JOHN LEWIS is the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s fifth congressional district and an American icon widely known for his role in the civil rights movement.
As a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1959, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. He was beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of “Jim Crow” segregation in the South. From 1963 to 1966, Lewis was Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963. In 1964, John Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. Together with Hosea Williams, another notable civil rights leader, John Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” News broadcasts and photographs revealing the senseless cruelty of the segregated South helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Despite physical attacks, serious injuries, and more than 40 arrests, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. After leaving SNCC in 1966, he continued to work for civil rights, first as Associate Director of the Field Foundation, then with the Southern Regional Council, where he became Executive Director of the Voter Education Project. In 1977, Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.
In 1981, Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1986 and represented Georgia’s fifth district there ever since. In 2011 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Lewis’ 1998 memoir Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement won numerous honors, including the Robert F. Kennedy, Lillian Smith, and Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. His subsequent book,Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, won the NAACP Image Award.