A few years ago, while attending a civil rights conference in New York, I had the pleasure of hearing Congressman John Lewis speak. Afterwards, he and I chatted in the vestibule, during which he asked if I wanted to join him on his return trip to Washington, to which I most happily said yes. John had a car and driver and together with his assistant and my dear friend and former Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post reporter, Nick Kotz, we drove to Pennsylvania Station to catch the train home. Thus began one of the most fascinating three hours that I’ve ever had the opportunity to experience—an uninterrupted period where I had the honor of basking in his warmth and wisdom as we sat opposite each other and talked.
But that amazing late afternoon journey began with an extraordinary empathetic walk through Pennsylvania Station, for, as I moved at his side, huge numbers of African Americans appeared, all of them expressing in their looks and murmured words an incredible devotion to this amazing man. I felt the wave of love that washed over him and, inadvertently, it reached me as well. It had substance and weight and I felt as if I could reach out and touch it. It was beautiful. Only once before had I experienced the tendrils of such devotion, and that was when, on Lady Bird Johnson’s last Christmas trip to her beloved Texas ranch, I accompanied her as she walked through an adoring crowd. Now, on this day, that feeling of love was of multiplied intensity.
There followed those several hours of intimately listening to John Lewis favor me with his recollections and beliefs and, without inhibition, answer all of the questions that poured out of me. For me, since I had worked for President Johnson, it was also gratifying to hear the congressman give equal praise to Johnson and Martin Luther King for the great civil rights legislation of the 1960s.
In total, that trip and those hours with John Lewis remain a very special memory for me, and I am devastated by the untimely loss of a great man I considered my friend.
Sherwin Markman was a special assistant to LBJ until 1968. He went on to work as a senior trial lawyer for Hogan & Hartson until 1992. He is the author of a novel, “The Election”, and the editor of “Lyndon Johnson Remembered: An Intimate Portrait of a President.”