John Robert Lewis (February 21, 1940 — July 17, 2020) was an American politician and civil rights leader. He was the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, and was serving in his 17th term in the House until his death, having served since 1987, and was the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. The district he served includes the northern three-fourths of Atlanta. He was a member of the Democratic Party.
Lewis, who as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was one of the "Big Six" leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington, played many key roles in the Civil Rights Movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the United States. He was a member of the Democratic Party leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and had served from 1991 until death as a Chief Deputy Whip and Senior Chief Deputy Whip from 2003 to his death.
Lewis had been awarded many honorary degrees and was the recipient of numerous awards from eminent national and international institutions, including the highest civilian honor of the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On December 29, 2019, it was announced that Lewis was receiving treatment for stage IV pancreatic cancer. Lewis died on July 17, 2020.
1 Early life
2 Student activism and the SNCC
2.1 Nashville Student Movement
2.2 Freedom Rides
2.3 SNCC Chairmanship
3 Field Foundation, SRC, and VEP (1966-1977)
4 Early work in government
5 U.S. House of Representatives
5.2.3 2008 presidential election
5.2.4 2016 firearm safety legislation sit-in
5.2.5 National Museum of African American History and Culture
5.2.6 2016 presidential election
5.3 Committee assignments
5.4 Caucus memberships
7 Personal life
8.1 Honorary academic degrees
9 Electoral history
10 In popular culture
12 See also
14 Further reading
15 External links
John Lewis was born on February 21, 1940, in Troy, Alabama, the third of ten children of Willie Mae (née Carter) and Eddie Lewis. His parents were sharecroppers in rural Pike County, Alabama.
As a young child, Lewis had little interaction with white people; by the time he was six, Lewis had seen only two white people in his life. As he grew older, though, he began taking trips into town with his family, where he experienced racism and segregation, such as at the public library in Troy. However, Lewis had relatives who lived in northern cities, and he learned from them that the North had integrated schools, buses, and businesses. When Lewis was 11, one of his uncles took him on a trip to Buffalo, New York, and, afterwards, he was even more acutely aware of Troy's segregation.
In 1955, Lewis first heard Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio, and, when the Montgomery Bus Boycott (led by King) began later that year, Lewis closely followed the news about it. Lewis would later meet Rosa Parks when he was 17, and met King for the first time when he was 18.
Student activism and the SNCC
Nashville Student Movement
Civil rights leaders meet with President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office of the White House after the March on Washington, D.C.. Left to Right – Willard Wirtz, Matthew Ahmann, Martin Luther King, Jr, John Lewis, Rabbi Joachin Prinz, Eugene Carson Blake, A. Philip Randolph, President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Walter Reuther, Whitney Young, Floyd McKissick. Not in order: Roy Wilkins. August 28, 1963
Lewis graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville and then received a bachelor's degree in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University. As a student, he was very dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement. He organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville and took part in many other civil rights activities as part of the Nashville Student Movement. The Nashville sit-in movement was responsible for the desegregation of lunch counters in downtown Nashville. Lewis was arrested and jailed many times in the nonviolent movement to desegregate the downtown area of the city. He was also instrumental in organizing bus boycotts and other nonviolent protests in the fight for voter and racial equality. While a student, he was invited to attend nonviolence workshops held in the basement of Clark Memorial United Methodist Church by the Rev. James Lawson and Rev. Kelly Miller Smith. There, Lewis and many of his fellow students became dedicated adherents to the discipline and philosophy of nonviolence, which he still practices today.
In 1961, Lewis became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. There were seven whites and six blacks who were determined to ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans in an integrated fashion. At that time, several states of the old Confederacy still enforced laws prohibiting black and white riders from sitting next to each other on public transportation. The Freedom Ride, originated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and revived by James Farmer and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), was initiated to pressure the federal government to enforce the Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960) that declared segregated interstate bus travel to be unconstitutional. The Freedom Rides also exposed the passivity of the government regarding violence against citizens of the country who were simply acting in accordance with the law.
The federal government had trusted the notoriously racist Alabama police to protect the Riders, but did nothing itself, except to have FBI agents take notes. The Kennedy Administration then called for a cooling-off period, a moratorium on Freedom Rides.
In the South, Lewis and other nonviolent Freedom Riders were beaten by angry mobs, arrested at times and taken to jail. At 21 years old, Lewis was the first of the Freedom Riders to be assaulted while in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He tried to enter a whites-only waiting room and two white men attacked him, injuring his face and kicking him in the ribs. Nevertheless, only two weeks later Lewis joined a Freedom Ride that was bound for Jackson. "We were determined not to let any act of violence keep us from our goal. We knew our lives could be threatened, but we had made up our minds not to turn back," Lewis said recently in regard to his perseverance following the act of violence. Lewis was also imprisoned for forty days in the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County, Mississippi, after participating in a Freedom Riders activity in that state.
In an interview with CNN during the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Lewis recounted the sheer amount of violence he and the 12 other original Freedom Riders endured. In Birmingham, the Riders were mercilessly beaten, and in Montgomery, an angry mob met the bus, and Lewis was hit in the head with a wooden crate. "It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious," said Lewis, remembering the incident. When CORE gave up on the Freedom Ride because of the violence, Lewis and fellow activist Diane Nash arranged for the Nashville students to take it over and bring it to a successful conclusion.
In February 2009, forty-eight years after he had been bloodied by in a Greyhound station during a Freedom Ride, Lewis received an apology on national television from a white southerner, former Klansman Elwin Wilson.
In 1963, when Chuck McDew stepped down as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis, one of the founding members of SNCC, was quickly elected to take over. Lewis's experience at that point was already widely respected. His courage and his tenacious adherence to the philosophy of reconciliation and nonviolence made him emerge as a leader. By this time, he had been arrested 24 times in the nonviolent struggle for equal justice. He held the post of chairman until 1966. During his tenure, SNCC opened Freedom Schools, launched the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and organized some of the voter registration efforts during the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign. As the chairman of SNCC, Lewis had written a speech in reaction to the Civil Rights Bill of 1963. He denounced the bill because it didn't protect African Americans against police brutality or provide African Americans with the right to vote. Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Leaders of the march)
In 1963, as chairman of SNCC Lewis was named one of the "Big Six" leaders who were organizing the March on Washington, the occasion of Dr. King's celebrated "I Have a Dream" speech, along with Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins; Lewis was the youngest of the Big Six. Lewis also spoke at the March. Discussing the occasion, historian Howard Zinn wrote: "At the great Washington March of 1963, the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis, speaking to the same enormous crowd that heard Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech, was prepared to ask the right question: 'Which side is the federal government on?' That sentence was eliminated from his speech by organizers of the March to avoid offending the Kennedy Administration. But Lewis and his fellow SNCC workers had experienced, again and again, the strange passivity of the national government in the face of Southern violence." At 23 he was the youngest speaker that day, and he became the last remaining living speaker before he died.
Lewis in 1964
In 1964, Lewis coordinated SNCC's efforts for "Mississippi Freedom Summer," a campaign to register black voters across the South and expose college students from around the country to the perils of African-American life in the South. Lewis traveled the country encouraging students to spend their summer break trying to help people in Mississippi, the most recalcitrant state in the union, to register and vote. Lewis became nationally known during his prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery marches when, on March 7, 1965 – a day that would become known as "Bloody Sunday" – Lewis and fellow activist Hosea Williams led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. At the end of the bridge, they were met by Alabama State Troopers who ordered them to disperse. When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. Lewis's skull was fractured, but he escaped across the bridge to Brown Chapel, the movement's headquarter church in Selma. Before Lewis could be taken to the hospital, he appeared before the television cameras calling on President Johnson to intervene in Alabama. Lewis bears scars on his head from the incident.
Lewis (far right) with Bayard Rustin, Andrew Young, Congressman William Fitts Ryan, and James Farmer 1965
50th Anniversary of the 1965 Selma Marches – Former First Lady Laura Bush, First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, John Lewis, and Former President George W. Bush
Field Foundation, SRC, and VEP (1966-1977)
In 1966, Lewis moved to New York City to take a job as the associate director of the Field Foundation. He was there a little over a year before moving back to Atlanta to direct the Southern Regional Council's Community Organization Project. During his time with the SRC, he completed his degree from Fisk University.
In 1970, Lewis became the director of the Voter Education Project (VEP), a position he held until 1977. Though initially a project of the Southern Regional Council, the VEP became an independent organization in 1971. Despite difficulties caused by the 1973–1975 recession, the VEP added nearly four million minority voters to the rolls under Lewis' leadership. During his tenure, the VEP expanded its mission, including running Voter Mobilization Tours.
Early work in government
In January 1977, incumbent Democratic U.S. Congressman Andrew Young of Georgia's 5th congressional district resigned in order to become the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. under President Jimmy Carter. In the March 1977 open primary, Atlanta City Councilman Wyche Fowler, Jr. ranked first with 40% of the vote, failing to reach the 50% threshold to win outright. Lewis ranked second with 29% of the vote. In the April election, Fowler defeated Lewis 62%–38%. After his unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1977, he accepted a position with the Carter administration as associate director of ACTION, responsible for running the VISTA program, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and the Foster Grandparent Program. He held that job for two and a half years, resigning as the 1980 election approached.
In 1981, Lewis ran for an at-large seat on the Atlanta City Council. He won with 69% of the vote, and served on the council until 1986.
U.S. House of Representatives
Lewis greets President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan in 1987
After nine years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Fowler gave up the seat to make a successful run for the U.S. Senate. Lewis decided to run for the 5th district again. In the August Democratic primary, where a victory was considered tantamount to election, State Representative Julian Bond ranked first with 47%, just three points shy of winning outright. Lewis earned 35% in second place. In the run-off, Lewis pulled an upset against Bond, defeating him 52% to 48%. The race was said to have "badly strained relations in Atlanta's black community" as many Black leaders had supported Bond over Lewis. Lewis was "endorsed by the Atlanta newspapers and a favorite of the white liberal establishment", with his victory coming from his strong polling among white voters (a minority in the district). During the campaign, he ran advertisements accusing Bond of corruption, implying that Bond used cocaine, and suggesting that Bond had lied about his civil rights activism.
In the November general election, Lewis defeated Republican Portia Scott 75% to 25%.
An official portrait of Lewis
Lewis was reelected 16 times, dropping below 70 percent of the vote in the general election only once. In 1994, he defeated Republican Dale Dixon by a 38-point margin, 69%–31%. He ran unopposed in 1996, from 2004 to 2008, in 2014, and again in 2018.
He was challenged in the Democratic primary just twice: in 1992 and 2008. In 1992, he defeated State Representative Mable Thomas 76%–24%. In 2008, Thomas decided to challenge Lewis again, as well as the Reverend Markel Hutchins. Lewis defeated Hutchins and Thomas 69%–16%-15%.
Lewis represented Georgia's 5th congressional district, one of the most consistently Democratic districts in the nation. Since its formalization in 1845, the district has been represented by a Democrat for all but eleven years.
Lewis was one of the most liberal members of the House, and one of the most liberal congressmen to have represented a district in the Deep South. He had been categorized as a "Hard-Core Liberal" by On the Issues. The Washington Post described Lewis in 1998 as "a fiercely partisan Democrat but ... also fiercely independent." Lewis characterized himself as a strong and adamant liberal. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said Lewis was the "only former major civil rights leader who extended his fight for human rights and racial reconciliation to the halls of Congress." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also said that to "those who know him, from U.S. senators to 20-something congressional aides," he is called the "conscience of Congress." Lewis has cited former Florida Senator and Congressman Claude Pepper, a staunch liberal, as being the colleague that he has most admired. Lewis had spoken out in support of gay rights and national health insurance.
Lewis opposed the U.S. waging of the 1991 Gulf War, and the 2000 trade agreement with China that passed the House. He opposed the Clinton administration on NAFTA and welfare reform. After welfare reform passed, Lewis was described as outraged; he said, "Where is the sense of decency? What does it profit a great nation to conquer the world, only to lose its soul?" In 1994, when Clinton was considering invading Haiti, Lewis, in contrast to the Congressional Black Caucus as a whole, opposed armed intervention. When Clinton did send troops to Haiti, Lewis called for supporting the troops and called the intervention a "mission of peace". In 1998, when Clinton was considering a military strike against Iraq, Lewis said he would back the president if American forces were ordered into action. In 2001, three days after the September 11 attacks, Lewis voted to give Bush authority to retaliate in a vote that was 420–1; Lewis called it probably one of his toughest votes. In 2002, he sponsored the Peace Tax Fund bill, a conscientious objection to military taxation initiative that had been reintroduced yearly since 1972. Lewis was a "fierce partisan critic of President Bush" and the Iraq war. The Associated Press said he was "the first major House figure to suggest impeaching George W. Bush," arguing that the president "deliberately, systematically violated the law" in authorizing the National Security Agency to conduct wiretaps without a warrant. Lewis said, "He is not king, he is president."
Lewis drew on his historical involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as part of his politics. He "makes an annual pilgrimage to Alabama to retrace the route he marched in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery – a route Lewis has since had declared part of the Historic National Trails program. That trip has become one of the hottest tickets in Washington among lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, eager to associate themselves with Lewis and the movement. 'We don't deliberately set out to win votes, but it's very helpful,' Lewis said of the trip.". In recent years, however, Faith and Politics Institute has drawn criticism for selling seats on the trip to lobbyists for at least $25,000 each. According to the Center for Public Integrity, even Lewis said that he would feel "much better" if the institute's funding came from churches and foundations instead of corporations.
On June 3, 2011, the House passed a resolution 268–145, calling for a withdrawal of the United States military from the air and naval operations in and around Libya. Lewis voted against the resolution.
Senator Hillary Clinton interviews John Lewis in August 2005, concerning the importance of the Supreme Court to civil rights
In January 2001, Lewis boycotted the inauguration of George W. Bush by staying in his Atlanta district. He did not attend the swearing-in because he didn't believe Bush was the true elected president.
In March 2003, Lewis spoke to a crowd of 30,000 in Oregon during an anti-war protest before the start of the Iraq War. He was arrested in 2006 and 2009 and outside the Sudan embassy in protest against the genocide in Darfur. He was one of eight U.S. Representatives, from six states, arrested while holding a sit-in near the west side of the U.S. Capitol building, to advocate for immigration reform. The lawmakers' participation and subsequent arrest in the protest occurred despite the fact that the 2013 government shutdown was going on at the time. Lewis also led the 2016 House Democrats sit-in demanding that the House take action on gun control in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting and the failure of the United States Senate to act.
2008 presidential election
Lewis speaks during the final day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.
At first, Lewis supported Hillary Clinton, endorsing her presidential campaign on October 12, 2007. On February 14, 2008, however, he announced he was considering withdrawing his support from Clinton and might instead cast his superdelegate vote for Barack Obama: "Something is happening in America and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap." Ben Smith of Politico said that "it would be a seminal moment in the race if John Lewis were to switch sides."
On February 27, 2008, Lewis formally changed his support and endorsed Obama. After Obama clinched the Democratic nomination for president, Lewis said "If someone had told me this would be happening now, I would have told them they were crazy, out of their mind, they didn't know what they were talking about ... I just wish the others were around to see this day. ... To the people who were beaten, put in jail, were asked questions they could never answer to register to vote, it's amazing." Despite switching his support to Obama, Lewis' support of Clinton for several months led to criticism from his constituents. One of his challengers in the House primary election set up campaign headquarters inside the building that served as Obama's Georgia office.
In October 2008, Lewis issued a statement criticizing the campaign of John McCain and Sarah Palin and accusing them of "sowing the seeds of hatred and division" in a way that brought to mind the late Gov. George Wallace and "another destructive period" in American political history. McCain said he was "saddened" by the criticism from "a man I've always admired," and called on Obama to repudiate Lewis's statement. Obama responded to the statement, saying that he "does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies." Lewis later issued a follow-up statement clarifying that he had not compared McCain and Palin to Wallace himself, but rather that his earlier statement was a "reminder to all Americans that toxic language can lead to destructive behavior."
House Democrats, led by Lewis, take the floor to begin a sit-in demanding gun safety legislation on June 22, 2016
2016 firearm safety legislation sit-in
On June 22, 2016, House Democrats, led by Lewis and Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark, began a sit-in demanding House Speaker Paul Ryan allow a vote on gun-safety legislation in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting. Speaker pro tempore Daniel Webster ordered the House into recess, but Democrats refused to leave the chamber for nearly 26 hours.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
In 1988, the year after he was sworn into Congress, Lewis introduced a bill to create a national African American museum in Washington. The bill failed and for 15 years he continued to introduce it with each new congress, but each time it was blocked in the Senate, largely by Conservative, Southern Senator Jesse Helms. In 2002, Helms did not seek reelection, Lewis gained bipartisan support, and in 2003 President George W. Bush signed the bill to establish the museum, with the Smithsonian's Board of Regents to establish the location. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, located adjacent to the Washington Memorial, held its opening ceremony on September 25, 2016.
2016 presidential election
John Lewis at the 2017 Women's March in Atlanta
Lewis supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries against Bernie Sanders. Regarding Sanders’ role in the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis remarked “To be very frank, I never saw him, I never met him. I chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved in sit-ins, in the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the March from Selma to Montgomery... but I met Hillary Clinton". Former Congressman and Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie wrote a letter to Lewis saying “I’m writing to you in a state of shock and disappointment as an admirer of long-standing and a colleague of more than two decades. Your remarks about Senator Sanders and his civil rights record are deeply offensive not only to me but to hundreds of thousands of others dedicated to and participants in the Civil Rights Movement. In all honesty, John, when did you become the doorkeeper at the entrance to the Civil Rights gate? I cannot fathom how you think you advance the cause for Secretary Clinton by denigrating Senator Sanders or anyone else no matter how modest their contributions might be in your eyes.” Lewis later clarified his statement saying "During the late ’50s and ’60s when I was more engaged, was not there. I did not see him around. I have never seen him in the South. But if he was there, if he was involved someplace, I was not aware of it.”
In a January 2016 interview, Lewis compared Donald Trump, then the Republican front-runner, to former Governor George Wallace. "I've been around a while and Trump reminds me so much of a lot of the things that George Wallace said and did. I think demagogues are pretty dangerous, really... We shouldn't divide people, we shouldn't separate people."
On January 13, 2017, during an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd for Meet the Press, Lewis stated: "I don't see the president-elect as a legitimate president." He added, "I think the Russians participated in having this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I don't plan to attend the Inauguration. I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians, and others, that helped him get elected. That's not right. That's not fair. That's not the open, democratic process." Trump replied on Twitter the following day, suggesting that Lewis should "spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results," and accusing Lewis of being "All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!" Trump's statement about Lewis' district was rated as "Mostly False" by PolitiFact, and he was criticized for attacking a civil rights leader such as John Lewis, especially one who was brutally beaten for the cause, and especially on Martin Luther King weekend. Senator John McCain acknowledged Lewis as “an American hero” but criticized him saying “this is not the first time that Congressman Lewis has taken a very extreme stand and condemned without any shred of evidence for doing so an incoming president of the United States. This is a stain on Congressman Lewis' reputation – no one else’s.” The New York Post noted that Lewis used the "same unfounded, cookie-cutter personal attacks against Republican after Republican".
A few days later, Lewis said that he would not attend Trump's inauguration because he did not believe that Trump was the true elected president. "It will be the first (inauguration) that I miss since I've been in Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right," he said. Lewis had failed to attend George W. Bush's inauguration in 2001 because he believed that he too was not a legitimately elected president. Lewis' statement was rated as "Pants on Fire" by PolitiFact.
Lewis served on the following Congressional committees at the time of his death:
Committee on Ways and Means
Subcommittee on Oversight (Chair)
United States Congress Joint Committee on Taxation
Lewis was a member of over 40 caucuses, including:
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Caucus (Co-Chair)
Congressional Structured Settlements Caucus (Co-Chair)
Congressional Black Caucus
Congressional Progressive Caucus
Congressional Brazil Caucus
Congressional Arts Caucus
In 1991, Lewis became the senior chief deputy whip in the Democratic caucus.
Lewis signing copies of March Book One (2013), the first volume of his graphic novel autobiography, at Midtown Comics in Manhattan
Lewis's 1998 autobiography Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, co-written with Michael D'Orso, won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the Christopher Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and the Lillian Smith Book Award. It appeared on numerous bestseller lists, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, was named by the American Library Association as its Nonfiction Book of the Year, and was included among Newsweek magazine's 2009 list of "50 Books For Our Times." It was critically acclaimed, with the Washington Post calling it "the definitive account of the civil rights movement" and the Los Angeles Times proclaiming it "Destined to become a classic in civil rights literature."
His life is also the subject of a 2002 book for young people, John Lewis: From Freedom Rider to Congressman. In 2012, Lewis released Across That Bridge, written with Brenda Jones, to mixed reviews. Publishers Weekly's review said, "At its best, the book provides a testament to the power of nonviolence in social movements… At its worst, it resembles an extended campaign speech".
In 2013, Lewis became the first member of Congress to write a graphic novel, with the launch of a trilogy titled March. The March trilogy is a black and white comics trilogy about the Civil Rights Movement, told through the perspective of civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis. The first volume, March: Book One is written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated and lettered by Nate Powell and was published in August 2013, the second volume, March: Book Two was published in January 2015 and the final volume, March: Book Three was published in August 2016.
In an August 2014 interview, Lewis cited the influence of a 1958 comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, on his decision to adapt his experience to the graphic novel format. March: Book One became a number one New York Times bestseller for graphic novels and spent more than a year on the lists.
March: Book One received an "Author Honor" from the American Library Association's 2014 Coretta Scott King Book Awards. Book One also became the first graphic novel to win a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, receiving a "Special Recognition" bust in 2014.
March: Book One was selected by first-year reading programs in 2014 at Michigan State University, Georgia State University, and Marquette University.
March: Book Two was released in 2015 and immediately became both a New York Times and Washington Post bestseller for graphic novels.
The release of March: Book Three in August 2016 brought all three volumes into the top 3 slots of the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels for 6 consecutive weeks. The third volume was announced as the recipient of the 2017 Printz Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, the 2016 National Book Award in Young People's Literature, and the Sibert Medal at the American Library Association's annual Midwinter Meeting in January 2017.
The March trilogy received the Carter G. Woodson Book Award in the Secondary (grades 7–12) category in 2017.
In 2018, Lewis and Andrew Aydin co-wrote another graphic novel as sequel to the March series entitled Run. The graphic novel picks up the events in Lewis' life after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The authors teamed with award-winning comic book illustrator Afua Richardson for the book, which was originally scheduled to be released in August 2018 (but has since been rescheduled). Nate Powell, who illustrated March, will also contribute to the art.
Lewis met Lillian Miles at a New Year's Eve party hosted by Xernona Clayton. They married in 1968. Together, they had one son, named John-Miles. Lillian died on December 31, 2012.
Lewis was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
On December 29, 2019, Lewis announced that he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. He remained in the Washington D.C. area for his treatment. Lewis stated: "I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now." On July 17, 2020, Lewis died at the age of 80.
Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Barack Obama in 2011
Lewis was honored with the 1997 sculpture by Thornton Dial, The Bridge, at Ponce de Leon Avenue and Freedom Park, Atlanta. In 1999, Lewis was awarded the Wallenberg Medal from the University of Michigan in recognition of his courageous lifelong commitment to the defense of civil and human rights. In that same year he received the Four Freedoms Award for the Freedom of Speech.
In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation awarded Lewis the Profile in Courage Award "for his extraordinary courage, leadership and commitment to civil rights." It is a lifetime achievement award and has been given out only twice, John Lewis and William Winter (in 2008).The next year he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.
John Lewis addressing audience in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 2013 In 2004, Lewis received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.
In 2006, he received the US Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards. In September 2007, Lewis was awarded the Dole Leadership Prize from the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas.
Lewis was the only living speaker from the March on Washington present on the stage during the inauguration of Barack Obama. Obama signed a commemorative photograph for Lewis with the words, "Because of you, John. Barack Obama."
In 2010, Lewis was awarded the First LBJ Liberty and Justice for All Award, given to him by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, and the next year, Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
In 2016, it was announced that a future United States Navy underway replenishment oiler would be named USNS John Lewis. Also in 2016, Lewis was awarded the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center. The prestigious award has been awarded to international leaders from Malala Yousafzai to the Dalai Lama, presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton and other dignitaries and visionaries. The timing of Lewis's award coincided with the 150th anniversary of the 14th amendment. In 2020, Lewis was awarded the Walter P. Reuther Humanitarian Award by Wayne State University, the UAW, and the Reuther family.
Lewis had been given numerous commencement addresses, including at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in 2014, Bates College (in Lewiston, Maine) in 2016, Bard College and Bank Street College of Education in 2017, and Harvard University in 2018.
Honorary academic degrees
Lewis receives an honorary degree from Brown University in 2012
Lewis had been awarded over 50 honorary degrees, including:
1995: Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from Northeastern University
1998: Honorary Humane Letters degree from Brandeis University
1999: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston
2001: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from University at Albany
2002: Honorary D.H.L. from Howard University
2004: Honorary degree from Portland State University
2004: Honorary LHD from Juniata College
2007: Honorary LL.D. degree from the University of Vermont
2007: Honorary LL.D. degree from Adelphi University
2012: Honorary LL.D. degrees from Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and the University of Connecticut School of Law
2013: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Judson College.
2013: Honorary LL.D. degrees from Cleveland State University and Union College
2014: Honorary LL.D. degree from Emory University
2014: Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts.
2014: Honorary Bachelor of Arts from Lawrence University.
2014: Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Marquette University
2015: Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University.
2015: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Lawrence University
2015: Honorary degree from Goucher College
2015: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Hampton University
2016: Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from New York University.
2016: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Bates College
2016: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Washington University in St. Louis
2016: Honorary Doctor of Policy Analysis from the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School
2016: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Washington and Jefferson College
2017: Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Yale Law School
2017: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Bank Street Graduate School of Education
2018: Honorary Doctor of Law degree from Boston University
2019: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from City College of New York
2019: Honorary doctorate from Tulane University
Georgia's 5th congressional district: Results 1986–2018
J. W. Tibbs
J. W. Tibbs
John H. Lewis
In popular culture
Lewis was portrayed by Stephan James in the 2014 film Selma. He made a cameo appearance in the music video for Young Jeezy's song "My President", which was released in the month of Obama's inauguration. In February 2018, John Lewis voiced his guest character (also called "John Lewis") in the Arthur episode "Arthur Takes a Stand".
Lewis's life was chronicled in the 2017 PBS documentary John Lewis: Get In the Way.
Lewis appeared in the 2019 documentary Bobby Kennedy for President, in which Lewis commends Robert F. Kennedy especially in regards to his support for civil rights throughout his time as a senator for New York and during Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. Lewis also recounted his deep sorrow following the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, both occurring in 1968.
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis with Michael D'Orso, (Harvest Books: 1999) ISBN 0-15-600708-8. The U.S. Congressman tells of life in the trenches of the Civil Rights Movement, the numerous arrests, sit-ins, and marches that led to breaking down the barriers of discrimination in the South during the 1950s and 1960s.
John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, illustrated by Benny Andrews, (Lee & Low Books: 2006) ISBN 978-1-58430-250-6. A biography of John Lewis, one of the "Big Six" leaders who were chairman of activist groups organizing the 1963 March on Washington, focusing on his involvement in Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches.
John Lewis: From Freedom Rider to Congressman by Christine M. Hill, (Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2002) ISBN 0-7660-1768-0. A biography of John Lewis written for juvenile readers.
Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement by Ann Bausum, (National Geographic Society, 2006) ISBN 0-7922-4173-8.
Across That Bridge by John Lewis with Brenda Jones, (Hyperion: 2012) ISBN 978-1-4013-2411-7. Winner of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work/Biography. It is an accessible discussion of Lewis's philosophy and his viewpoint of the philosophical basis of the Civil Rights Movement.
March: Book One a 2013 illustrated comic history of Lewis' career, with sequels published in 2015 and 2016, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, (Top Shelf Productions) ISBN 978-1-60309-300-2.
2016 House Democrats sit-in
List of African-American United States Representatives
List of civil rights leaders
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