Earlier this week I listened to three former American Presidents eulogize John Lewis. They each took to the lectern behind the flag-draped coffin and spoke about Lewis’s life, his career, his commitment and his considerable legacy. George W. Bush’s remarks included a light-hearted anecdote about how a very young John Lewis, who once aspired to be a preacher, ministered to his first flock, which was actually a flock of chickens. It was a delightful story and I realized immediately that I had heard a version of it many years before on Martha’s Vineyard — from John Lewis himself.

It was the summer of either 1998 or ’99. President Bill Clinton was scheduled to speak in Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs. It was an invitation only event and I have absolutely no idea how my name turned up on that list. I dimly recall it was a hot August day, which is likely since the President and First Family were vacationing on the Island while Congress was not in session.

I remember that memorable day for three separate and unrelated reasons. The first came as a complete surprise when I stepped up to the table that had been set up outside the chapel on the lawn. There were two lines and two women were posted there to check in the invited guests. When it was my turn, I handed them my invitation and offered my name as a woman in the adjacent line did the same. When I heard her say her name, I immediately turned to face her. It was Anita Hill.

This was about eight years after the confirmation hearings and eventual appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. The sordid details of those hearings and the eventual aftermath which was nothing less than a coordinated attack on Ms. Hill’s character and sworn testimony bears many similarities to the more recent Kavanaugh hearings. Ms. Hill had taken a polygraph test which confirmed her sworn testimony while Clarence Thomas declined, saying he would not discuss his personal life and famously referred to it as “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.”

None of it mattered in the end. The fix was already in and Anita Hill became collateral damage, historical detritus.

For a brief moment we stood just a few feet apart, facing each other.

“Ms. Hill,” I stammered, searching for the right words, “I just want to tell you how much I admired the way you handled yourself during that difficult time.”

I thought my word choice conveyed the delicate nature of what she had publicly endured. She looked directly at me for several seconds before she responded.

“Thank you,” was all she said. Her voice was gentle beyond imagining and it was the most heartfelt expression of thanks that I have ever received even to this day.

Inside, Union Chapel was already full. I took a seat upstairs on the second tier overlooking the podium. Ms. Hill was escorted to a reserved seat in the front row. Once everyone was settled, John Lewis took to the stage and spoke much like I imagined a preacher might. He was a masterful speaker, part preacher and part storyteller. Among other things he spoke about forgiveness. Towards the end of his introduction he closed with the story of his boyhood dreams of becoming a preacher one day and how he practiced on his family’s chickens. His version of the story included a punchline delivered with perfect comic timing. He said the chickens always listened attentively and sometimes they even appeared to nod in affirmation. “But,” he said with his voice rising, “They never once said ‘Amen’!”

I only remember two things about Bill Clinton’s speech which followed. This was in the wake of his impeachment trial and all the sordid details of the Lewinsky scandal which should be more aptly referred to as the Clinton scandal. Bill Clinton is also an excellent and capable public speaker and I listened intently as he spoke softly and only tangentially about the affair which nearly led to his demise. He spoke with a touching amount of sorrow and contrition which made me feel less like the cynic I had become. At one point the audience applauded and I looked down at the crowd and saw that Anita Hill alone was not among those clapping her hands.

John Lewis left a tremendous legacy of over six decades of struggle for justice and equality. It is a legacy surpassed by few. He was not deterred from his goal, even by physical beatings, arrests and threats. People generally admire the sort of bravery and perseverance that Mr. Lewis exemplified. I say generally because there are still far too many among us who are so devoted to another way of thinking they can’t allow themselves to be moved by the sort of steadfast dedication and effort that Mr. Lewis was known for.

In his last days John Lewis wrote to those of us he leaves behind on this Earth and those who will one day take our places. He wrote about democracy and equality. He wrote about respect and human dignity and standing up for what you truly believe. He also wrote about hatred, of silence and complicity.

The burden of hatred that Mr. Lewis referred to is sadly alive and well today. I would venture to say that it has even become emboldened and now flourishes shamelessly, right out in the open.

The sitting President of the United States opted out of any personal expressions of respect or sorrow for the passing of a great American, a stalwart leader in the struggle for racial equality, but his absence at the Ebenezer Baptist Church the day John Lewis was laid to rest day sends a clear message, nevertheless. He has chosen instead to place yet another log firmly on the fire of our ongoing national conflagration.

Robert Skydell lives in Granada, Nicaragua.