John Robert Lewis was an American congressman and civil rights activist, born on February 21, 1940. He is most famously known for his involvement in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (S.N.C.C.) and died from pancreatic cancer in 2020.
John Robert Lewis
February 21, 1940
July 17, 2020 (age 80)
John Robert Lewis was born on February 21, 1940, in Troy, Alabama. He was the third child of 10 children, to mother Willie Mae Carter and father Eddie Lewis. He died on July 17, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia from pancreatic cancer. Lewis was an American civil rights reader and politician until his death. He was most commonly known for his chairmanship of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (S.N.C.C.). He was a part of the big six who lead the march in 1965 that was met with police violence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. This march became a historical landmark event known as “Bloody Sunday.”
In John Lewis’ younger years, he didn’t get much formal education, being from a small town in Alabama. He attended school in a beautiful little building called Rosenwald School which was supported by the community. As he grew older, he began going into the city more with his family where he experienced racism and segregation.
In 1955 Lewis gained note of Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio and that began his interest in activism, attending the Montgomery bus boycott later that year. At 15 Lewis preached his first public sermon. At 17, he met Rosa Parks who was notable for her involvement in the Montgomery bus boycott, and he met Luther King Jr. when he was 18. Lewis graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, and was officially ordained as a Baptist minister. He then furthered his studies at Fisk University, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy.
As a student, John Lewis organized sit-ins at the segregated lunch counters in Nashville and played an important role in the Nashville Student Movement, established in 1961. Lewis has fulfilled many key roles in the civil rights movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the U.S.A.
A protest is organized for the rejection of the bus segregation laws, and Lewis becomes a part of the Freedom Rider movement.
Lewis runs for an at-large seat on the Atlanta City Council and wins with 69% of the vote, serving on the council until 1986.
Lewis decides to run for congress for the fifth district in the November general election and defeated Republican Portia Scott 75% to 25%.
48 years after the Montgomery attack, Elwin Wilson, a former Klansman, apologizes on national television to John Lewis for the unfolding of events that day.
Lewis receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Why We Love John Lewis
He wrote his memoir
Lewis has written a memoir entitled “March,” which illustrates his experiences during the civil rights movement. It's a graphic novel series illustrated by Nate Powell, and there are three books in this trilogy.
He contributed greatly to American history
John Lewis was involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (S.N.C.C.). He battled the fight for equality and the right to a fair vote since he was a teenager.
A valedictory essay by Lewis
Lewis addressed the black lives movement in the most heartwarming essay; “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.”
5 Surprising Facts
He knew Martin Luther King Jr.
After getting rejected from a university, Lewis reached out to King, who responded and the two became friends.
He wanted to be a preacher
At the young age of six, John Lewis aspired to be a preacher, explaining how he used to preach to the chickens on his family's farm.
John Lewis was a liberal congressman
Lewis was said to be one of the most liberal congressmen to have represented a district in Georgia.
His skull was fractured
Lewis’s skull was fractured during an attempted voting rights march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama.
He’s been arrested 40 times
The politician explained once in an interview how during the civil rights movement he was arrested more than 40 times.
John Lewis FAQs
What was John Lewis' career?
John Robert Lewis was an American politician and civil rights activist who served in the United States House of Representatives for Georgia’s fifth congressional district from 1987 until he died in 2020.
Did John Lewis go to college?
Lewis attended the American Baptist College in 1961 and then went to Fisk University from 1963 to 1967.
Where did he meet his wife?
Lewis met Lillian Miles at a New Year’s Eve party, and they were married in 1968.
John Lewis’s birthday dates