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Parallel Lives

July 26, 2020

The moving religious services for Cong. John Lewis were reminiscent of the funeral for Whitney Houston. Ms. Houston was an accomplished singer and actress. Who can forget her performance in the 1992 feature film, The Bodyguard, with Kevin Costner?  Her artistry made the film come alive when she sang I Will Always Love You.

For me, the lament of Rev. Al Sharpton at that funeral, said it all: “The music industry must learn how to protect these young singers from church choirs.”

John Lewis made another Christian journey, from Chairman of SNCC in 1966–67, where he advocated “non-violence,” and was replaced by Black Power advocate Stokely Carmichael , as SNCC chairman.

Lewis was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington organized by Martin Luther King and leader of civil rights demonstrations. At one such event, Lewis was beaten unconscious in a brutal attack by Alabama State Police in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. In 1977 Lewis served at ACTION in the Carter Administration and from 1981 to 1987 Lewis served on the Atlanta, Georgia City Council. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986, defeating Julian Bond with vicious attacks, and served in Congress until his death.

The struggle of African Americans for equal status with white citizens parallels the struggle of my own Armenian family. When the Ottoman Empire was destroyed in World War I, Turkish Islamic radicals declared a fatwa against Armenian Christians. That compelled my grandmother and her two sisters to walk from Aleppo, Syria to Cairo, Egypt.  Fortunately, she was able to emigrate from Cairo to the United States. Turkish rule in Armenia was harsh. Armenians were required to speak Turkish and the Young Turks under Kemal Attaturk continued the suppression of religious worship by Armenian Christians. My grandfather was compelled by his circumstances in Aintab, Turkey to become an acculturated Turk.

My father, son of Hagop and Sarah Bishirjian, spoke only Turkish until he went to public school in Troy, New York.

My father, his brother and two sisters, were dark complexioned, but were accepted as “white.” Had their father and mother not emigrated to America, their lives would have been worse than the lives of African Americans in the United States




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