Haley Pate, a fourth-grader at 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue in Decatur, said when civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis spoke to her third grade class last year it changed her life.
âHis words were so intriguing,â Pate said. âHe had been through so much and you could imagine how sad it was when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.â
Pate was so inspired by Lewisâ story that she decided to write a story of her own told from Lewisâ point of view. In her story, Pate writes about Lewisâ reactions upon hearing Kingâs famous âI have a dreamâ speech and several other key points of his life.
âThe story is about how [Lewis] was feeling during one of the episodes he described and she had her classmates illustrate the story,â said Pateâs mother Laurie Culp.
In September Pate and her family took a trip to Washington, D.C., and Lewisâ office helped organize some tours for them to take while on their trip. When they arrived in the capitol, Culp said, the family stopped by Lewisâ office to drop off the story Pate wrote so he could read it.
â[Lewis] spent a lot of time with us and he took us into his office and talked to Haley about her story and then he showed us all of these pictures from the Civil Rights Movement,â Culp said.
Additionally, Culp said Lewis spoke to them about his time with King and meeting President John F. Kennedy. Lewis also showed them pictures of him being beaten by police.
âHe was really engaging with her,â Culp said. âHe really inspired her and she really has taken this in a very profound way.â
Pate said visiting Lewis at his office in Washington was an âamazing adventure.â Her favorite part about the visit was listening to Lewis tell stories about the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1965, Lewis and fellow activist Hosea Williams led a civil rights march through Selma, Ala. They were crossing a bridge and at the end of the bridge they were met by Alabama State Troopers, who ordered them to disperse.
When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas. Mounted troopers then charged the demonstrators and beat them. Lewisâ skull was fractured but he made it across the bridge to a church. Before being taken to the hospital, Lewis appeared before television cameras calling on President Lyndon B. Johnson to intervene in Alabama.
âThe whole story inspired me, especially him talking about his experience on the bridge at Selma and talking about what was in his backpack,â Pate said.
Pate said Lewis told her and her family that he knew he would probably be arrested, so he was carrying everything he needed to spend time in jail, including a change of clothes in his backpack.
âI was inspired by him talking about how scary it was but how justifying it was to fight for freedom,â Pate said.
Culp said since meeting Lewis, her daughter has flourished and developed a passion for writing.
âI think just the whole idea of the Civil Rights Movement is something that she hasnât just thought about very much up until this point,â Culp said. âI think meeting Lewis really put it in perspective for her and made it very personal and it did for us too.â