Sen. Cory Booker on the blessing and burden of knowing Rep. John Lewis

The morning after the death of Congressman John Lewis, Yahoo News White House Correspondent Hunter Walker spoke with Sen. Cory Booker about his experiences with the man he viewed as a “titan of American history.”

Video Transcript


CORY BOOKER: In such an intimate way, he was so responsible at so many points in my life for changing the arc of my own life. And so then to have this amazing sort of gift where I got to labor with him. From testifying against an awful attorney general nomination to sitting on the capitol steps in the depths of the larger fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act to sitting on the Senate on the House floor with him. I mean, just every one of those moments were surreal.

So I got a moment thanks to his incredible chief of staff, Michael, who called me last week and said, I want to give you an opportunity to say goodbye. And it was another moment where you have 5, 10 minutes to tell a man how much you love him.

HUNTER WALKER: I know that he was there the day that you were sworn into the Senate in 2013. How did that come about? What was his advice to you on that day? What did it mean to you to have him there?

CORY BOOKER: It was, again, one of these magical moments that God and my mom and my campaign team knew what they needed to do. Because my dad-- I got elected in a special election in October. Got sworn in, in October. And my dad had died six days before I won the election. And so I was grieving and hurting then for the loss of my father.

And my mom, in conspiracy with my campaign team, made it so that I would go sit with John Lewis. And right before I walked over to Harry Reid and Joe Biden to be sworn in, in this special election. And him stepping in, this giant, to fill that moment with love. And a reminder that I stand on the shoulders of my father's generation, of John Lewis's generation, to see around me.

And then to have him tell me, try to impress upon me how grateful he is to see me be the fourth black person ever popularly elected to the United States Senate. And tell me how much it meant to him to give him this sense of fruition of his struggles.

HUNTER WALKER: We're losing the last link to the March on Washington, the last of the Big Six. At a moment when these young protesters have just taken to the streets and sort of a new civil rights movement has emerged, did he-- you know, I know it was fairly recent. But did he talk to you about these protests as they were happening? And what do you think he would want to say to the kids who are in the streets right now?

CORY BOOKER: Well remember, one of his last public appearances was this profound moment with him battling cancer. You can see his body is physically more slight. And he's standing there with the mayor of Washington DC. And he stands there on the Black Lives Matter words.

That picture, I just had to stop and stare at it for a long time because it spoke volumes of where he stood. Ailing from cancer, God's not finished with me yet. Let me stand before a generation that is rising up.

So I think for him, there had to be some satisfaction that in the waning hours of his life, he was watching a whole nation of people of all ages, from young folk to his generation, that said enough. We're going to get in the way again. We're going to cause good trouble again. We're going to take on this erosion of rights and liberties that we see in a criminal justice system, in a persistently unjust policing system, in attacks on the voting rights.

I never want us to lose the complicated intricacies of our own history. And so I took so much power in my young days. Because understanding now the historical parallels and historical antecedents of where we are now. And I just hope that people take time to read about John Lewis and learn about him.

Because he not only was one of, part of that massive Civil Rights Movement. Then he became part of a lot of those leaders that transitioned into a complicated world of electoral politics. Take time to know your history, to know all of that. It will inform and strengthen and ignite you in powerful ways.


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