'The total and absolute idea of unconditional love'

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

EDITOR'S NOTE: Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, Judy Tuggle sees the labor and civil rights movement as natural allies. Lewis was one of labor's best friends in Washington. During his long tenure in the House of Representatives, Lewis supported union-backed legislation 99 percent of the time, according to the AFL-CIO.

 Judy Tuggle put out her American flag Saturday in honor of Congressman John Lewis.

“I feel the weight of great grief at the passing of a moral giant,” said Tuggle, a Mayfield resident who will be 77 this week.

 A longtime civil rights leader and 16-term Georgia Democrat, Lewis died Friday at age 80. He was dubbed “the conscience of Congress.”

Not many people in Mayfield know it, but Tuggle and her late husband, Jim Tuggle, were civil rights movement veterans, too. Still an activist, Tuggle helped reorganize the Mayfield-Graves County NAACP chapter.

“I never met John Lewis, but Jim might have,” said Tuggle.

They went to Georgia and Alabama in the early 1970s to help register African Americans to vote. Led by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texas Democrat, Congress had passed sweeping civil rights laws in the ‘60s. But violent white resistance to black equality was still strong.

The Tuggles were evicted from a Georgia trailer park when the owner found out they were civil rights workers. A cross was burned one night in the yard of their Alabama home. “That was an experience,” she grinned.

In the TV news coverage of Lewis’s death, Tuggle has enjoyed seeing an old friend, Andrew Young, a close ally of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and future congressman Lewis.

"Man, has he aged,” she chuckled. The former UN ambassador is 88.

 Added Tuggle: “We knew Andy very well. He could talk to anybody.”

 She said he was just as comfortable in the company of college professors as with congregants at small, rural African American churches. “He had the ability to empathize with everybody.”

 Tuggle, a member of the Graves County Democratic Committee, said empathy is in short supply among Republicans. “They are just so in their own cocoons.”

 The Tennessee-born Tuggle grew up in Paducah. She met Jim at David Lipscomb University in Nashville. After graduation, they traveled south and volunteered for the Southern Christian Leadership Council.

 “Jim became a lawyer and he went to work for Hosea Williams, who was executive vice president for voter registration,” said Tuggle, who landed a job with the Social Security Administration. “We got to be good friends with him, too. Jim went with him to different counties to get people to register to vote.”

 Tuggle recalled that Lewis was one of many civil rights marchers who were savagely beaten by club-wielding Alabama state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965. Lewis, 25, suffered near fatal head injuries in the historic Selma march that helped spur Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

 “John Lewis never gave in to anger,” Tuggle said. “He so exemplified the total and absolute idea of unconditional love.”