- NAME: John Lewis
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, U.S. Representative
- BIRTH DATE: February 21, 1940 (Age: 74)
- Did You Know?: During the civil rights struggle, Lewis was arrested approximately 40 times.
- Did You Know?: Lewis was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963.
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Near Troy, Alabama
- Full Name: John Robert Lewis
- AKA: John Lewis
- ZODIAC SIGN: Pisces
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One of the "Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, John Lewis has continued to fight for people's rights since joining Congress in 1987.
Bloody Sunday (4:04)
Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis joined the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. Lewis was a Freedom Rider, spoke at 1963's March on Washington and led the demonstration that became known as "Bloody Sunday."
On March 7, 1965 around 600 people crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in an attempt to begin the Selma to Montgomery march. State troopers violently attacked the peaceful demonstrators in an attempt to stop the march for voting rights.
On Sunday, March 21, 1965, nearly 8,000 people began the five-day march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is widely considered the most influential leader of the American civil rights movement. He fought to overturn Jim Crow segregation laws and eliminate social and economic differences between blacks and whites.
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During his tenure, the VEP helped to register millions of minority voters.
Lewis ran for office himself in 1981, winning a seat on the Atlanta City Council. In 1986, he was elected to the House of Representatives. Today, representing Georgia's 5th District, he is one of the most respected members of Congress. Since entering office, he has called for health-care reform, measures to fight poverty and improvements in education. Most importantly,
he oversaw multiple renewals of the Voting Rights Act. When the Supreme Court struck down part of the law in 2013's Shelby County v. Holder, Lewis decried the decision as a "dagger into the heart" of voting rights.
Though the Supreme Court's decision about the Voting Rights Act was a blow to Lewis, he has been encouraged by the progress that has occurred in his lifetime. After Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, Lewis stated that, "When we were organizing voter-registration drives, going on the Freedom Rides, sitting in, coming here to Washington for the first time, getting arrested, going to jail, being beaten, I never thought—I never dreamed—of the possibility that an African American would one day be elected president of the United States."
In addition to continuing his work in Congress, Lewis has reached out to a younger generation by helping create a series of graphic novels about his work in the Civil Rights Movement. He has also been honored with numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the NAACP's Spingarn Medal and the sole John F. Kennedy "Profile in Courage Award" for Lifetime Achievement.
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African-Americans have a long history of activism in America, from fighting for the right to vote to pushing for integrated public spaces. Activists like Stokely Carmichael organized freedom rides, James Meredith fought to integrate blacks and whites at the University of Mississippi, and Rosa Parks instigated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. These protests were often legal and nonviolent, and made a powerful impact on civil rights in the United States. With the help of activists like these—and many others—the country slowly worked to acknowledge the basic rights and contributions of African-Americans. Activists outisde of the U.S. include Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, who have fought against apartheid in South Africa. Learn more about the many black activists who fought against the odds in order to achieve equality.
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