Skip to main content

John Lewis

Biography

John Lewis

John Lewis is Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District Representative and an American icon widely known for his role in the Civil Rights Movement.

As a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1959, John 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). As Chairman, John Lewis became a nationally recognized leader. Lewis was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and 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. The following year, Lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement. Hosea Williams, another notable Civil Rights leader, and John Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. 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 more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. After leaving SNCC in 1966, he continued his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement as Associate Director of the Field Foundation and his participation in the Southern Regional Council's voter registration programs. Lewis went on to become the Director of the Voter Education Project (VEP). In 1977, John Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.

In 1981, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. He was elected to Congress in November 1986 and has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District since then. In 2011 he was awarded the Presidental Medal of Freedom.

Lewis’ 1999 memoir WALKING WITH THE WIND: A Memoir of the Movement, called "the definitive account of the civil rights movement" (The Washington Post), won numerous honors, including the Robert F. Kennedy, Lillian Smith, and Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. His most recent book, ACROSS THE BRIDGE: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, received for the NAACP Image Award.

His first graphic novel, MARCH, Book One was a 2014 ALA Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book.

John Lewis

Books by John Lewis

Written by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin and Drawn by Nate Powell - Comic Book, Graphic Novel, Historical , Nonfiction

The award-winning, best-selling series returns, as John Lewis' story continues through Freedom Rides and the legendary 1963 March on Washington!

illustrated by Nate Powell written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin - Graphic Novel, Memoir, Nonfiction

Opening on the morning of President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, MARCH is a vivid first-hand account of Congressman John Lewis's lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis's personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.