Congressman John Lewis on Bringing the Country Together (and His Aunt's Shotgun House)

U.S. Representative John Lewis tells a story about his past to highlight citizens’ efforts to unite the U.S.

Transcript (Text)

My Aunt Seneva lived in a shotgun house. She didn't have a green manicured lawn. She had a simple, plain dirt yard.

Sometime at night, you can look up through the ceiling. Through tin roof of this old house, you can count the stars. When it would rain, she would get a pail, or what we'd call a bucket, and catch the rainwater.

My Aunt Seneva live in a shotgun house. For those of you who are so young, for those of you who have grown up and lived in New York, and Boston, and Philadelphia, and Memphis, and other big cities, let me tell you what a shotgun house is. In the nonviolent sense, a shotgun house is a old house with a tin roof, where you can bounce a ball through the front door and the ball will go straight out the back door.


My Aunt Seneva live in a shotgun house. From time to time, she would go out into the woods and take branches from a dogwood tree. And she would make a broom. And she called this broom the brush broom. And she would sweep this dirt yard very clean, sometimes two and three times a week.

But one Saturday afternoon, a group of my sisters and brothers and a few of my first cousins, about 12 or 15 of us young children, were out playing in her dirt yard. And a unbelievable storm came up. The winds started blowing. The thunder started rolling. The lightning started flashing. And the rain started beating on the tin roof of this old shotgun house.

My aunt became terrified. She started crying. She thought this old house was going to blow away. The wind continued to blow. The thunder continued to roll. The lightning continued to flash.

She got us all on the inside. She told us to hold hands. When one corner of this old house appeared to be lifting from its foundation, she'd had us to walk to that corner, to try to hold the house down with our little bodies.

When the other corner appeared to be lifting, she had us go walk to that corner, to try to hold this house down with our little bodies. We were little children walking with the wind, but we never, ever left the house.

For many years, all of us, black and white, young and old, men and women, Protestant, Catholic, and Jew, all of us, have been trying to hold this house we call America together. The rain may beat on our old house. Call it the house of Memphis. Call it the house of Tennessee, the house of Georgia, the house of New York. Call it the American house. Call it the world house.

We must never, ever leave the house. We must build one house. We must build one family. We must build a house that is strong enough for all of us, as we face history, as we face ourselves. Walk with the wind. Let the spirit of history be our guide.

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