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Original Freedom Riders Member and Civil Rights Leader

John Lewis

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Original Freedom Riders Member and Civil Rights Leader

Rebekah Icenesse

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John Lewis has continued to fight for civil rights in the last 57 years as a Congressman and a Georgia State Representative. He was born on Feb. 21, 1940 outside of Troy, Alabama. His parents were sharecroppers and he was raised in the heart of segregation. He grew up with multiple siblings and attended segregated schools in Pike County where he had only met a few white people throughout his childhood.

Lewis worked hard for his parents and he was disappointed with how the world was in regards to segregation. He thought segregation was unfair and he did not like that there was an issue with race throughout the United States. Lewis was greatly inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermons and after hearing about the boycotts on Montgomery buses, he aspired to get involved in the civil rights movement and act to make the changes that he desired to see.

While attending the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee in 1957, Lewis learned more about non-violent protests and started to help and organize different protests, like sitting in on segregated lunch counters. He was arrested and jailed during these protests, but he was still determined to help make a change. He later became involved with the Freedom Riders in 1961.

The Freedom Riders were a group of protesters who rode interstate buses to segregated southern states and defied the “Whites Only” signs and used the restrooms and other places that were only for the whites at the bus terminals. This caused a lot of backlash from the police and other white protesters who resorted to violence to handle the situations. There were thirteen in the original team of Freedom Riders and Lewis was one of those members.

After the Freedom Riders, Lewis became known as one of “The Big Six” leaders for civil rights. Other leaders include Asa Philip Randolph, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, Jr., Whitney Young, Jr. and Roy Wilkins. Lewis also spoke at the 1963 March on Washington along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who delivered his most famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

In 1964, The Civil Rights Act became a law, but there was still a struggle with African Americans voting in the southern states. To protest this still-not-won battle, on March 7, 1965, Lewis and civil rights activist Hosea Williams led a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The marchers were later attacked by state troopers while walking on a bridge, and Lewis suffered a fractured skull from the brutal beatings. This day is referred to as “Bloody Sunday.”

Throughout the rest of the sixties and seventies, Lewis continued to fight for the oppressed minorities. In 1981, he ran for political office and he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1986. He represented Georgia’s fifth congressional district and is currently still holding that position after being re-elected fourteen times. He still fights for the minorities and uses his past experiences in the Civil Rights Movement to help in his own politics.

John Lewis grew up in a world full of segregation and wanted to help make a change. He gained the knowledge of non-violent protesting and he got to protest and speak to the public alongside his inspiration, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He took brutal beatings and violence from whites to help African Americans gain their civil rights. His dedication has gained a large amount of respect and admirability among his colleagues and fellow Americans and his, and many other civil rights leaders’ actions, will never be forgotten.

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