Haley Pate, a fourth-grader at 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue in Decatur, said when civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis spoke to her third grade class last year it changed her life.
“His words were so intriguing,” Pate said. “He had been through so much and you could imagine how sad it was when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.”
Pate was so inspired by Lewis’ story that she decided to write a story of her own told from Lewis’ point of view. In her story, Pate writes about Lewis’ reactions upon hearing King’s famous “I have a dream” speech and several other key points of his life.
“The story is about how [Lewis] was feeling during one of the episodes he described and she had her classmates illustrate the story,” said Pate’s mother Laurie Culp.
In September Pate and her family took a trip to Washington, D.C., and Lewis’ office helped organize some tours for them to take while on their trip. When they arrived in the capitol, Culp said, the family stopped by Lewis’ office to drop off the story Pate wrote so he could read it.
“[Lewis] spent a lot of time with us and he took us into his office and talked to Haley about her story and then he showed us all of these pictures from the Civil Rights Movement,” Culp said.
Additionally, Culp said Lewis spoke to them about his time with King and meeting President John F. Kennedy. Lewis also showed them pictures of him being beaten by police.
“He was really engaging with her,” Culp said. “He really inspired her and she really has taken this in a very profound way.”
Pate said visiting Lewis at his office in Washington was an “amazing adventure.” Her favorite part about the visit was listening to Lewis tell stories about the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1965, Lewis and fellow activist Hosea Williams led a civil rights march through Selma, Ala. They were crossing a bridge and at the end of the bridge they were met by Alabama State Troopers, who ordered them to disperse.
When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas. Mounted troopers then charged the demonstrators and beat them. Lewis’ skull was fractured but he made it across the bridge to a church. Before being taken to the hospital, Lewis appeared before television cameras calling on President Lyndon B. Johnson to intervene in Alabama.
“The whole story inspired me, especially him talking about his experience on the bridge at Selma and talking about what was in his backpack,” Pate said.
Pate said Lewis told her and her family that he knew he would probably be arrested, so he was carrying everything he needed to spend time in jail, including a change of clothes in his backpack.
“I was inspired by him talking about how scary it was but how justifying it was to fight for freedom,” Pate said.
Culp said since meeting Lewis, her daughter has flourished and developed a passion for writing.
“I think just the whole idea of the Civil Rights Movement is something that she hasn’t just thought about very much up until this point,” Culp said. “I think meeting Lewis really put it in perspective for her and made it very personal and it did for us too.”