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Lewis, John R. (1940- )

John Lewis, 23, Speaks at the March on Washington (1963)
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama on February 21, 1940.  In 1961 he received a B.A. from American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee.  In 1967 he received an additional B.A. from Fisk University located in Nashville, Tennessee.

While attending American Baptist Seminary, Lewis emerged as a civil rights leader after his participation in the Nashville sit-in movement in 1960 and the Freedom Rides the following year.  In 1963 at the age of 23, Lewis helped plan the March on Washington and was one of the keynote speakers.  Lewis also served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1963 to 1966.  By the time he assumed the leadership of SNCC he had been arrested 24 times as a consequence of his protest activities.  Lewis became nationally known after Alabama State Troopers and other police attacked him and 500 other protesters as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March.  To this day some of the wounds from his beating are still visible.

In 1966 Lewis left SNCC as it embraced a “black power” ideology, and started working with community organizations in Atlanta, Georgia.  Later that year he was named director of community affairs for the National Consumer Co-op Bank in Atlanta.

Lewis first ran for office in 1977 in an unsuccessful attempt to win the vacant 5th District Congressional Seat created when President Jimmy Carter appointed Congressman Andrew Young to be Ambassador to the United Nations.  Lewis lost the special election to the future U.S. Senator Wyche Fowler who at the time was an Atlanta City Councilman.  Four years later Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council, a position which helped him gain crucial experience and exposure for his next congressional race.  In 1986 Fowler decided to run for the U.S. Senate which left his seat open.  Lewis ran for the seat, winning the Democratic primary and then the general election.  John Lewis was only the second African American since Reconstruction to represent the state of Georgia in Congress.  He has been reelected nine times with only token opposition.  Since 2002 no one has opposed him.

Lewis rose in power among Congressional Democrats.  Since 1991 he has been senior chief deputy whip.  He is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.  Lewis has been a strong and vocal opponent of the Iraq War.  He was also the first member of the House to call for the impeachment of President George W. Bush for his unlawful authorization of wiretaps without a warrant.  Lewis has been a strong pro-choice supporter and has called for federal funding of stem cell research.  In addition he is a strong supporter of civil rights and education

John Lewis was married to Lillian Miles Lewis, who died in 2012.

Lewis, John, with Michael D’Orso, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998); John Lewis' opinions about political issues and his voting record at website On the Issues:; Congressional biography:; "Lillian Miles Lewis, Wife of Congressman John Lewis, Dies":


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