"During this [Alabama] pilgrimage, there are times when the walls between us come down. We begin to see ourselves, not as Democrats or Republicans, not as members of the House or Senate, not as advocates of differing views, but we see ourselves as Americans on a journey to discover our roots."
–– Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia
In 2016, led by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a bipartisan delegation of members of Congress journeyed through South Carolina, where we stepped back to examine the history of the civil rights movement with luminaries, political leaders and historians. In Charleston, lessons of forgiveness were received from survivors, victims’ families, and the city’s political and law enforcement leadership in response to the racially motivated mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church that took the lives of eight members of a bible study and the pastor.
Since 1998, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) has led close to 300 members of the U.S. House and Senate, as well as Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, through Alabama on this nearly annual trip. In Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma, they explored the events that dramatically challenged racial discrimination and turned the course of American democracy. Political leaders have universally described the pilgrimage as a transformative moment.
In 2016, in a second pilgrimage to South Africa, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s “Ripples of Hope” speech. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), moved by the anti-apartheid leaders he met, reflected that “the United States and South Africa can and should look to each other for lessons and inspirations as we continue to work to heal the damage of racial injustice, to reverse the trends of economic inequality, and to protect our experiments in democracy.”