* By Leonard Pitts Jr. Miami Herald *
So it turns out that, contrary to what I argued in this space a few weeks back, racism is not “a major component” of the so-called tea party movement. I am informed of this by dozens of tea party activists indignant and insulted that I would even suggest such a thing.
In other news tea party protesters called John Lewis a “person of color” the other day in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.
For the record, Lewis wasn’t their only target.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver was spat upon.
Rep. Barney Frank, who is gay, was called “faggot.”
But it is Lewis’ involvement that gives the Saturday incident its bittersweet resonance. The 70-year-old representative from Georgia is, after all, among the last living icons of the Civil Rights Movement. Or, as Lewis himself put it, “I’ve faced this before.”
Indeed. He faced it in Nashville in 1960 when he was locked inside a whites-only fast-food restaurant and gassed by a fumigation machine for ordering a hamburger.
He faced it in Birmingham in 1961 when a group of Freedom Riders was attacked and he was knocked unconscious for riding a Greyhound bus.
Most famously, he faced it on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma 45 years ago this month when his skull was fractured by Alabama state troopers who charged a group of demonstrators seeking their right to vote.
In the very arc of his life, Lewis provides a yardstick for measuring American progress. The fact that he rose from that bridge to become a member of Congress says something about this country. But the fact that people demonstrating against healthcare reform chose to chant at him, “Kill the bill, person of color!” well, that says something, too.
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