John Lewis (civil rights leader)

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John Lewis
John Lewis-2006 (cropped).jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 5th district
Assumed office
January 3, 1987
Preceded by Wyche Fowler
3rd Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
In office
June 1963 – May 1966
Preceded by Charles McDew
Succeeded by Stokely Carmichael
Personal details
Born John Robert Lewis
(1940-02-21) February 21, 1940 (age 80)
Troy, Alabama, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Lillian Miles (m. 1968–2012)
Children 1
Education American Baptist College (BA)
Fisk University (BA)

John Robert Lewis (born February 21, 1940) is an American politician and civil rights leader. He is the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, serving since 1987, and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. His district includes three quarters of Atlanta.

Lewis, who as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was one of the "Big Six" leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington, played many key roles in the Civil Rights Movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the United States. A member of the Democratic Party, Lewis is a member of the Democratic leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and has served as a Chief Deputy Whip since 1991 and Senior Chief Deputy Whip since 2003.

Lewis has been awarded many honorary degrees and is the recipient of numerous awards from eminent national and international institutions, including the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Early life

John Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama, the third son of Willie Mae (née Carter) and Eddie Lewis.[1] His parents were sharecroppers.[2] Lewis grew up in Pike County, Alabama. He has several siblings, including brothers Edward, Grant, Freddie, Sammy, Adolph, and William, and sisters Ethel, Rosa, and Ora. Lewis had seen only two white people in his life until age six.[3] He was educated at the Pike County Training High School, Brundidge, Alabama, and also American Baptist Theological Seminary and at Fisk University, both in Nashville, Tennessee, where he became a leader in the Nashville sit-ins. While a student, he was invited to attend nonviolence workshops held in the basement of Clark Memorial United Methodist Church by the Rev. James Lawson and Rev. Kelly Miller Smith. There he and many of his fellow students became dedicated adherents to the discipline and philosophy of nonviolence, which he still practices today.

The Nashville sit-in movement was responsible for the desegregation of lunch counters in downtown Nashville. Lewis was arrested and jailed many times in the nonviolent movement to desegregate the downtown area of the city. Afterwards, he participated in the Freedom Rides sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), led by James Farmer, and ultimately became a national leader in the movement for civil rights and respect for human dignity.[2] In an interview, John Lewis said, "I saw racial discrimination as a young child. I saw those signs that said 'White Men, Colored Men, White Women, Colored Women'. ... I remember as a young child with some of my brothers and sisters and first cousins going down to the public library trying to get library cards, trying to check some books out, and we were told by the librarian that the library was for whites only and not for 'coloreds'." During a childhood trip to Buffalo, New York, Lewis saw for the first time black men and white men working together, desegregating water fountains, and began to believe the dream of equality was more than just a dream. Lewis listened to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks on the radio, and he and his family supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Lewis met Parks in 1957 when he was 17, and he met King the following year.[4]

Civil rights activism

Civil rights leaders meet with President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office of the White House after the March on Washington, D.C.. Left to Right — Willard Wirtz, Matthew Ahmann, Martin Luther King, Jr, John Lewis, Rabbi Joachin Prinz, Eugene Carson Blake, A. Philip Randolph, President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Walter Reuther, Whitney Young, Floyd McKissick. Not in order: Roy Wilkins. August 28, 1963

John Lewis was the youngest of the Big Six civil rights leaders as chairman of SNCC from 1963 to 1966, some of the most tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement. During his tenure, SNCC opened Freedom Schools, launched the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and organized some of the voter registration efforts during the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign. As the chairman of SNCC, Lewis had written a speech in reaction to the Civil Rights Bill of 1963. He denounced the bill because it didn't protect African Americans against police brutality or provide African Americans with the right to vote.

Lewis graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville and then received a bachelor's degree in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University. As a student, he was very dedicated to 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. He was instrumental in organizing student sit-ins, bus boycotts and nonviolent protests in the fight for voter and racial equality.

In 1960, Lewis became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. There were seven whites and six blacks who were determined to ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans in an integrated fashion. At that time, several states of the old Confederacy still enforced laws prohibiting black and white riders from sitting next to each other on public transportation. The Freedom Ride, originated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and revived by James Farmer and 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. In the South, Lewis and other nonviolent Freedom Riders were beaten by angry mobs, arrested at times and taken to jail. When CORE gave up on the Freedom Ride because of the violence, Lewis and fellow activist Diane Nash arranged for the Nashville students to take it over and bring it to a successful conclusion.

In 1963, when Chuck McDew stepped down as SNCC chairman, Lewis, one of the founding members of SNCC, was quickly elected to take over. Lewis's experience at that point was already widely respected. His courage and his tenacious adherence to the philosophy of reconciliation and nonviolence made him emerge as a leader. By this time, he had been arrested 24 times in the nonviolent struggle for equal justice. He held the post of chairman until 1966.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Leaders of the march)

In 1963, as chairman of SNCC Lewis was named one of the "Big Six" leaders who were organizing the March on Washington, the occasion of Dr. King's celebrated "I Have a Dream" speech, along with Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins. Lewis also spoke at the March. Discussing the occasion, historian Howard Zinn wrote: "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 heard Martin Luther 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 organizers of the March to avoid offending the Kennedy Administration. But Lewis and his fellow SNCC workers had experienced, again and again, the strange passivity of the national government in the face of Southern violence."[5] At 23 he was the youngest speaker that day and is the last remaining living speaker.[6]

In 1964, Lewis coordinated SNCC's efforts for "Mississippi Freedom Summer," a campaign to register black voters across the South. The Freedom Summer was an attempt to expose college students from around the country to the perils of African-American life in the South. Lewis traveled the country encouraging students to spend their summer break trying to help people in Mississippi, the most recalcitrant state in the union, to register and vote. Lewis became nationally known during his prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery marches when, 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, 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 night sticks. Lewis's skull was fractured, but he escaped across the bridge to Brown Chapel, the movement's headquarter church in Selma. Before Lewis could be taken to the hospital, he appeared before the television cameras calling on President Johnson to intervene in Alabama. Lewis bears scars from the incident on his head that are still visible today.

Lewis (far right) with Bayard Rustin, Andrew Young, Congressman William Fitts Ryan, and James Farmer 1965
File:50th Anniversary of the Selma Marches - Former President George W Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush participated in the program (cropped to Obama and Bush couples).jpg
50th Anniversary of the 1965 Selma Marches - Former First Lady Laura Bush, First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, John Lewis, and Former President George W. Bush

Lewis and the SNCC had reason to be angry. At 21 years old, he was the first of the Freedom Riders to be assaulted while in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He tried to enter a whites-only waiting room and two white men attacked him, injuring his face and kicking him in the ribs. Nevertheless, only two weeks later Lewis joined a Freedom Ride that was bound for Jackson. "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," Lewis said recently in regard to his perseverance following the act of violence.[7]

In an interview with CNN during the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Lewis recounted the sheer amount of violence he and the 12 other original Freedom Riders endured. In Anniston, Alabama, the bus was fire-bombed after Ku Klux Klan members deflated its tires, forcing it to come to a stop. In Birmingham, the Riders were mercilessly beaten, and in Montgomery, an angry mob met the bus, and 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.

The original intent of the Freedom Rides was to test the new law that banned segregation in public transportation. It also exposed the passivity of the government regarding violence against citizens of the country who were simply acting in accordance to the law.[8] The federal government had trusted the notoriously racist Alabama police to protect the Riders, but did nothing itself, except to have FBI agents take notes. The Kennedy Administration then called for a cooling-off period, a moratorium on Freedom Rides.[5] Lewis had been imprisoned for forty days in the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County, Mississippi, after participating in a Freedom Riders activity in that state.[9]

In February 2009, forty-eight years after he had been bloodied by the Ku Klux Klan during civil rights marches, Lewis received an apology on national television from a white southerner, former Klansman Elwin Wilson.[10][11]

After leaving SNCC in 1966, Lewis worked with community organizations and was named community affairs director for the National Consumer Co-op Bank in Atlanta.

U.S. House of Representatives



In January 1977, incumbent Democrat U.S. Congressman Andrew Young of Georgia's 5th congressional district resigned in order 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, Jr. ranked first with 40% of the vote, failing to reach the 50% threshold to win outright. Lewis ranked second with 29% of the vote.[12] In the April election, Fowler defeated Lewis 62%–38%.[13] After his unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1977, he 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.[14] In 1981, Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council.


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 earned 35% in second place.[15] In the run-off, Lewis pulled an upset against Bond, defeating him 52% to 48%.[16] The race was said to have "badly strained relations in Atlanta's black community". Lewis was "endorsed by the Atlanta newspapers and a favorite of the white liberal establishment", with his victory coming from his strong polling among white voters (a minority in the district). 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.[17][18]

In the November general election, Lewis defeated Republican Portia Scott 75% to 25%.[19]


File:John Lewis official biopic.jpg
An earlier official portrait of Lewis

John Lewis has been reelected 14 times. He has dropped below 70 percent of the vote only once. In 1994, he defeated Republican Dale Dixon by a 38-point margin, 69%–31%.[20] He even ran unopposed in 1996 and from 2004 to 2008.

He was challenged in the Democratic primary just twice: in 1992 and 2008. In 1992, he defeated State Representative Mable Thomas 76%–24%.[21] In 2008, Thomas decided to challenge Lewis again, as well as the Reverend Markel Hutchins. Lewis defeated Hutchins and Thomas 69%–16%-15%.[22]

On May 5, 2014, Lewis delivered the keynote address at the commencement exercises for the School of Visual Arts (SVA), urging the graduating artists to use their talents to fight injustice, saying, "You have a mandate to get out and disturb the order of things."[23] SVA honored Lewis with an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts.[24]



Lewis represents 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 non-Democrat for just 11 years. The last non-Democrat to represent the district was Republican Fletcher Thompson, who left office on January 3, 1973, after a six-year stint; prior to Thompson, Democrats had held the district since James C. Freeman relinquished the seat in 1875 after serving a single two-year term.

Lewis is one of the most liberal members of the House, and one of the most liberal congressmen ever to represent a district in the Deep South. He has been categorized as a "Hard-Core Liberal" by On the Issues.[25] The Washington Post described Lewis in 1998 as "a fiercely partisan Democrat but ... also fiercely independent."[26] Lewis characterized himself as a strong and adamant liberal.[26] 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."[27] 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."[27] Lewis has cited former Florida Senator and Congressman Claude Pepper, a staunch liberal, as being the colleague that he has most admired.[28] Lewis has spoken out in support of gay rights and national health insurance.[26]

Lewis opposed the U.S. waging of the 1991 Gulf War,[29][30] and the 2000 trade agreement with China that passed the House.[31] He opposed the Clinton administration on NAFTA and welfare reform.[26] 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?"[32] In 1994, when Clinton was considering invading Haiti, Lewis, in contrast to the Congressional Black Caucus as a whole, opposed armed intervention.[33] When Clinton did send troops to Haiti, Lewis called for supporting the troops and called the intervention a "mission of peace".[34] 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.[35] In 2001, three days after the September 11 attacks, Lewis voted to give Bush authority to retaliate in a vote that was 420–1; Lewis called it probably one of his toughest votes.[36] In 2002, he sponsored the Peace Tax Fund bill, a conscientious objection to military taxation initiative that had been reintroduced yearly since 1972.[37] Lewis was a "fierce partisan critic of President Bush" and the Iraq war.[27] 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."[38]

Lewis draws on his historical involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as part of his politics. He "makes an annual pilgrimage to Alabama to retrace the route he marched in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery – a route Lewis has since had declared part of the Historic National Trails program. That trip has become 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.".[27] In recent years, however, Faith and Politics Institute has drawn criticism for selling seats on the trip to lobbyists for at least $25,000 each.[39] 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.[39]


File:Clinton and Lewis.jpg
Senator Hillary Clinton interviews John Lewis in August, 2005, concerning the importance of the Supreme Court to civil rights

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 didn't believe Bush was the true elected president.[40]

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.[41] He was arrested in 2006[42] and 2009 and outside the Sudan embassy in protest against the genocide in Darfur.[43] 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 illegal immigration reform. The lawmakers' participation and subsequent arrest in the protest occurred despite the fact that the 2013 government shutdown was going on at the time.[44] Lewis also led the 2016 House Democrats sit-in demanding that the House take action on gun control in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting and the failure of the United States Senate to act.[45]

2008 Presidential election

File:John Lewis DNC 2008 (cropped2).jpg
Lewis speaks during the final day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.

At first, Lewis supported Hillary Clinton, endorsing her presidential campaign on October 12, 2007.[46] 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."[47] Ben Smith of Politico said that "it would be a seminal moment in the race if John Lewis were to switch sides."[48]

On February 27, 2008, Lewis formally changed his support and endorsed Obama.[49][50] 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."[51] 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.[52]

In October 2008, Lewis issued a statement criticizing the campaign of John McCain and 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's 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.”[53] 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."[54]

Reflections on the Obama presidency and race relations

File:Barack Obama hugs John Lewis, 2015.jpg
Lewis shares an embrace with President Barack Obama at the 50th anniversary of the Selma Marches.

In an interview for the Grio, on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Lewis told a reporter, "We have not yet created a truly multiracial democratic society in America. It's not post-racial." 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.[55]

File:US House Democrats assume floor and begin 22 June 2016 sit in.png
House Democrats, led by Lewis, take the floor to begin a sit-in demanding gun safety legislation on June 22, 2016

2016 Firearm Safety Legislation Sit-in

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 Pulse nightclub shooting. Speaker pro tempore Daniel Webster ordered the House into recess, but Democrats refused to leave the chamber for nearly 26 hours.[56]

National Museum of African American History and Culture

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, but each time it was blocked in the Senate, largely by Conservative, Southern Senator Jesse Helms. In 2002, Helms did not seek reelection, Lewis gained bipartisan support, and in 2003 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.[57]

2016 Presidential election

In a January 2016 interview, Lewis compared Donald Trump, then the Republican front-runner, to 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." [58]

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."[59] 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."[60] 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!"[61] Trump was criticized for his Twitter comments attacking a civil rights leader such as John Lewis, especially one who was brutally beaten for the cause, and especially on Martin Luther King weekend.[62][63][64]

Lewis also said "it will be the first [inauguration] that I miss since I've been in the Congress".[65] This was later discovered to be false as the congressman had also not attended George W. Bush's inauguration in 2001 as he did not believe Bush to be the true elected president.[66]

Committee assignments

Caucus membership

Since 1991, Lewis has been senior chief deputy whip in the Democratic caucus.[67] A December 2009 report on privately financed Congressional travel by The New York Times found Lewis to be recipient of the most trips since 2007, with a total of 40.[68]


Lewis signing copies of March Book One, the first volume of his graphic novel autobiography, at Midtown Comics in Manhattan

Lewis's autobiography, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, co-written with Michael D'Orso, was published in 1998. A national bestseller, it won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, was included on Newsweek magazine's list of "50 Books For Our Times," and was named Nonfiction Book of the Year by the American Library Association. 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".[69]


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,[70] the second volume, March: Book Two was published in January 2015 and the final volume, March: Book Three was published in August 2016.[71]

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.[72] March: Book One became a number one New York Times bestseller for graphic novels[73] 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.[74] Book One also became the first graphic novel to win a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, receiving a "Special Recognition" bust in 2014.[75]

March: Book One was selected by first-year reading programs in 2014 at Michigan State University,[76] Georgia State University,[77] and Marquette University.[78]

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.[79] The third volume was announced as the recipient of the 2017 Printz Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, the 2016 National Book Award in Young People's Literature,[80] and the Sibert Medal at the American Library Association's annual Midwinter Meeting in January 2017.[81]

The March series is used in schools across the country to teach some of the history of the Civil Rights Movement to students.[citation needed] In 2015, the series was selected as a First-Year common reading text at colleges and universities such as University of Utah, Henderson State University, University of Illinois Springfield, Washburn University, and among others.

Personal life

Lewis met Lillian Miles at a New Year's Eve party hosted by Xernona Clayton. They married in 1968. Together, they had one son, named John-Miles. Lillian died on December 31, 2012.[82]

Lewis is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated.[83]


Lewis is honored with the 1997 sculpture by Thornton Dial, The Bridge, at Ponce de Leon Avenue and Freedom Park, Atlanta. Two years later, 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.[84]

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."[85] 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.[86]

John Lewis addressing audience in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 2013

In 2006, he received the US Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.[87] In September 2007, Lewis was awarded the Dole Leadership Prize from the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas.[88]

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."[89]

On November 17, 2010, Lewis was awarded the First LBJ Liberty and Justice for All Award, given to him by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation,[90] and the next year, Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.[91]

On January 6, 2016, it was announced that a future United States Navy underway replenishment oiler would be named USNS John Lewis.[92] On May 29, 2016, Lewis gave the Class of 2016 Commencement Address at Bates College, in Lewiston, Maine.[93]

Honorary academic degrees

Lewis receives an honorary degree from Brown University in 2012

On September 19, 2016, Rep. John 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 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.[105][106]

Electoral history

Georgia's 5th congressional district: Results 1986–2012[107][108][109][110]
Year Democratic Votes  % Republican Votes  %
1986 John Lewis 93,229 75% Portia Scott 30,562 25%
1988 John Lewis 135,194 78% J. W. Tibbs 37,693 22%
1990 John Lewis 86,037 76% J. W. Tibbs 27,781 24%
1992 John Lewis 147,445 72% Paul Stabler 56,960 28%
1994 John Lewis 85,094 69% Dale Dixon 37,999 31%
1996 John Lewis 136,555 100% No candidate
1998 John Lewis 109,177 79% John H. Lewis 29,877 21%
2000 John Lewis 137,333 77% Hank Schwab 40,606 23%
2002 John Lewis 116,259 100% No candidate
2004 John Lewis 201,773 100% No candidate
2006 John Lewis 122,380 100% No candidate
2008 John Lewis 231,368 100% No candidate
2010 John Lewis 130,782 74% Fenn Little 46,622 26%
2012 John Lewis 234,330 84% Howard Stopeck 43,335 16%
2014 John Lewis 170,326 100% No candidate
2016 John Lewis 47,313 100% No candidate

In popular culture

Lewis is portrayed by Stephan James in the 2014 film Selma. He made a cameo appearance in the Young Jeezy ft. Nas music video of the song "My President", which was released in the month of Obama's inauguration.[111][112]


  • Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1963–1973 (Library of America: 2003) ISBN 1-931082-29-4
  • Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis with Mike D'Orso, (Harvest Books: 1999) ISBN 0-15-600708-8. The U.S. Congressman tells of life in the trenches of the Civil Rights Movement, the numerous arrests, sit-ins, and marches that led to breaking down the barriers of discrimination in the South during the 1950s and 1960s. It won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and the Christopher Award, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and was named Nonfiction Book of the Year by the American Library Association.
  • John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, illustrated by Benny Andrews, (Lee & Low Books: 2006) ISBN 978-1-58430-250-6. A biography of John Lewis, one of the "Big Six" civil rights leaders who were chairman of activist groups organizing the 1963 March on Washington, focusing on his involvement in Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches.
  • John Lewis: From Freedom Rider to Congressman by Christine M. Hill, (Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2002) ISBN 0-7660-1768-0. A biography of John Lewis written for juvenile readers.
  • Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement by Ann Bausum, (National Geographic Society, 2006) ISBN 0-7922-4173-8.
  • Across That Bridge by John Lewis with Brenda Jones, (Hyperion: 2012) ISBN 978-1-4013-2411-7. Winner of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work/Biography. It is an accessible discussion of Lewis's philosophy and his viewpoint of the philosophical basis of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • March: Book One a 2013 illustrated comic history of Lewis' career, with sequels published in 2015 and 2016, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, (Top Shelf Productions: 2013) ISBN 978-1-60309-300-2.

See also


  1. Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, March 25, 2012
  2. 2.0 2.1 Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1963–1973, Part Two Carson, Clayborne, Garrow, David, Kovach, Polsgrove, Carol (Editorial Advisory Board), (Library of America: February 2003) ISBN 978-1-931082-29-7, pp. 15–16, 48, 56, 84, 323, 374, 384, 392, 491–94, 503, 505, 513, 556, 726, 751, 846, 873
  3. John Lewis (1998). Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 7. ISBN 9780156007085. Retrieved 1 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Charles McDew
Chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
Succeeded by
Stokely Carmichael
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Wyche Fowler
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 5th congressional district

United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Peter DeFazio
United States Representatives by seniority
Succeeded by
Louise Slaughter
D-New York

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