Juan Williams: GOP blinders on civil rights

Rep. Gregg Harper, a Republican from Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District, is standing near the blood stained driveway in Jackson where civil rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated as he fought for black voting rights in 1963.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi’s 2nd District, which includes Jackson, is just a few feet away from Harper. Both are listening as Evers’ widow, Myrlie, tells the story of hearing the shot and seeing her husband crawling, bleeding as he tried to get into the house. Earlier, Rep. John Lewis (D- Ga.), a former civil rights worker, started to cry as he embraced Myrlie Evers in the driveway.

After this shared emotional moment of American history, I asked Harper how often he talks to Thompson. The Republican and Democrat have adjoining districts.

“Not much,” said Harper. “We’re cordial, you know. We don’t vote the same way.”

Later, Thompson tells me they “never talk.” And he does not talk much with Rep. Alan Nunnelee, a Republican from Mississippi’s First District either, though on this trip they agreed to have lunch soon.

In an effort to “bridge the divides” and bring politicians from the broken, unproductive Congress together, the bipartisan Faith & Politics Institute recently sponsored its 14th Civil Rights Pilgrimage to mark the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer.

Their goal, according to the organization’s president Liz McCloskey, is to inspire the politicians to talk across political lines by sharing an inspiring moment of American history.

The Hill
3/17/14