NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Congressman John Lewis, returning to the city where he launched a life of protest, said demonstrators objecting to the election of Donald Trump are justified in raising their voices.
But those protesters should be peaceful and remain optimistic, the iconic civil rights leader said on a visit to Nashville, where as a college student in the 1960s he helped desegregate lunch counters and movie theaters.
"I would say to the young people, the young protesters, and those not so young: Accept a way of peace, believe in the way of love, believe in the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence," Lewis told The Associated Press. "Never become bitter. Never become angry. And do whatever you can to speak truth to power, and be hopeful, be optimistic.
"The struggle is not a struggle that lasts one day or a few weeks or a few years. It is a struggle of a lifetime."
Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, made the remarks during an interview in Nashville, where he was arrested, beaten and jailed more than half a century ago. He's receiving the Nashville Public Library Literary Award this weekend. He recently published "March," a three-part graphic novel about his life in the civil rights movement.
Lewis also questioned Trump's decision to choose Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general.
The Senate, Lewis said, once refused to confirm Sessions as a federal judge. During the 1986 confirmation process, the Alabama senator was dogged by racist comments he was accused of making when he was a U.S. attorney in Alabama. Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy is the only one who voted against him still in the Senate.
"I think we all ought to be concerned if he's confirmed as the next attorney general," Lewis said. "He'll have a great deal to say about civil rights, about voting rights."
Lewis said he hopes Sessions' outlook has changed.
"Sometimes people get in a different position, they change their views, they change attitudes," Lewis said. "If he's confirmed by the Senate and becomes the attorney general, I hope that he would change some of his views."
Lewis said Democrats must look inward to learn the lessons of an election many of them are having trouble swallowing.
"I think it's important and it's a must for the Democratic Party to come together and speak on one accord, for us to have what I call an 'executive session' with ourselves," Lewis said, "and listen to the people, learn from the American people."