pulled people with him,” Jackson wrote. “Elected to Congress, he put Congress on his shoulders and tried by example and by organizing to make it better.”
Hutchinson started pushing for a local tribute for Lewis on his Saturday morning radio program the day after Lewis’ death from pancreatic cancer.
Hutchinson said his idea received enthusiastic support from callers.
“We had a ton of calls,” he said. “People reflected on his life, his legacy, and the importance of having, in Los Angeles, some public space in his name. A place where young people can come with their teachers to reflect, learn, and talk. Really, to be used as an education vehicle about the civil rights movement and John Lewis.”
Hutchinson said he plans to use his weekly radio show platform again this week to stir up more support for his proposal.
His show, the Hutchinson Report, airs Saturdays at 9 a.m. on radio station KPFK, 90.7 FM.
“We’re going to make the call again, and we’re going to challenge the city to get moving on this,” Hutchinson said. “Unlike before, it’s not just the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. We have all these other organizations behind us. I am also going to make the call for other organizations to join us.”
Hutchinson said he has support from the Southern California Black Employees Association, National Action Network Los Angeles, National Council of Negro Woman L.A., Women’s Leadership Project and Congress of Racial Equality for his proposal.
Nationally, there has been much support for renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in honor of Lewis.
Lewis was among the civil rights marchers who were attacked and beaten by Alabama state troopers as they crossed that bridge in 1965 in an event that was so horrific it became known as “Bloody Sunday.” The confrontation, broadcast on national television newscasts that evening is widely considered to be the one incident that sparked the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called Lewis “one of the greatest heroes of our time.”
“In the face of the evils of segregation, his bravery and sacrifice as a young man, for years, putting his body and freedom on the line as an activist, helped to change the world as we know it,” Ridley-Thomas said.
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters remembered him as a person who inspired others.
“Very few people could have been harassed, arrested more than 40 times, beaten within inches of their lives, and still espouse Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of nonviolence, peace, and love,” Waters said. “Despite being one of the youngest leaders of the civil rights movement, John Lewis galvanized and inspired hundreds of his peers to join in the fight for equal rights.”
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris recalled walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma with Lewis earlier this year.
“It was an honor to once again join Congressman Lewis this year in Selma, Alabama, in March. For what would be his final walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge,” Harris said. “I was moved by his words: ‘On this bridge, some of us gave a little blood to help redeem the soul of America. Our country is a better country. We are better people, but we have still a distance to travel to go before we get there.’”
Lewis died the same day as C.T. Vivian, another civil rights activist and close adviser to King. Vivian was 95.