MemConf - Congressman John Lewis

Described as "One of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced," John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing personal dignity and building what he calls "The Beloved Community." He has displayed a sense of ethics and morality that has won him the admiration of many of his colleagues in the United States Congress.

John Lewis was born the son of sharecroppers on February 21, 1940 outside of Troy, Alabama. He grew up on his family's farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University; and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. He has also been awarded numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities throughout the United States, including Clark Atlanta University, Duke University, Howard University, Brandeis University, Columbia University, Fisk University, Morehouse College, Princeton University and Williams College. John Lewis is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize and the NAACP Spingarn Medal. John Lewis is also the recipient of the John F. Kennedy "Profile in Courage Award" for lifetime achievement and the National Education Association Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award.

At an early age, John Lewis developed an unwavering commitment to the Civil Rights Movement. For more than forty years, he has been in the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggles in the United States. As a student, John Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1961, John Lewis volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which were organized to challenge segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Lewis risked his life and was beaten severely by mobs for participating in the Rides.

During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was the Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for the sit-ins and other activities of students in the struggle for civil rights.

Despite his youth, John Lewis became a recognized leader in the Civil Rights Movement. By 1963, he was recognized as one of the "Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. (The other Big Six leaders were Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer and Roy Wilkins). Lewis, at the age of 23, was one of the planners and a keynote speaker at the historic "March on Washington" in August 1963.

In 1964, John Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voters' registration drives and community action programs during the "Mississippi Freedom Summer." The following year, Lewis led one of the most dramatic nonviolent protests of the Movement. Along with fellow activist, Hosea Williams, John Lewis led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. Alabama state troopers attacked the marchers in a confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday." That fateful march and a subsequent march between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Despite more that 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. After leaving SNCC in 1966, he remained active in the Civil Rights Movement through his work as Associate Director of the Field Foundation and his participation in the Southern Regional Council's voter registration programs. Lewis went on to become the Director of the Voter Education Project (VEP). Under his leadership, the VEP transformed the nation's political climate by adding nearly four million minorities to the voter rolls.

In 1977, John Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.
John Lewis's first electoral success came in 1981 when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. While serving on the Atlanta City Council, Lewis was an advocate for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. He resigned from the Council in 1986 to run for Congress.
Elected to Congress in November 1986, Lewis represents Georgia's Fifth Congressional District. The Congressional District encompasses the entire city of Atlanta, Georgia and parts of Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton and Cobb counties. In 1996, John Lewis was unopposed in his bid for a sixth term and is currently serving his ninth term in office.

In the 108th Congress, Lewis is a member of the influential House Budget Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, where he serves on the Subcommittee on Health. Congressman Lewis serves as Senior Chief Deputy Democratic Whip. As such, he sits in a direct line of succession to the number two Democratic leadership position in the House.

Congressman Lewis also serves on the Democratic Steering Committee. He is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Committee to Support Writers and Journalists. Additionally, Congressman Lewis serves as Co-Chair of the Faith and Politics Institute.
Since joining the U.S. Congress, John Lewis has drawn much praise from political observers who have predicted a bright future for him in national politics. In 1990, the National Journal named John Lewis as one of eleven "rising stars in Congress." The Journal stated, "Few House Members ... have had such momentous experiences before coming to Washington that other Members of Congress want to hear about them. John R. Lewis, D-GA., has that cachet and he has made it a plus in his House service." In 1998, Congressional Quarterly named John Lewis a Liberal Stalwart in its edition "50 ways to do the job of Congress."
John Lewis has been profiled in numerous national publications and network television and radio broadcasts, including a profile in a Time Magazine (Dec. 29, 1975) article entitled "Saints Among Us;" and profiles in The New Yorker (Oct. 4, 1993); Parade Magazine (Feb. 4, 1996); and The New Republic (July 1, 1996). John Lewis, with writer Michael D'Orso, authored Walking With The Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (June, 1998). The book is a first-hand account of this nation's civil rights movement.

John Lewis's wife, Lillian, lives in Atlanta, Georgia where she is Director of External Affairs, Office of Research and sponsored Programs at Clark Atlanta University. The Lewis's have one son, John Miles Lewis.

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