The death of civil rights legend turned U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) dominated the front page of Sunday’s New York Times in an appropriately admiring obituary: “Civil Rights Icon Turned Conscience of Congress,” by Katharine Seelye. But Seelye couldn’t help working in an unsubstantiated smear about Tea Party racism toward Lewis at a protest against Obama-care legislation on Capitol Hill in March 2010.
Representative John Lewis, a son of sharecroppers and an apostle of nonviolence who was bloodied at Selma and across the Jim Crow South in the historic struggle for racial equality, and who then carried a mantle of moral authority into Congress, died on Friday. He was 80.
Near the end of the long tribute, Seelye wrote of Lewis:
In 2010 he supported Mr. Obama’s health care bill, a divisive measure that drew angry protesters, including many from the right-wing Tea Party, to the Capitol. Some demonstrators shouted obscenities and racial slurs at Mr. Lewis and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“They were shouting, sort of harassing,” Mr. Lewis told reporters at the time. “But it’s OK. I’ve faced this before.”
But those claims of racial slurs have never been substantiated, though the canard freely circulated as fact in the press at the time. Yet no evidence surfaced, even thought there was plenty of videotape for them to show up on, if they ever did occur. Rep. James Clyburn bore much responsibility for the unsubstantiated charge that racial slurs had been aimed at Lewis during the Capitol Hill protests against Obama-care. (Clyburn has made a career out of recklessly tossing around racism charges.)
Seelye herself seems to be relying on the word of Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), given that she links to a Washington Post article that includes Carson making accusations about hearing racial epithets shouted at him. But the Post story doesn’t cite Lewis himself making any such charges, and his comments that she quotes in the Times story don’t actually do so, either. (Newsbusters also came up dry looking for evidence of Lewis himself accusing the Tea Party of slurs.)