John Lewis, the “Boy from Troy” as called by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a highly influential leader who helped begin the initiative for better treatment of minority groups in the United States. Lewis worked hard through many sit-ins and peaceful protests as a Civil Rights Activist along with serving as Georgia’s Fifth District’s Representative in the US House of Representatives. Though Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020, his story is one to be read, remembered, and learned from for centuries.
John Lewis was born the third of ten children to Eddie Lewis and Willie Mae Carter outside of Troy, Alabama on February 21, 1940 (“Lewis”). As a boy, Lewis aspired to be a preacher; he was even homilizing to the family’s farm chickens at age five. Once he began to take trips into the city of Troy, he began to experience the segregation common of the Jim Crow South. After hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio in 1955, a teenaged Lewis started to closely follow King’s Montgomery bus boycott later that year (“John”).
Civil Rights Leader
In 1957, Lewis left Alabama to attend the American Baptist Church. While being there, he learned about and experienced nonviolent protest. Lewis also participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961 (“John”). He became one of the original thirteen Freedom Riders with other notable activists including Mae Frances Moultrie, Ivor Moore, William E. Harbour, and Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. The group, consisting of seven colored people and six white people, had planned on riding on the interstate buses from Washington DC to New Orleans. Along the ride, the group did not experience any violence until they reached Rock Hill, South Carolina. The group kept getting attacked and beaten so badly, they decided to finish their journey by plane (“Meet”).
Violence would not deter Lewis and his fellow civil rights leaders, however. In 1963 Lewis became the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He served in this role until 1966 (“John”). During his experience, the SNCC opened Freedom Schools, launched the Mississippi Freedom Summer for voter registration, and organized some of the voter registration efforts during the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Campaign (“Fellowship”).
After serving on the SNCC for five years, Lewis left in 1966 to continue civil rights work alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (“John Lewis”). Even after King’s death in 1968, Lewis kept fighting for equal voting rights and eventually became a director of the Voter Education Project in 1970. The goal of this project was to register millions of minority voters. In 1981, Lewis earned a seat on the Atlanta City Council. Five years later, in 1986, John Lewis won a seat representing Georgia’s 5th District in the United States House of Representatives. While serving in Congress, Lewis worked to improve the education system, fight poverty, and improve healthcare - especially for those who could not afford it as easily (“John Lewis, Towering”). In addition, on June 22, 2016, John Lewis led a sit-in of 40 democrats to protest the Pulse Nightclub shooting earlier that month.
Later Years and Death
During his life, John Lewis has earned numerous awards for the work that he has done for different minorities (“John Lewis, Towering”). Lewis has earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)’s Spingarn Medal. He has also earned the Profile in Courage Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2001 (“John Lewis”). In 2016, Lewis also earned a National Book Award for the third book of his series March: Book Three.
In December 2019, Lewis announced that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. John Lewis died less than a year later on July 17, 2020 (“John Lewis”).
Lewis lived an eventful life from his desire to become a preacher to his work in Congress. He spent a great deal of time as one of the original thirteen Freedom Riders who helped to strongly change the American society. Sadly, Lewis was gone too soon, but his influence will continue to inspire for generations.
“Fellowship - John Lewis - About John Lewis.” Humanity in Action, www.humanityinaction.org/fellowship-john-lewis/about-john-lewis/.
“John Lewis.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 18 July 2020, www.biography.com/
“John Lewis, Towering Figure of Civil Rights Era, Dies at 80.” The New York Times, 2020,
www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/us/john-lewis-dead.html. Accessed 18 Nov. 2020.
Lewis, Femi. “Biography of John Lewis, Civil Rights Activist and Politician.” ThoughtCo,
“Meet the Players: Freedom Riders | American Experience | PBS.” PBS, www.pbs.org/wgbh/ americanexperience/features/meet-players-freedom-riders/.