(Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rev. Joseph E. Lowery)
Congressman Lewis was born on February 21, 1940, outside of Troy, Alabama. He was the son of sharecropper and grew up on his family's farm. He attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama. As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. It was during these moments that he made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Congressman Lewis in his own words, “ From the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the action of Rosa Parks and the words and leadership of Dr. King inspired me to find a way to get in the way. I got in the way, I got in Trouble, Good Trouble, Necessary Trouble.”
As a student at Fisk University, John Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Lewis risked his life on those Rides many times by simply sitting in seats reserved for white patrons. He was also beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South.
During the height of the Movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was named Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for organizing student activism in the Movement, including sit-ins and other activities.
While still a young man, John Lewis became a nationally recognized leader. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963.
His words from his speech on that day, “ Those that say be patient and wait, we must say we cannot be patient, we do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now. We’re tired, we’re tired of our people being beaten by policeman, and we’re tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again. Then you holler, be patient, how long can we be patient?
"We want our freedom and we want it now!”
In 1964, John Lewis coordinated the Student Non-Violent Community Action Coalition (SNCC) in efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
The following year, Lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement. Hosea Williams, another notable Civil Rights leader, and John Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state.
The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday." Congressman Lewis suffered a fractured skull at the hands of News broadcasts and photographs revealing the senseless cruelty of the segregated South helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Congressman Lewis spoke about that Sunday, “We were knocked down; they started beating us with night sticks, trampling us with horses, then started releasing tear gas.” Congressman Lewis was jailed over 40 times.
Congressman Lewis served in the United States House of Representatives for Georgia's 5th congressional district from 1987 until his death on Friday July 18, 2020. He was known as the “Conscious of the Congress” because of his deep and undying commitment for equal rights and voting rights of all Americans. Congressman Lewis died on the same day as the civil rights leader, the Rev. Cordy Tindell "C.T." Vivian, who was 95.
Rev Vivian, was an early civil rights advocate, adviser, organizer and field general for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The dual deaths of the civil rights icons come as the nation is still grappling with racial upheaval in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the nation.
Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, another civil rights icon died on March 27, 2020 at the age of 98. He co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr. and others, serving as its vice president, later chairman of the board, and from 1977 to 1997 its president. Rev. Lowery participated in most of the major activities of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and continued his civil rights work into the 21st century. He was called the "Dean of the Civil Rights Movement."
All three Civil Rights icons were part of the group called The Big Six of the Civil Rights Movement.
John Lewis, “Every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation. What legacy do you want to leave behind”?
“ You must be able and prepared to give until you cannot give anymore. We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it, and now that need is greater than ever before… Congressman John R. Lewis. In an interview with Johnathan Capehart
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”