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Retired Topeka minister recalls friendship with civil rights pioneer Rep. John Lewis

Retired Topeka minister the Rev. Dick Dickinson recalls his long friendship with the late Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights pioneer who died on Friday.
Retired Topeka minister the Rev. Dick Dickinson recalls his long friendship with the late Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights pioneer who died on Friday.(Phil Anderson)
Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 3:06 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - When civil rights pioneer and longtime Congressman John Lewis died last Friday at age 80, a Topeka pastor lost not only someone he looked up to, but also a close personal friend.

"He certainly changed my life," said the Rev. Dick Dickinson, pastor emeritus of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Topeka.

Dickinson got to know Lewis in 1960 when the two served on a committee that organized sit-ins to integrate lunch counters in Nashville.

At that time, Dickinson was a student at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville.

"He was just a very quiet but determined guy," Dickinson recalled. "He wanted to get into 'good trouble.' His parents didn't want him to get into trouble at all, but he wanted to get into 'good trouble.'"

Dickinson later served as a misisionary in Japan. When he was home on furlough in 1965 at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, he like millions of other Americans saw televised reports of the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

Leading that march was his friend John Lewis, who was severely beaten that day by Alabama state troopers.

"And so I asked my seminary president if I could go down," Dickinson said, "and he said, 'Yes, by all means, go down.'"

Dickinson, who served from 1995 to 2004 as pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1701 S.W. Collins, said he remained in touch with Lewis through the 60 years that the two knew each other.

Dickinson said he would like to see the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., renamed in honor of Lewis.

Regarded as one of the most influential leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Lewis served 17 terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia. He was elected in 1986 and served from 1987 to 2020 as a Democrat representing the downtown area of Atlanta.

Lewis announced in late December 2019 that he had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Upon his death on Friday, tributes poured in from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Lewis' death came on the same day that another civil rights pioneer, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, died in Atlanta at the age of 95.

Services for Lewis hadn’t been announced as of Tuesday, but colleagues in Congress are hoping he can lie in state in the nation’s Capitol.

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