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Jon Meacham, His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope (New York: Random, 2020), 354pp.Jon Meacham, His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope (New York: Random, 2020), 354pp.

In his acknowledgment at the end of this book, Jon Meacham admits that this isn't a regular biography of the iconic civil rights activist and Georgia congressman John Lewis, who died of pancreatic cancer on July 3, 2020, at the age of eighty. Rather, it's what he calls an "appreciative account" of the major moments of Lewis's life in the civil rights movement. Except for a thirteen-page epilogue that serves as a final chapter, the book ends in 1968 when Lewis was only twenty-eight, by which time more militant voices in the civil rights movement had eclipsed his insistence on non-violence. So, there are fifty years of his life that are left untreated. For a fuller treatment of Lewis, see his autobiography Walking with the Wind (1998), and the new movie John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020), which was released just two weeks before he died.

What makes his book interesting is that Meacham insists that the best way to understand Lewis is to appreciate how deeply his Christian faith informed his participation in the civil rights movement. "To put complicated matters simply," writes Meacham, "John Robert Lewis embodied the traits of a saint in the classical Christian sense of the term," much like Mother Theresa or Dorothy Day.

Lewis rejected a tragic view of history in favor of the primacy of hope. He was motivated by love, not hate. A saint is necessarily a misfit, and so Lewis was arrested forty-five times in his life. Such was his "most radical of worldviews," one that was defined by the Sermon on the Mount and expressed as the Beloved Community. "Lewis's Christian vision was at once inexhaustible and exhausting," writes Meacham. For some critics it was the worst sort of Sunday school piety. Lewis knew and understood this, but he was insistent to the end. He reminds us that despite setbacks, and however limited, our country has made racial progress, and that "religiously inspired witness and action can help bring about such progress." Meacham thus commends the "utility" of Lewis's Christian vision for our own troubled days. 

Jon Meacham is on that short list of important public intellectuals who are openly Christian. He has published a dozen books,  and won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his best-selling biography of Andrew Jackson called American Lion. Today he holds the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Endowed Chair in American Presidency at Vanderbilt University.

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