John Lewis, a civil rights leader and U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional district since 1987, passed away on July 17th after a six-month battle with cancer.
Born in Troy, Alabama on February 21st, 1940 – Lewis grew up in the midst of segregation where he had ill experiences from his white counterparts. He had the opportunity to meet both Rosa Parks and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, where he would eventually dedicate his forthcoming life to civil rights discourse.
Mr.Lewis was a graduate of The American Theological Seminary in Nashville, TN. He also received his degree in Religion and Philosophy at Frisk University. During this time, he was also a pivotal organizer in the first of many sit-ins in local Nashville diners in the early 60’s. The point of the sit-ins was to promote a necessity of change in inequality that was happening politically, economically, and socially.
In 1961, Mr.Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders that challenged a ruling of an African American law student who was accused of trespassing a restaurant in a bus terminal that was designated for whites only (Boyton V. Virginia).
During these rides, Mr.Lewis was arrested numerous times. Some of these arrests were claims of “resisting the peace, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.” Despite these arrests, John Lewis maintained a conscious of undeniable determination and continued to be a voice for the black community throughout the sixties despite being arrested more than forty times.
Most notably, John lewis was a prominent member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a civil-rights group that was formed by young blacks to have a voice in the civil rights movement. Through reformative trainings, Lewis and other members were a part of sit-ins and most importantly the March on Washington in August of 1963. At just 23 years of age, Lewis delivered his speech in front of more than 200,000 people.
“We do not want to go to jail – but we will go to jail if its a price we must pay for love, brotherhood, and peace.”- John Lewis, M.O.W Speech, Aug. 1963
After the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, John Lewis’ work did not stop there. He went on to be the director of the Southern Regionals Council (SRC); an organization created in the forties that focused on the avoidance of racial violence and the promotion of racial equality in the southern part of the U.S. In 1970, he then became the director of the Voter Education Project (VEP) that targeted minority voters and helped assist them in the voting process.
Under the Carter administration, Lewis was also director of more than 250,000 members of the ACTION program – a federal volunteer agency. After, he was elected on the Atlanta City Council where he advocated for preservation and ethics in government and local neighborhoods.
It wasn’t until 1986 where Mr.Lewis was elected into Congress, representing Georgia 5th Congressional District. He has held this seat ever since.
In 2013, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama.
John Lewis to many was a pioneer of civil activism and was one of many that paved the way for many people of color to have a right to have economic, political, and social equality in the United States. May he Rest In Power and may we as Americans, continue his legacy in the fight to equal opportunity among all.