Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis dies

On July 17, 2020, in the midst of a pandemic and a time of unparalleled racial tensions in the United States, the nation loses one of the last towering figures of the civil rights movement. John Lewis, former Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and a 17-term congressman from Georgia’s Fifth District, dies at the age of 80.

Born to two sharecroppers in rural Alabama, Lewis preached his first sermon at the age of 15, met Martin Luther King, Jr. at the age of 18, and was ordained as a Baptist minister before attending college at Nashville’s Fisk University. Inspired by King, he quickly became a leader of the Nashville desegregation movement, organizing sit-ins and boycotts—which he called “good trouble, necessary trouble”—and getting arrested numerous times.

READ MORE: ‘Good Trouble’: How John Lewis and Other Civil Rights Crusaders Expected Arrests

Lewis was one of the very first Freedom Riders—activists who refused to follow the rules while traveling through the South on segregated buses—and made repeated Freedom Rides despite being badly beaten and arrested on multiple occasions. After becoming Chairman of SNCC, of which he was a founding member, in 1963, he took a leading role in organizing a number of civil rights actions, including the Mississippi Freedom Summer, the March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery marches. During the latter march, a policeman fractured Lewis’ skull as law enforcement attacked a group of protesters crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The assault, dubbed “Bloody Sunday,” opened the eyes of many across America to the brutal behavior of police in the South. In the years since, many have suggested renaming the bridge after Lewis.

Lewis continued to work in voter education and community organizing until 1981, when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. In 1986, he ran for Congress, where he would represent a district that included most of Atlanta for the rest of his life. Though sometimes referred to as a “partisan” Democrat, he often took positions that set him to the left of the party’s establishment. Lewis was an early advocate of gay rights, opposed both the Gulf War and the War in Iraq, sided against the popular Democratic President Bill Clinton on welfare reform and the North America Free Trade Agreement, and refused to attend President George W. Bush’s inauguration on the grounds that Bush’s claim to victory was not valid. In his first term in Congress, Lewis introduced a bill to create a national museum of African American history and remained dedicated to this cause, despite decades of resistance from Republican legislators, until the museum opened on the National Mall in 2016.

As news broke of his death from pancreatic cancer, tributes to Lewis poured in from all across the country, with many celebrating his lifetime of activism and his support of the protests against police violence which largely defined the summer of 2020. His casket traveled from Troy, Alabama, where his rejection from the local college prompted his first correspondence with King, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and then to Washington, where it lay in state in the U.S. Capitol. In a New York Times op-ed written shortly before his death and published the day of his funeral, Lewis cited the recent killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, expressed his admiration for the Black Lives Matter movement, and urged the generations that followed him to have the courage to speak out against injustice, to participate in democracy, and to “let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

READ MORE: The MLK Graphic Novel That Inspired John Lewis and Generations of Civil Rights Activists

John Lewis

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

John Lewis, in full John Robert Lewis, (born February 21, 1940, near Troy, Alabama, U.S.—died July 17, 2020, Atlanta, Georgia), American civil rights leader and politician best known for his chairmanship of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and for leading the march that was halted by police violence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, a landmark event in the history of the civil rights movement that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

Lewis was the son of Alabama sharecroppers. He attended segregated schools and was encouraged by his parents not to challenge the inequities of the Jim Crow South. As a teenager, however, he was inspired by the courageous defiance of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., to whose attention Lewis came when he indicated his desire to desegregate Troy State College (now Troy University). Dissuaded from doing so by his parents, Lewis instead was educated in Nashville at the American Baptist Theological Institute and Fisk University (B.A. in religion and philosophy, 1967).

There Lewis undertook the study of nonviolent protest and became involved in sit-ins at lunch counters and other segregated public places. In 1961, while participating in the Freedom Rides that challenged the segregation of Southern interstate bus terminals, Lewis was beaten and arrested—experiences he would repeat often. In 1963 he was elected to replace Chuck McDew as the chairman of SNCC, a position he held until 1966, when he was succeeded by Stokely Carmichael, as the organization took a more-militant direction. Also in 1963 Lewis played a key role in the historic March on Washington. Indeed, by that point, Lewis, though still in his early 20s, had already become such a prominent figure that he was considered one of the civil rights movement’s “Big Six” leaders, along with King, James Farmer, A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young. In 1964 Lewis headed the SNCC’s efforts to register African American voters and organize communities in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer project.

On March 7, 1965, Lewis played a pivotal role in one the most important events in the history of the American civil rights movement when he and King lieutenant Hosea Williams led some 600 peaceful demonstrators on a march in support of voting rights that departed from Selma, with the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, as its destination. At the beginning of the march, while still in Selma, as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River, the protestors were confronted by a large force of sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, and deputized “possemen” (some on horseback) who had been authorized by Alabama’s segregationist governor George Wallace to “take whatever means necessary” to prevent the march. Given two minutes to disperse, the marchers were almost immediately set upon. They were quickly doused with tear gas, overrun by horses, and attacked with bullwhips and billy clubs. As a result of the brutal assault, more than 50 marchers were hospitalized, including Lewis, whose skull was fractured but who spoke to television reporters before going to the hospital, and called on Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson to take action in Alabama. Millions of American television viewers witnessed the event, which became known as “Bloody Sunday,” and within 48 hours demonstrations in support of the marchers had taken place in some 80 American cities. The resulting heightened awareness would contribute mightily to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act , which was signed into law by Johnson on August 6, 1965.

After leaving the SNCC, Lewis, who had made his home in Atlanta, remained active in the civil rights movement, most notably as the director of the Voter Education Project. In 1977 a fellow Georgian, Pres. Jimmy Carter, put Lewis in charge of ACTION, the umbrella federal volunteer agency that included the Peace Corps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Lewis entered elective office as an Atlanta city councilman in 1981 and in 1986 began representing a district that included Atlanta in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In addition to numerous other honours he received, Lewis was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize in 1975, the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2001, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Spingarn Medal in 2002. In 2011 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His memoirs are Walking with the Wind (1998 cowritten with Michael D’Orso) and the March trilogy (2013, 2015, and 2016 all cowritten with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell), a graphic novel series for young adults that was based on Lewis’s experiences in the civil rights movement. The final installment in the series received numerous honours, including the National Book Award (2016), and Lewis and Aydin shared a Coretta Scott King Book Award (2017). The documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020) chronicles his life and career.

In July 2020, after a battle with pancreatic cancer, Lewis died. Called the “conscience of Congress,” he became the first African American lawmaker to lie in state in the rotunda of the U.S. capitol. At his funeral at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (King’s home parish), Lewis was eulogized by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, pioneer of nonviolent resistance James Lawson, and three former U.S. presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Obama, for whom Lewis was an inspiration and a hero, called Lewis a man of “unbreakable perseverance” and said that he embodied “that most American of ideas— that idea that any of us ordinary people, without rank or wealth or title or fame, can somehow point out the imperfections of this nation and come together and challenge the status quo and decide that it is in our power to remake this country that we love until it more closely aligns with our highest ideals.”

At Lewis’s request, on the day of his funeral, The New York Times published a valedictory essay in which Lewis lauded the Black Lives Matter movement and provided marching orders for future activists, saying in part:

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

Civil rights pioneer

Lewis was a protege of Martin Luther King Jr, whom he met after writing to him when Lewis was just 18. He was the last surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, having stood beside King when he made his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Two years later, Lewis nearly died while leading hundreds of marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on a peace march to Montgomery when state troopers, seeking to intimidate those demonstrating for voting rights for Black Americans, attacked protesters.

Lewis suffered a fractured skull on the day that would become known as “Bloody Sunday”.

Fifty years later, in 2015, he walked across the bridge arm in arm with Obama, the nation’s first Black president, to mark the anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march.

Lewis first entered Congress in 1986 and quickly became a figure of moral authority, with Pelosi labelling him “the conscience of the Congress”.

Lewis kept up the fight for civil rights and human rights until the end of his life, inspiring others with calls to make documentary Good Trouble.

He made his last public appearance in June, as protests for racial justice swept the US and the world.

Using a cane, he walked with Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser on a street by the White House that Bowser had just renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza, which had just been dedicated with a large yellow mural – large enough to be seen from space – reading “Black Lives Matter”.

What A Day… now, John Lewis. Sometimes it’s Good to meet a Hero… I was blessed every time we met. RI POWER, Sir.#thestrugglecontinues#BLM#VOTE

— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) July 18, 2020

John Lewis, Civil Rights Leader Turned Lawmaker, Dies at 80

(Bloomberg) -- John Lewis, a civil rights leader who was one of the original Freedom Riders, helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and the voting-rights march in Selma, Alabama, and became a leading liberal voice for decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, has died. He was 80.

Lewis was an “outspoken advocate” for equal justice in the U.S. and dedicated his life to non-violent activism, his family said in a statement announcing his death on Friday, which didn’t mention the cause. He said last December that he would begin treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer.

“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” Lewis said then. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”

Lewis, who bore scars from being beaten during some of the seminal civil rights protests, was one of the six main organizers -- including the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. -- of the Washington march where King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Lewis was the youngest speaker at the event.

He brought that same sense of moral responsibility to his work in Congress, including his decision to support the impeachment of President Donald Trump in late 2019.

”When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something. To do something,” Lewis said. “Our children and their children will ask us, ‘What did you do? What did you say?’ For some, this vote may be hard. But we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history,” he said.

A son of sharecroppers in Alabama, Lewis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama in 2011. Two years earlier, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP, among many accolades for his civil rights and congressional work.

“In the Congress, John Lewis was revered and beloved on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol. All of us were humbled to call Congressman Lewis a colleague, and are heartbroken by his passing. May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all to, in the face of injustice, make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

Freedom Rider

Lewis’s books describe the arrests, sit-ins, and marches that led to breaking down the barriers of racial discrimination during the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1961 Freedom Rides, Black and White civil rights activists rode buses together through the South in an effort to end segregation in public transportation facilities after the U.S. Supreme Court had outlawed it. In Montgomery, Alabama, Lewis was hit in the head with a wooden crate.

“It was very violent,” he said in a 2001 interview with CNN on the 40th anniversary of the rides. “I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery, unconscious.”

Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1963 to 1966. His prominent role in the voting-rights march from Selma to Montgomery was portrayed in the 2014 movie “Selma.” On March 7, 1965, a day that would become known as “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis and fellow activist Hosea Williams led more 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Mounted police charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. Lewis suffered a fractured skull.

In 2015, Lewis, Obama and scores of members of Congress joined a re-enactment of the march to mark its 50th anniversary. In a statement after Lewis’s death, Obama said they both had recently been in a virtual forum with young activists who were leading demonstrations after the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police.

“He could not have been prouder of their efforts – of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office,” Obama said. “They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books.”

Advocates Non-Violence

Even after more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and injuries, Lewis continued to advocate the philosophy of non-violence, according to his Congressional biography.

In 2016, he led dozens of Democrats in an unprecedented sit-in inside the House chamber to protest a lack of action by his colleagues on gun control after the killings of 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“We have been too quiet for too long,” Lewis said during the protest. “There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise, when you have to move your feet. This is the time.”

Lewis co-wrote with Michael D’Orso a 1998 autobiography, “Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,” which was a national bestseller. In 2012, Lewis released a memoir “Across That Bridge,” written with Brenda Jones. The following year, he wrote a comic-book trilogy with two co-authors titled “March,” which tells the story of his lifelong struggle for civil rights.

Organized Sit-Ins

John Robert Lewis was born Feb. 21, 1940, near Troy, Alabama, to Willie Mae Carter and Eddie Lewis. He graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk University, both in Nashville, where he organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters.

He helped create SNCC in 1963. After leaving that group three years later, he worked with community organizations and was named community affairs director for the National Consumer Co-op Bank in Atlanta.

He served as associate director of Action, the federal volunteer agency that oversaw the Peace Corps, during President Jimmy Carter’s administration. In 1981, Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council, and in 1986 he won his seat in the U.S. House, where he served for more than three decades.

Black History

In Congress, Lewis spent 15 years promoting legislation to create a national museum to commemorate Black history. The bill was signed into law in 2003, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016.

He served in a Democratic leadership position responsible for keeping party members in line on key votes. Lewis has touted Social Security as “one of the most successful and effective government programs ever implemented,” and he opposed the U.S. war in Iraq.

Lewis boycotted the inaugurations of George W. Bush and Trump, saying he didn’t consider their elections in 2000 and 2016 to be the result of a free democratic process. Both presidents lost the popular vote. Trump responded on Twitter that Lewis was “all talk” and “no action or results.”

Trump on Saturday issued a proclamation that flags at the White House and on federal and military buildings in the U.S. and around the world should be flown at half-staff for one day. He later tweeted condolences, calling Lewis a “civil rights hero.”

The Georgia representative waited until September 2019 to join calls for Trump’s impeachment, and his eventual support contributed to momentum within the Democratic Party to take such a politically fraught step. He described the moment as a time when members of Congress should be “moved by the spirit of history to take action to protect and preserve the integrity of our nation.”

Lewis married Lillian Miles in 1968, and they had a son, John. She died in 2012.

Upon word of the congressman’s death, fellow Democrats and many Republicans paid tribute.

“We have lost a giant. John Lewis gave all he had to redeem America’s unmet promise of equality and justice for all, and to create a place for us to build a more perfect union together,” Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement.

“Our great nation’s history has only bent towards justice because great men like John Lewis took it upon themselves to help bend it. Our nation will never forget this American hero,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said in a statement.

Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, and his wife Jill, released a statement saying they had spoken with Lewis in recent days. “He asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal this nation. He was himself -- a man at peace, of dignity, grace and character,” the Bidens said.

The Congressional Black Caucus said it had “lost our longest serving member.”

“The Congressional Black Caucus is known as the Conscience of the Congress,” according to the caucus’s statement. “John Lewis was known as the conscience of our caucus.”

The American congressman John Lewis , the last of the great pioneers of the fight for civil rights in the United States , has died this Friday at the age of 80 after succumbing to pancreatic cancer that was diagnosed last December, according to The Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has announced .

The Georgia representative and advocate of peaceful activism was the last survivor of the six main organizers of the historic black rights march in Washington, DC . in 1963, the scene of the speech “I have a dream”, by the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, together with A. Philip Randolph, John Farmer, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and King himself.

“John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose faith and courage transformed our nation,” Pelosi has applauded.

Lewis also participated in another march that went down in the annals of the country’s history, that of Selma , in 1965, in the state of Alabama, where he was seriously injured in the head by a thump that a police officer gave him during the assault. of the security forces against assistants on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement whose kindness , faith, and courage transformed our nation,” Pelosi applauded in his statement of condolences, to which several political, social and cultural activities of the country.

Lewis’s family described him as “an unconditional advocate in the ongoing struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being,” who “devoted his entire life to nonviolent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equality of justice in the United States. ” Lewis has served in the United States House of Representatives since 1987, where he was sometimes known as the “conscience of Congress . He often voted and spoke out against US military interventions, including the Iraq War .

His activism continued even as he battled the cancer that has claimed his life. On January 5, Lewis issued a statement condemning the US drone attack that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani . “I want to be clear in my unequivocal condemnation of yesterday’s unauthorized military attack,” he said. “I have warned many times that war is bloody, expensive and destroys the hopes and dreams of a generation. Not learning from the lessons of history means that we are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past, ” he lamented.

Lewis also lent his voice to racial protests in recent months in the United States against police brutality following the death of Black Floyd George Floyd , albeit again under the banner of nonviolent activism. “We have been denied justice for a long time, but riots, looting and fires are not forms . Get organized. Protest. Vote .” Lewis’ wife Lillian died on New Year’s Eve 2012. They are survived by a son, John-Miles.


John Robert Lewis was born near Troy, Alabama, on February 21, 1940, the third of ten children of Willie Mae (née Carter) and Eddie Lewis. [2] [3] His parents were sharecroppers in rural Pike County, Alabama, of which Troy was the county seat. [4] [5]

As a boy, Lewis aspired to be a preacher, [6] and at age five, he preached to his family's chickens on the farm. [7] As a young child, Lewis had little interaction with white people, as his county was majority black by a large percentage and his family worked as farmers. By the time he was six, Lewis had seen only two white people in his life. [8] Lewis recalls "I grew up in rural Alabama, very poor, very few books in our home." [9] He describes his early education at a little school, walking distance from his home. "A beautiful little building, it was a Rosenwald School. It was supported by the community, it was the only school we had." [10] "I had a wonderful teacher in elementary school, and she told me 'read my child, read!' And I tried to read everything. I loved books. I remember in 1956, when I was 16 years old, with some of my brothers and sisters and cousins, going down to the public library, trying to get a library card, and we were told the library was for whites only and not for coloureds." [11] As he grew older, he began taking trips into Troy with his family, where he continued to have experiences of racism and segregation. [12] [13] [14] Lewis had relatives who lived in northern cities, and he learned from them that in the North schools, buses, and businesses were integrated. When Lewis was 11, an uncle took him to Buffalo, New York, where he became acutely aware of the contrast with Troy's segregation. [15]

In 1955, Lewis first heard Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio, [16] and he closely followed King's Montgomery bus boycott later that year. [17] At age 15, Lewis preached his first public sermon. [7] At 17, Lewis met Rosa Parks, notable for her role in the bus boycott, and met King for the first time at the age of 18. [18] In later years, Lewis also credited evangelist Billy Graham, a friend of King's, as someone who "helped change me". [19] [20] Lewis also stated that Graham inspired him "to a significant degree" to fulfill his aspirations of becoming a minister. [19] [20]

After writing to King about being denied admission to Troy University in Alabama, Lewis was invited to meet with him. King, who referred to Lewis as "the boy from Troy", discussed suing the university for discrimination, but he warned Lewis that doing so could endanger his family in Troy. After discussing it with his parents, Lewis decided instead to proceed with his education at a small, historically black college in Tennessee. [21]

Lewis graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, and was ordained as a Baptist minister. [7] [6] He then earned a bachelor's degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University, also a historically black college, where he was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. [22] [23]

Nashville Student Movement Edit

As a student, Lewis became an activist in the civil rights movement. He organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville and took part in many other civil rights activities as part of the Nashville Student Movement. The Nashville sit-in movement was responsible for the desegregation of lunch counters in the city's downtown. Lewis was arrested and jailed many times during the nonviolent activities to desegregate the city's downtown businesses. [24] He was also instrumental in organizing bus boycotts and other nonviolent protests to support voting rights and racial equality. [ citation needed ]

During this time, Lewis said it was important to engage in "good trouble, necessary trouble" in order to achieve change, and he held by the phrase and philosophy throughout his life. [25]

While a student, Lewis was invited to attend nonviolence workshops held at Clark Memorial United Methodist Church by the Rev. James Lawson and Rev. Kelly Miller Smith. Lewis and other students became dedicated to the discipline and philosophy of nonviolence, which he practiced for the rest of his life. [26]

Freedom Riders Edit

In 1961, Lewis became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. [4] [27] The group of seven blacks and six whites planned to ride on interstate buses from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans to challenge the policies of Southern states along the route that had imposed segregated seating on the buses, violating federal policy for interstate transportation. The Freedom Ride, originated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and revived by James Farmer and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), was initiated to pressure the federal government to enforce the Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960) that declared segregated interstate bus travel to be unconstitutional. The Freedom Rides revealed the passivity of local, state and federal governments in the face of violence against law-abiding citizens. [28] The project was publicized and organizers had notified the Department of Justice about it. It depended on the Alabama police to protect the riders, although the state was known for notorious racism. It did not undertake actions except assigning FBI agents to record incidents. After extreme violence broke out in South Carolina and Alabama, the Kennedy Administration called for a cooling-off period, with a moratorium on Freedom Rides. [29]

In the South, Lewis and other nonviolent Freedom Riders were beaten by angry mobs and arrested. At age 21, Lewis was the first of the Freedom Riders to be assaulted while in Rock Hill, South Carolina. When he tried to enter a whites-only waiting room, two white men attacked him, injuring his face and kicking him in the ribs. Two weeks later Lewis joined a "Freedom Ride" bound for Jackson, Mississippi. Near the end of his life, Lewis said of this time, "We were determined not to let any act of violence keep us from our goal. We knew our lives could be threatened, but we had made up our minds not to turn back." [30] As a result of his Freedom Rider activities, Lewis was imprisoned for 40 days in the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County. [31]

In an interview with CNN during the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Lewis recounted the violence he and the 12 other original Freedom Riders endured. In Birmingham, the Riders were beaten by an unrestrained mob including KKK members (notified of their arrival by police) with baseball bats, chains, lead pipes, and stones. The police arrested them, and led them across the border into Tennessee before letting them go. The Riders reorganized and rode to Montgomery, where they were met with more violence. [32] There Lewis was hit in the head with a wooden crate. "It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious", said Lewis, remembering the incident. [33]

When CORE gave up on the Freedom Ride because of the violence, Lewis and fellow activist Diane Nash arranged for Nashville students from Fisk and other colleges to take it over and bring it to a successful conclusion. [34] [35]

In February 2009, 48 years after the Montgomery attack, Lewis received a nationally televised apology from Elwin Wilson, a white southerner and former Klansman. [36] [37]

Lewis wrote in 2015 that he had known the young activists Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman from New York. They, along with James Chaney, a local African-American activist from Mississippi, were abducted and murdered in June 1964 in Neshoba County, Mississippi, by members of the Ku Klux Klan including law enforcement. [38]

SNCC Chairman Edit

External video
“Interview with John Lewis” pt.1 conducted in 1979 for America, They Loved You Madly, a precursor to Eyes on the Prize in which he discusses the sit-ins in Nashville, the philosophy of non-violence, the Freedom Rides, his role in SNCC, and the March on Washington.

In 1963, when Charles McDew stepped down as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis, a founding member, was elected to take over. [39] [40] Lewis's experience was already widely respected. His courage and tenacious adherence to the philosophy of reconciliation and nonviolence had enabled him to emerge as a leader. He had already been arrested 24 times in the nonviolent movement for equal justice. [41] As chairman of SNCC, Lewis was one of the "Big Six" leaders who were organizing the March on Washington that summer. The youngest, [42] he was scheduled as the fourth to speak, ahead of the final speaker, Dr. Martin Luther King. Other leaders were Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer, and Roy Wilkins.

Lewis had written a response to Kennedy's 1963 Civil Rights Bill. Lewis and his fellow SNCC workers had suffered from the federal government's passivity in the face of Southern violence. [29] He planned to denounce Kennedy's bill for failing to provide protection for African Americans against police brutality, or to provide African Americans with the means to vote he described the bill as "too little and too late". But when copies of the speech were distributed on August 27, the other chairs of the march insisted that it be revised. James Forman re-wrote Lewis's speech on a portable typewriter in a small anteroom behind Lincoln's statue during the program. He replaced Lewis's initial assertion "we cannot support, wholeheartedly the [Kennedy] civil rights bill” with “We support it with great reservations." [43]

After Lewis, Dr. King gave his now celebrated "I Have a Dream" speech. [44] [45] [46] Historian Howard Zinn later wrote of this occasion:

At the great Washington March of 1963, the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis, speaking to the same enormous crowd that [next] heard King's "I Have a Dream" speech, was prepared to ask the right question: 'Which side is the federal government on?' That sentence was eliminated from his speech by the other organizers of the March to avoid offending the Kennedy Administration.

In 1964, SNCC opened Freedom Schools, launched the Mississippi Freedom Summer for voter education and registration. [47] Lewis coordinated SNCC's efforts for Freedom Summer, a campaign to register black voters in Mississippi and to engage college student activists in aiding the campaign. Lewis traveled the country, encouraging students to spend their summer break trying to help people vote in Mississippi, which had the lowest number of black voters and strong resistance to the movement. [48]

In 1965 Lewis organized some of the voter registration efforts during the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign, and became nationally known during his prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery marches. [49] On March 7, 1965 – a day that would become known as "Bloody Sunday" – Lewis and fellow activist Hosea Williams led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. At the end of the bridge and the city-county boundary, they were met by Alabama State Troopers who ordered them to disperse. When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with nightsticks. Lewis's skull was fractured, but he was aided in escaping across the bridge to Brown Chapel, a church in Selma that served as the movement's headquarters. [50] Lewis bore scars on his head from this incident for the rest of his life. [51]

Lewis served as SNCC chairman until 1966, when he was replaced by Stokely Carmichael. [52] [53]

In 1966, Lewis moved to New York City to take a job as the associate director of the Field Foundation. [54] [55] He was there a little over a year before moving back to Atlanta to direct the Southern Regional Council's Community Organization Project. [56] [55] During his time with the SRC, he completed his degree from Fisk University. [57]

In 1970, Lewis became the director of the Voter Education Project (VEP), a position he held until 1977. [58] Though initially a project of the Southern Regional Council, the VEP became an independent organization in 1971. [59] Despite difficulties caused by the 1973–1975 recession, [59] the VEP added nearly four million minority voters to the rolls under Lewis's leadership. [60] During his tenure, the VEP expanded its mission, including running Voter Mobilization Tours. [59]

In January 1977, incumbent Democratic U.S. Congressman Andrew Young of Georgia's 5th congressional district resigned to become the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. under President Jimmy Carter. In the March 1977 open primary, Atlanta City Councilman Wyche Fowler ranked first with 40% of the vote, failing to reach the 50% threshold to win outright. Lewis ranked second with 29% of the vote. [61] In the April election, Fowler defeated Lewis 62%–38%. [62]

After his unsuccessful bid, Lewis accepted a position with the Carter administration as associate director of ACTION, responsible for running the VISTA program, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and the Foster Grandparent Program. He held that job for two and a half years, resigning as the 1980 election approached. [63]

In 1981, Lewis ran for an at-large seat on the Atlanta City Council. He won with 69% of the vote, [64] and served on the council until 1986. [65]

Elections Edit

1986 Edit

After nine years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Fowler gave up the seat to make a successful run for the U.S. Senate. Lewis decided to run for the 5th district again. In the August Democratic primary, where a victory was considered tantamount to election, State Representative Julian Bond ranked first with 47%, just three points shy of winning outright. Lewis finished in second place with 35%. [66] In the run-off, Lewis pulled an upset against Bond, defeating him 52% to 48%. [67] The race was said to have "badly strained relations in Atlanta's black community" as many Black leaders had supported Bond over Lewis. [68] Lewis was "endorsed by the Atlanta newspapers and a favorite of the white liberal establishment". [69] His victory was due to strong results among white voters (a minority in the district). [69] During the campaign, he ran advertisements accusing Bond of corruption, implying that Bond used cocaine, and suggesting that Bond had lied about his civil rights activism. [69]

In the November general election, Lewis defeated Republican Portia Scott 75% to 25%. [70]

1988–2018 Edit

Lewis was reelected 16 times, dropping below 70 percent of the vote in the general election only once in 1994, when he defeated Republican Dale Dixon by a 38-point margin, 69%–31%. [71] He ran unopposed in 1996, [72] 2004, [73] 2006, [74] and 2008, [75] and again in 2014 and 2018. [76] [77]

He was challenged in the Democratic primary just twice: in 1992 and 2008. In 1992, he defeated State Representative Mable Thomas 76%–24%. [78] In 2008, Thomas decided to challenge Lewis again Markel Hutchins also contested the race. Lewis defeated Hutchins and Thomas 69%–16%–15%. [79]

Tenure Edit

Overview Edit

Lewis represented Georgia's 5th congressional district, one of the most consistently Democratic districts in the nation. Since its formalization in 1845, the district has been represented by a Democrat for most of its history.

Lewis was one of the most liberal congressmen to have represented a district in the Deep South. He was categorized as a "Hard-Core Liberal" by On the Issues. [80] The Washington Post described Lewis in 1998 as "a fiercely partisan Democrat but . also fiercely independent". [81] Lewis characterized himself as a strong and adamant liberal. [81] The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said Lewis was the "only former major civil rights leader who extended his fight for human rights and racial reconciliation to the halls of Congress". [82] The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also said that to "those who know him, from U.S. senators to 20-something congressional aides", he is called the "conscience of Congress". [82] Lewis cited Florida Senator and later Representative Claude Pepper, a staunch liberal, as being the colleague whom he most admired. [83] Lewis also spoke out in support of gay rights and national health insurance. [81]

Lewis opposed the 1991 Gulf War, [84] [85] and the 2000 U.S. trade agreement with China that passed the House. [86] He opposed the Clinton administration on NAFTA and welfare reform. [81] After welfare reform passed, Lewis was described as outraged he said, "Where is the sense of decency? What does it profit a great nation to conquer the world, only to lose its soul?" [87] In 1994, when Clinton considered invading Haiti, Lewis opposed armed intervention. [88] When Clinton sent troops to Haiti, he called for supporting the troops [89] In 1998, when Clinton was considering a military strike against Iraq, Lewis said he would back the president if American forces were ordered into action. [90] In 2001, three days after the September 11 attacks, Lewis voted to give President George W. Bush authority to use force against the perpetrators of 9/11 in a vote that was 420–1 Lewis called it probably one of his toughest votes. [91] In 2002, he sponsored the Peace Tax Fund bill, a conscientious objection to military taxation initiative that had been reintroduced yearly since 1972. [92] Lewis was a "fierce partisan critic of President Bush", and an early opponent of the Iraq war. [82] [93] The Associated Press said he was "the first major House figure to suggest impeaching George W. Bush", arguing that the president "deliberately, systematically violated the law" in authorizing the National Security Agency to conduct wiretaps without a warrant. Lewis said, "He is not king, he is president." [94]

Lewis drew on his historical involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as part of his politics. He made an annual pilgrimage to Alabama to retrace the route he marched in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery – a route Lewis worked to make part of the Historic National Trails program. That trip became "one of the hottest tickets in Washington among lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, eager to associate themselves with Lewis and the movement. 'We don't deliberately set out to win votes, but it's very helpful", Lewis said of the trip'." [82] [95] In recent years, however, Faith and Politics Institute drew criticism for selling seats on the trip to lobbyists for at least $25,000 each. According to the Center for Public Integrity, even Lewis said that he would feel "much better" if the institute's funding came from churches and foundations instead of corporations. [96]

On June 3, 2011, the House passed a resolution 268–145, calling for a withdrawal of the United States military from the air and naval operations in and around Libya. [97] Lewis voted against the resolution. [98]

In a 2002 op-ed, Lewis mentioned a response by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to an anti-Zionist student at a 1967 Harvard meeting, quoting "When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism." In describing the special relationship between African Americans and American Jews in working for liberation and peace, he also gave other statements by King to the same effect, including one from March 25, 1968: "Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality." [99]

Lewis "strongly disagreed" with the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and co-sponsored resolution condemning the pro-Palestinian group, but he supported Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib's House resolution opposing U.S. anti-boycott legislation banning the boycott of Israel. He explained his support as "a simple demonstration of my ongoing commitment to the ability of every American to exercise the fundamental First Amendment right to protest through nonviolent actions". [100]

Protests Edit

In January 2001, Lewis boycotted the inauguration of George W. Bush by staying in his Atlanta district. He did not attend the swearing-in because he did not believe Bush was the true elected president. [101] Later, Lewis joined 30 other House Democrats who voted to not count the 20 electoral votes from Ohio in the 2004 presidential election. [102]

In March 2003, Lewis spoke to a crowd of 30,000 in Oregon during an anti-war protest before the start of the Iraq War. [103] In 2006 [104] and 2009 he was arrested for protesting against the genocide in Darfur outside the Sudanese embassy. [105] He was one of eight U.S. Representatives, from six states, arrested while holding a sit-in near the west side of the U.S. Capitol building, to advocate for immigration reform. [106]

2008 presidential election Edit

At first, Lewis supported Hillary Clinton, endorsing her presidential campaign on October 12, 2007. [107] On February 14, 2008, however, he announced he was considering withdrawing his support from Clinton and might instead cast his superdelegate vote for Barack Obama: "Something is happening in America and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap." [108] Ben Smith of Politico said that "it would be a seminal moment in the race if John Lewis were to switch sides." [109]

On February 27, 2008, Lewis formally changed his support and endorsed Obama. [110] [111] After Obama clinched the Democratic nomination for president, Lewis said "If someone had told me this would be happening now, I would have told them they were crazy, out of their mind, they didn't know what they were talking about . I just wish the others were around to see this day. . To the people who were beaten, put in jail, were asked questions they could never answer to register to vote, it's amazing." [112] Despite switching his support to Obama, Lewis' support of Clinton for several months led to criticism from his constituents. One of his challengers in the House primary election set up campaign headquarters inside the building that served as Obama's Georgia office. [113]

In October 2008, Lewis issued a statement criticizing the presidential campaign of John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin and accusing them of "sowing the seeds of hatred and division" in a way that brought to mind the late Gov. George Wallace and "another destructive period" in American political history. McCain said he was "saddened" by the criticism from "a man I've always admired", and called on Obama to repudiate Lewis' statement. Obama responded to the statement, saying that he "does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies". [114] Lewis later issued a follow-up statement clarifying that he had not compared McCain and Palin to Wallace himself, but rather that his earlier statement was a "reminder to all Americans that toxic language can lead to destructive behavior". [115]

On an African American being elected president, he said:

If you ask me whether the election . is the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream, I say, 'No, it's just a down payment.' There's still too many people 50 years later, there's still too many people that are being left out and left behind. [116]

After Obama's swearing-in ceremony as president, Lewis asked him to sign a commemorative photograph of the event. Obama signed it, "Because of you, John. Barack Obama." [117]

2016 firearm safety legislation sit-in Edit

On June 22, 2016, House Democrats, led by Lewis and Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark, began a sit-in demanding House Speaker Paul Ryan allow a vote on gun-safety legislation in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting. Speaker pro tempore Daniel Webster ordered the House into recess, but Democrats refused to leave the chamber for nearly 26 hours. [118]

National African American Museum Edit

In 1988, the year after he was sworn into Congress, Lewis introduced a bill to create a national African American museum in Washington. The bill failed, and for 15 years he continued to introduce it with each new Congress. Each time it was blocked in the Senate, most often by conservative Southern Senator Jesse Helms. In 2003, Helms retired. The bill won bipartisan support, and President George W. Bush signed the bill to establish the museum, with the Smithsonian's Board of Regents to establish the location. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, located adjacent to the Washington Memorial, held its opening ceremony on September 25, 2016. [119]

2016 presidential election Edit

Lewis supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries against Bernie Sanders. Regarding Sanders' role in the civil rights movement, Lewis remarked "To be very frank, I never saw him, I never met him. I chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved in sit-ins, in the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the March from Selma to Montgomery. but I met Hillary Clinton". Former Congressman and Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie wrote a letter to Lewis expressing his disappointment with Lewis' comments about Sanders. Lewis later clarified his statement, saying "During the late 1950s and 1960s when I was more engaged, [Sanders] was not there. I did not see him around. I have never seen him in the South. But if he was there, if he was involved someplace, I was not aware of it. The fact that I did not meet him in the movement does not mean I doubted that Senator Sanders participated in the civil rights movement, neither was I attempting to disparage his activism." [120] [121] [122]

In a January 2016 interview, Lewis compared Donald Trump, then the Republican front-runner for the presidential nomination, to former Alabama Governor George Wallace: "I've been around a while and Trump reminds me so much of a lot of the things that George Wallace said and did. I think demagogues are pretty dangerous, really. We shouldn't divide people, we shouldn't separate people." [123]

On January 13, 2017, during an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd for Meet the Press, Lewis stated: "I don't see the president-elect as a legitimate president." [124] He added, "I think the Russians participated in having this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I don't plan to attend the Inauguration. I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians, and others, that helped him get elected. That's not right. That's not fair. That's not the open, democratic process." [125] Trump replied on Twitter the following day, suggesting that Lewis should "spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to [. ] mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results", and accusing Lewis of being "All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!" [126] Trump's statement about Lewis' district was rated as "Mostly False" by PolitiFact, [127] and he was criticized for attacking a civil rights leader such as Lewis, especially one who was brutally beaten for the cause, and especially on Martin Luther King weekend. [128] [129] [130] Senator John McCain acknowledged Lewis as "an American hero" but criticized him, saying: "this is not the first time that Congressman Lewis has taken a very extreme stand and condemned without any shred of evidence for doing so an incoming president of the United States. This is a stain on Congressman Lewis's reputation – no one else's." [131]

A few days later, Lewis said that he would not attend Trump's inauguration because he did not believe that Trump was the true elected president. "It will be the first (inauguration) that I miss since I've been in Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right", he said. Lewis had failed to attend George W. Bush's inauguration in 2001 because he believed that he too was not a legitimately elected president. Lewis' statement was rated as "Pants on Fire" by PolitiFact. [132] [133] [134]

2020 presidential election Edit

Lewis endorsed Joe Biden for president on April 7, 2020, a day before Biden effectively secured the Democratic nomination. He recommended Biden pick a woman of color as his running mate. [135]

Committee assignments Edit

Lewis served on the following Congressional committees at the time of his death: [136]

Caucus memberships Edit

Lewis was a member of over 40 caucuses, including: [137]

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Caucus (Co-Chair)
  • Congressional Structured Settlements Caucus (Co-Chair) [138][137][139]

In 1991, Lewis became the senior chief deputy whip in the Democratic caucus. [140]

Lewis's 1998 autobiography Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, co-written with Mike D'Orso, won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, [141] the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, [142] the Christopher Award and the Lillian Smith Book Award. [143] It appeared on numerous bestseller lists, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, [144] was named by the American Library Association as its Nonfiction Book of the Year, [145] and was included among Newsweek magazine's 2009 list of "50 Books For Our Times". [146] It was critically acclaimed, with The Washington Post calling it "the definitive account of the civil rights movement" [147] and the Los Angeles Times proclaiming it "destined to become a classic in civil rights literature". [148]

His life is also the subject of a 2002 book for young people, John Lewis: From Freedom Rider to Congressman. In 2012, Lewis released Across That Bridge, written with Brenda Jones, to mixed reviews. Publishers Weekly ' s review said, "At its best, the book provides a testament to the power of nonviolence in social movements. At its worst, it resembles an extended campaign speech." [149] [150]

March (2013) Edit

In 2013, Lewis became the first member of Congress to write a graphic novel, with the launch of a trilogy titled March. The March trilogy is a black and white comics trilogy about the Civil Rights Movement, told through the perspective of civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis. The first volume, March: Book One is written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated and lettered by Nate Powell and was published in August 2013, [151] the second volume, March: Book Two was published in January 2015 and the final volume, March: Book Three was published in August 2016. [152]

In an August 2014 interview, Lewis cited the influence of a 1958 comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, on his decision to adapt his experience to the graphic novel format. [153] March: Book One became a number one New York Times bestseller for graphic novels [154] and spent more than a year on the lists.

March: Book One received an "Author Honor" from the American Library Association's 2014 Coretta Scott King Book Awards, which honors an African American author of a children's book. [155] Book One also became the first graphic novel to win a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, receiving a "Special Recognition" bust in 2014. [156]

March: Book One was selected by first-year reading programs in 2014 at Michigan State University, [157] Georgia State University, [158] and Marquette University. [159]

March: Book Two was released in 2015 and immediately became both a New York Times and Washington Post bestseller for graphic novels.

The release of March: Book Three in August 2016 brought all three volumes into the top 3 slots of the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels for 6 consecutive weeks. [160] The third volume was announced as the recipient of the 2017 Printz Award for excellence in young-adult literature, the Coretta Scott King Award, the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, the 2016 National Book Award in Young People's Literature, [161] and the Sibert Medal at the American Library Association's annual Midwinter Meeting in January 2017. [162]

The March trilogy received the Carter G. Woodson Book Award in the Secondary (grades 7–12) category in 2017. [163]

Run (2018) Edit

In 2018, Lewis and Andrew Aydin co-wrote another graphic novel as a sequel to the March series entitled Run. The graphic novel picks up the events in Lewis's life after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The authors teamed with award-winning comic book illustrator Afua Richardson for the book, which was originally scheduled to be released in August 2018 (but has since been rescheduled). [164] Nate Powell, who illustrated March, will also contribute to the art. [165]

Lewis met Lillian Miles at a New Year's Eve party hosted by Xernona Clayton. They married in 1968. In 1976, they adopted one son, named John-Miles Lewis. Lillian died on December 31, 2012. [166]

On December 29, 2019, Lewis announced that he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. [167] [168] He remained in the Washington D.C. area for his treatment. Lewis stated: "I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now." [169] [170]

On July 17, 2020, Lewis died at the age of 80 after an eight-month battle with the disease in Atlanta, [171] [172] [173] on the same day as his friend and fellow civil rights activist C.T. Vivian. [174] Lewis had been the final surviving "Big Six" civil rights icon.

Then President Donald Trump ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff in response to Lewis's death. [175] Condolences also came from the international community, with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, French President Emmanuel Macron, Irish President Michael D. Higgins among others, all memorializing Lewis. [176] [177]

Funeral services Edit

Public ceremonies honoring Lewis began in his hometown of Troy, Alabama at Troy University, which had denied him admission in 1957 due to racial segregation. Services were then held at the historic Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama. [178] Calls to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, in Lewis's honor grew after his death. [179] [180] On July 26, 2020, his casket, carried by a horse-drawn caisson, traveled the same route over the bridge that he walked during the Bloody Sunday march from Selma to Montgomery, [181] before his lying in state at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. [182]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that Lewis would lie in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda on July 27 and 28, with a public viewing and procession through Washington, D.C. [183] He is the first African-American lawmaker to be so honored in the Rotunda in October 2019 his colleague, representative Elijah Cummings, lay in state in the Capitol Statuary Hall. [184] Health concerns related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic led to a decision to have his casket displayed outdoors on the East Front steps during the public viewing hours, rather than the usual line of people in the Rotunda filing past the casket to pay their respects. [185] [186] [187] On July 29, 2020, Lewis's casket left the U.S. Capitol and was transported back to Atlanta, Georgia, where he lay in state for a day at the Georgia State Capitol. [188]

Among the distinguished speakers at his final funeral service at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church were former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, who gave the eulogy. Former President Jimmy Carter, unable to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic due to his advanced age, sent a statement to be read during the service. The then-current President Donald Trump did not attend the service. [189] Lewis's interment followed the service, at Atlanta's historic South-View Cemetery. [190]

Lewis penned an op-ed to the nation that was published in The New York Times on the day of his funeral. [191] In it, he called on the younger generation to continue the work for justice and an end to hate. [192]

Lewis was honored by having the 1997 sculpture by Thornton Dial, The Bridge, placed at Ponce de Leon Avenue and Freedom Park, Atlanta, dedicated to him by the artist. In 1999, Lewis was awarded the Wallenberg Medal from the University of Michigan in recognition of his courageous lifelong commitment to the defense of civil and human rights. In that same year, he received the Four Freedoms Award for the Freedom of Speech. [193]

In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation awarded Lewis the Profile in Courage Award "for his extraordinary courage, leadership and commitment to civil rights". [194] It is a lifetime achievement award and has been given out only twice, John Lewis and William Winter (in 2008). The next year he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. [195]

In 2004, Lewis received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement presented by Awards Council member James Earl Jones. [196] [197]

In 2006, he received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards. [198] In September 2007, Lewis was awarded the Dole Leadership Prize from the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. [199]

Lewis was the only living speaker from the March on Washington present on the stage during the inauguration of Barack Obama. Obama signed a commemorative photograph for Lewis with the words, "Because of you, John. Barack Obama." [117]

In 2010, Lewis was awarded the First LBJ Liberty and Justice for All Award, given to him by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, [200] and the next year, Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. [201]

In 2016, it was announced that a future United States Navy underway replenishment oiler would be named USNS John Lewis. [202] Also in 2016, Lewis and fellow Selma marcher Frederick Reese accepted Congressional Gold Medals which were bestowed to the "foot soldiers" of the Selma marchers. [203] [204] The same year, Lewis was awarded the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center. The prestigious award has been awarded to international leaders from Malala Yousafzai to the 14th Dalai Lama, presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton and other dignitaries and visionaries. The timing of Lewis's award coincided with the 150th anniversary of the 14th amendment. [205] [206] [207] In 2020, Lewis was awarded the Walter P. Reuther Humanitarian Award by Wayne State University, the UAW, and the Reuther family. [208]

Lewis gave numerous commencement addresses, including at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in 2014, [209] Bates College (in Lewiston, Maine) in 2016, [210] Bard College and Bank Street College of Education in 2017, and Harvard University in 2018. [211]

Lewis was recognized for his involvement with comics with the 2017 Inkpot Award. [212]

Lewis's death in July 2020 has given rise to support for renaming the historically significant Pettus bridge in Lewis's honor, an idea previously floated years ago. [213] [214] After his death, the Board of Fairfax County Public Schools announced that Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia would be renamed John R. Lewis High School. [215] [216]

Following his death, Troy University announced that the main building on its flagship campus would bear the name of John Lewis. The building, which was the oldest on campus, was previously named after Bibb Graves, a former governor of Alabama and high-ranking officer of the Ku Klux Klan. [217]

On July 30, 2018, the Atlanta City Council voted to rename Atlanta's Freedom Parkway John Lewis Freedom Parkway. [218] On November 5, 2020, the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County voted to rename an extensive part of Nashville, Tennessee's 5th Avenue John Lewis Way. [219] [220] [221]

On August 1, 2020, a statue of Lewis was revealed by sculptor Gregory Johnson. The statue was commissioned by Rodney Mims Cook Jr. and was installed at Cook Park in Atlanta, Georgia, in April 2021. [222] [223]

On February 21, 2021, President Joe Biden marked Lewis' late birthday on Sunday, urging all Americans to “carry on his mission in the fight for justice and equality for all.” He tweeted, “While my dear friend may no longer be with us, his life and legacy provide an eternal moral compass on which direction to march. May we carry on his mission in the fight for justice and equality for all.” [224]

Honorary academic degrees Edit

Lewis was awarded more than 50 honorary degrees, [225] including:

  • 1989: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Troy State University (now Troy University) [226]
  • 1995: Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from Northeastern University[227]
  • 1998: Honorary Humane Letters degree from Brandeis University[228]
  • 1999: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston[229]
  • 1999: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Knox College[230]
  • 2001: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from University at Albany[231]
  • 2002: Honorary D.H.L. from Howard University[232]
  • 2003: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the College of Wooster[233]
  • 2004: Honorary degree from Portland State University[234]
  • 2004: Honorary LHD from Juniata College[235]
  • 2007: Honorary LL.D. degree from the University of Vermont[236]
  • 2007: Honorary LL.D. degree from Adelphi University[237]
  • 2012: Honorary LL.D. degrees from Brown University, [238]University of Pennsylvania, [239]Harvard University, [211] and the University of Connecticut School of Law[240]
  • 2013: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters[241] from Judson College.
  • 2013: Honorary LL.D. degrees from Cleveland State University[242] and Union College[243]
  • 2014: Honorary LL.D. degree from Emory University[244]
  • 2014: Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts. [245]
  • 2014: Honorary Bachelor of Arts from Lawrence University. [246]
  • 2014: Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Marquette University[247]
  • 2015: Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University. [248]
  • 2015: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Lawrence University[249]
  • 2015: Honorary degree from Goucher College[250]
  • 2015: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Hampton University[251]
  • 2016: Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from New York University. [252]
  • 2016: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Bates College[210]
  • 2016: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Washington University in St. Louis[253]
  • 2016: Honorary Doctor of Policy Analysis from the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School[254]
  • 2016: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Washington and Jefferson College[255]
  • 2017: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Yale University[256]
  • 2017: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Berea College[257]
  • 2017: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Bank Street Graduate School of Education[258]
  • 2018: Honorary Doctor of Law degree from Boston University[259]
  • 2019: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from City College of New York[260]
  • 2019: Honorary Doctorate from Tulane University[261]
Georgia's 5th congressional district : Results 1986–2018 [262] [263] [264] [265] [266]
Year Democratic Votes % Republican Votes %
1986 John Lewis 93,229 75% Portia Scott 30,562 25% [267]
1988 John Lewis 135,194 78% J. W. Tibbs 37,693 22% [268]
1990 John Lewis 86,037 76% J. W. Tibbs 27,781 24% [269]
1992 John Lewis 147,445 72% Paul Stabler 56,960 28% [270]
1994 John Lewis 85,094 69% Dale Dixon 37,999 31% [271]
1996 John Lewis 136,555 100% No candidate [272]
1998 John Lewis 109,177 79% John H. Lewis 29,877 21% [273]
2000 John Lewis 137,333 77% Hank Schwab 40,606 23% [274]
2002 John Lewis 116,259 100% No candidate [275]
2004 John Lewis 201,773 100% No candidate [73]
2006 John Lewis 122,380 100% No candidate [74]
2008 John Lewis 231,368 100% No candidate [75]
2010 John Lewis 130,782 74% Fenn Little 46,622 26% [276]
2012 John Lewis 234,330 84% Howard Stopeck 43,335 16% [276]
2014 John Lewis 170,326 100% No candidate [76]
2016 John Lewis 253,781 84% Douglas Bell 46,768 16% [277]
2018 John Lewis 273,084 100% No candidate [77]

Lewis was portrayed by Stephan James in the 2014 film Selma. He made a cameo appearance in the music video for Young Jeezy's song "My President", which was released in the month of Obama's inauguration. [278] [279] In 2017, John Lewis voiced himself in the Arthur episode "Arthur Takes a Stand". [280] Lewis's life was chronicled in the 2017 PBS documentary John Lewis: Get in the Way [281] and the 2020 CNN Films documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble. [282]

Lewis appeared in the 2019 documentary Bobby Kennedy for President, in which Lewis commends Robert F. Kennedy especially in regards to his support for civil rights throughout his time as a senator for New York and during Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. [283] Lewis also recounted his deep sorrow following the 1968 assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.. [284]

Lewis appeared alongside Amandla Stenberg to present Green Book as Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards that took place on February 24, 2019.

Lewis attended comics conventions to promote his graphic novel, most notably the San Diego Comic-Con, which he attended in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017. During the 2015 convention, Lewis led, along with his graphic novel collaborators Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, an impromptu simulated Selma civil rights march arm in arm with children, during which he wore the same clothes as he did on Bloody Sunday, garnering thousands of con goers to participate. The event became so popular it was repeated in 2016 and 2017. [285] [286]

John Lewis, congressman and legendary civil rights leader, dies at 80

Rep. John Robert Lewis, longtime Georgia Democrat and legendary civil rights leader, died Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old.

Lewis started participating in sit-ins and really taking an active role in the civil rights movement shortly after the famed sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In 1961, Lewis joined the Freedom Riders and was one of the original 13 that rode interstate buses into the segregated Southern United States protesting that segregation of interstate transportation facilities, including bus terminals, was unconstitutional.

Lewis was recognized as one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He was a friend of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and was one of the last surviving speakers from the 1963 March on Washington.

From 1963 to 1966 Lewis served as the president of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee “SNCC”, the civil-rights group formed to give younger blacks more of a voice in the civil rights movement.


Lewis died at age 80 on July 17, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia, after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Of his experience with cancer, Lewis stated, “I have been in some kind of fight—for freedom, equality, basic human rights—for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”

President Donald Trump ordered flags nationwide to be flown at half-staff. Former President Barack Obama praised Lewis as having had an “enormous impact” on America’s history. Soon after his death, several members of Congress vowed to introduce bills to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, after Lewis.

John Lewis, civil rights icon and congressman, dies at 80

ATLANTA (AP) — John Lewis, a lion of the civil rights movement whose bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 helped galvanize opposition to racial segregation, and who went on to a long and celebrated career in Congress, died. He was 80.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed Lewis’ passing late Friday night, calling him “one of the greatest heroes of American history.”

“All of us were humbled to call Congressman Lewis a colleague, and are heartbroken by his passing,” Pelosi said. “May his memory be an inspiration that moves us all to, in the face of injustice, make ‘good trouble, necessary trouble.’”

Lewis’s announcement in late December 2019 that he had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer — “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” he said — inspired tributes from both sides of the aisle, and an unstated accord that the likely passing of this Atlanta Democrat would represent the end of an era.

Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, a group led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that had the greatest impact on the movement. He was best known for leading some 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

American politician and Civil Rights leader John Lewis speaks at a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington DC, April 16, 1964. (Photo by Marion S Trikosko/PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

At age 25 — walking at the head of the march with his hands tucked in the pockets of his tan overcoat — Lewis was knocked to the ground and beaten by police. His skull was fractured, and nationally televised images of the brutality forced the country’s attention on racial oppression in the South.

Within days, King led more marches in the state, and President Lyndon Johnson soon was pressing Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. The bill became law later that year, removing barriers that had barred Blacks from voting.

“John is an American hero who helped lead a movement and risked his life for our most fundamental rights he bears scars that attest to his indefatigable spirit and persistence,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said after Lewis announced his cancer diagnosis.

Lewis joined King and four other civil rights leaders in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. He spoke to the vast crowd just before King delivered his epochal “I Have a Dream” speech.

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., (center) is escorted into a mass meeting at Fish University in Nashville. His colleagues are, left to right, John Lewis, national chairman of the Student Non-Violent Committee and Lester McKinnie, on of the leaders in the racial demonstrations in Nashville recently. King gave the main address to a packed crowd. Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

A 23-year-old firebrand, Lewis toned down his intended remarks at the insistence of others, dropping a reference to a “scorched earth” march through the South and scaling back criticisms of President John Kennedy. It was a potent speech nonetheless, in which he vowed: “By the forces of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in an image of God and democracy.”

It was almost immediately, and forever, overshadowed by the words of King, the man who had inspired him to activism.

Lewis was born on Feb. 21, 1940, outside the town of Troy, in Pike County, Alabama. He grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools.

As a boy, he wanted to be a minister, and practiced his oratory on the family chickens. Denied a library card because of the color of his skin, he became an avid reader, and could cite obscure historical dates and details even in his later years. He was a teenager when he first heard King preaching on the radio. They met when Lewis was seeking support to become the first Black student at Alabama’s segregated Troy State University.

He ultimately attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He began organizing sit-in demonstrations at whites-only lunch counters and volunteering as a Freedom Rider, enduring beatings and arrests while traveling around the South to challenge segregation.

Lewis helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was named its chairman in 1963, making him one of the Big Six at a tender age. The others, in addition to King, were Whitney Young of the National Urban League A. Philip Randolph of the Negro American Labor Council James L. Farmer Jr., of the Congress of Racial Equality and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. All six met at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York to plan and announce the March on Washington.

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (2nd R) holds hands with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) (2nd L) as they sing along with House Democrats after their sit-in over gun-control law on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas.

The huge demonstration galvanized the movement, but success didn’t come quickly. After extensive training in nonviolent protest, Lewis and the Rev. Hosea Williams led demonstrators on a planned march of more than 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, on March 7, 1965. A phalanx of police blocked their exit from the Selma bridge.

Authorities shoved, then swung their truncheons, fired tear gas and charged on horseback, sending many to the hospital and horrifying much of the nation. King returned with thousands, completing the march to Montgomery before the end of the month.

Lewis turned to politics in 1981, when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council.

He won his seat in Congress in 1986 and spent much of his career in the minority. After Democrats won control of the House in 2006, Lewis became his party’s senior deputy whip, a behind-the-scenes leadership post in which he helped keep the party unified.

In an early setback for Barack Obama’s 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Lewis endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton for the nomination. Lewis switched when it became clear Obama had overwhelming Black support. Obama later honored Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and they marched hand in hand in Selma on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday attack.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) arrives to speak to the crowd at the Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing reenactment marking the 55th anniversary of Selma’s Bloody Sunday on March 1, 2020 in Selma, Alabama. Mr. Lewis marched for civil rights across the bridge 55 years ago. Some of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates attended the Selma bridge crossing jubilee ahead of Super Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Lewis also worked for 15 years to gain approval for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Humble and unfailingly friendly, Lewis was revered on Capitol Hill — but as one of the most liberal members of Congress, he often lost policy battles, from his effort to stop the Iraq War to his defense of young immigrants.

He met bipartisan success in Congress in 2006 when he led efforts to renew the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court later invalidated much of the law, and it became once again what it was in his youth, a work in progress. Later, when the presidency of Donald Trump challenged his civil rights legacy, Lewis made no effort to hide his pain.

Lewis refused to attend Trump’s inauguration, saying he didn’t consider him a “legitimate president” because Russians had conspired to get him elected. When Trump later complained about immigrants from “s—hole countries,” Lewis declared, “I think he is a racist … we have to try to stand up and speak up and not try to sweep it under the rug.”

Lewis said he’d been arrested 40 times in the 1960s, five more as a congressman. At 78, he told a rally he’d do it again to help reunite immigrant families separated by the Trump administration.

“There cannot be any peace in America until these young children are returned to their parents and set all of our people free,” Lewis said in June, recalling the “good trouble” he got into protesting segregation as a young man.

Rep. John Lewis calls for the start of President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry, September 2019.

“If we fail to do it, history will not be kind to us,” he shouted. “I will go to the border. I’ll get arrested again. If necessary, I’m prepared to go to jail.”

In a speech the day of the House impeachment vote of Trump, Lewis explained the importance of that vote.

“When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something. Our children and their children will ask us ‘what did you do? what did you say?” While the vote would be hard for some, he said: “We have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.”

Lewis’ wife of four decades, Lillian Miles, died in 2012. They had one son, John Miles Lewis.

Associated Press writer Michael Warren contributed to this report

Left: John Lewis, a lion of the civil rights movement whose bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 helped galvanize opposition to racial segregation, and who went on to a long and celebrated career in Congress, died. He was 80.File photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Watch the video: John Lewis dies at the age of 80 (January 2022).