John Lewis

John Lewis

John Lewis was born in Pike County, Alabama, on 21st February, 1940. While attending the American Baptist Theological Seminary he became a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In 1961 Lewis became a member of the Freedom Riders. After training in non-violent techniques, black and white volunteers sat next to each other as they travelled through the Deep South. Local police were unwilling to protect these passengers and in several places they were beaten up by white mobs.

Elected chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1963, Lewis helped organize the famous March on Washington. On 28th August, 1963, more than 200,000 people marched peacefully to the Lincoln Memorial to demand equal justice for all citizens under the law. At the end of the march Martin Luther King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Lewis also spoke at the meeting where he condemned American racism and segregation.

Other posts held by Lewis include: director of Action (1977-1980) and community affairs director, National Consumer Co-op Bank, Atlanta (1980-86). A member of the Democratic Party, Lewis served on the Atlanta City Council (1982-86) before being elected to Congress for Georgia (January, 1987 to the present).

John Lewis and James Zwerg, two Freedom Ridersbeaten up by a white mob in Montgomery, Alabama.
John Lewis and James Zwerg, two Freedom Riders
beaten up by a white mob in Montgomery, Alabama.

Primary Sources

(1) John Lewis, speech at the March on Washington (28th August, 1963)

We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of. For hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here. They have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages or no wages, at all.

In good conscience, we cannot support the administration's civil rights bill, for it is too little, and too late. There's not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality.

This bill will not protect young children and old women from police dogs and fire hoses, for engaging in peaceful demonstrations.

The voting section of this bill will not help thousands of black citizens who want to vote. It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama, and Georgia, who are qualified to vote, but lack a 6th Grade education. "One man, one vote," is the African cry. It is ours, too.

We are now involved in revolution. This nation is still a place of cheap political leaders who build their careers on immoral compromise and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation. What political leader here can stand up and say, "My party is the party of principles"? The party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland. The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater. Where is our party?

We won't stop now. All of the forces of Eastland, Barnett, Wallace, and Thurmond won't stop this revolution. The time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. We will march through the South, through the Heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own "scorched earth" policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground - nonviolently. We shall fragment the South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of democracy. We will make the action of the past few months look petty. And I say to you, WAKE UP AMERICA!