It was a long way from the elegant ballroom of downtown Los Angeles’ Bonaventure Hotel back to his Aunt Senovia’s tin-roofed shotgun shack in rural Alabama. But somehow Georgia Congressman John Lewis, the iconic civil rights leader whose life began in the segregated Jim Crow South, was able to pull it all together for one thousand-plus people at the Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Breakfast, hosted by the L.A. County Federation of Labor.
Speaking before a giant photo of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where he was beaten unconscious in the aborted 1965 Selma to Montgomery civil rights march, Lewis displayed the speaking and preaching skills he said he developed at age 14 from practicing in front of the chickens who were his responsibility on the family farm. “It seemed like more of those chickens listened to me then, than members of Congress do today,” he quipped.
Lewis’ father was a sharecropper and a cotton picker until 1944,