PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the nation mourns the loss of a civil rights leader and longtime Congressman John Lewis, the leader of the NAACP Providence Branch is reflecting on his legacy.
Jim Vincent remembers perfectly how a pivotal day in 1963 unfolded. A 21-year-old named John Lewis arrived on the scene, the youngest speaker to address the crowd as part of the March on Washington.
“He knew at a very young age that his role in life was to fight for freedom,” Vincent said.
Dr. Martin Luther King Junior stole the spotlight that day, but Lewis caught the eye of a young Jim Vincent, who is now President of the Providence Branch of the NAACP. “People like that don’t come around too often.”
So Vincent kept watching, and two years later in 1965 he saw Lewis lead a peaceful march in Alabama that turned into what history identifies as Bloody Sunday. And then twenty years after that, he saw him elected to the U.S. Congress as a representative of Georgia. Vincent says he made note of Lewis’ tenacity along the way.
“From the Edmund Pettis Bridge to Congress, he fought for fairness, equality and freedom. He never let his foot off the gas, he was completely dedicated and sold out to the movement.”
Vincent describes Lewis as his hero, so you can imagine his honor when a photo was taken of them together in 2013 at the Providence NAACP’s 100th Anniversary Gala where Lewis was the guest speaker. “To have a freedom– a legitimate freedom fighter– in the flesh talk you could hear a pin drop. It was really, really a powerful moment,” he said.
It was a moment that left its mark on Vincent in much the same way that first speech in the nation’s capital did fifty years ago. They’re moments that define a legacy left by a man who will forever live on, even though he’s now gone.
“It’s people like John Lewis that keep me going because I see a person that has done it. And I know if he can do it, hopefully I can do it in a much more small way, of course,” Vincent said.
Vincent says the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent months offers him confidence that he won’t be the only one working to bring to fruition the things that Rep. John Lewis spent his life fighting for.