American civil rights activist and politician, John Lewis led an exemplary life before his death at age 80. Notwithstanding his sad passing, Lewis’s work in the civil rights movement against legalized racial segregation still lives on in today’s liberated America.
John Lewis goes down in history as one of the famous “Big Six” leaders of the ‘60s civil rights movements. Standing alongside notable figures like Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young, Lewis’s life was undoubtedly a well-lived one.
The legend joined the fight against segregation on the basis of race at a young age, nurturing his thirst for freedom into what would become a turning point in America’s history.
JOHN LEWIS’S EARLY LIFE
John Lewis was born on February 21, 1940. He was the third of ten children born to Wilie Mae and Eddie Lewis, both sharecroppers. The freedom fighter grew up in Pike County, Alabama, where he had little exposure to white people.
As he grew older, John Lewis began to observe the societal segregation and racism pronounced in the country. No longer alien to the concept of integrated schools, libraries, buses, and businesses, Lewis knew he wanted to bring an end to such bias.
His resolve took form in 1955 when he heard Martin Luther King speak for the first time on the radio. Lewis soon became an ardent follower of Luther King, participating in his Montgomery bus boycott that same year, at eighteen. King’s activism served as a motivation to the politician who gradually assumed a more active role in the struggle for freedom.
THE ONSET OF A REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE
When he was twenty, the freedom fighter left Alabama for Nashville, where he attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary. He went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University.
John Lewis’s civil rights movement began during his years as a student at Fisk University. Having learned about non-violent protests in seminary school, the activist conducted sit-ins in segregated lunch counters as his form of protest. These led to his arrest on multiple occasions, but the icon was dauntless.
Lewis soon joined the Freedom Riders of 1961, participating in many freedom rides. Lewis and other freedom riders stood against segregation in social facilities and bus terminals. As a result, he ended getting arrested about two dozen times and received beatings on the same grounds.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee elected Lewis as the body’s chairman in 1963. During that time, he helped plan the March on Washington as one of the legendary “Big Six” leaders. That contributed to the passing of the civil rights act into law in 1964. However, this taste of success made little difference in the freedom of African-Americans to vote.
To rectify the situation, Hosea Williams and Lewis led the March of protest from Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma to Montgomery. The protesters ended up severely beaten by state troopers, with Lewis sustaining a fractured skull. Pictures and videos of the incident went viral, attracting the name, “Bloody Sunday.”
“Bloody Sunday” notably sped up the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, forbidding voting segregation.
LEWIS AS A CONGRESSMAN
Lewis’s life as a political activist led him from SNCC into a more influential position as the director of the Voter Education Project. As part of his contribution to the liberty movement, he helped register minority voters.
In 1981, he snagged a seat in the Atlanta City Council, getting elected to the House of Representatives five years later. As a member of the U.S Senate, the legend has continued his fight against the marginalization of the African-Americans in the state.
A major contribution made by Lewis was overseeing multiple renewals of the Voting Rights Acts. Most notably, in 2013, when the Supreme Court wrote-off parts of the Voting Act, the icon stood firmly against it, labeling the decision a “dagger into the heart” of voting rights.
Lewis has also promoted poverty alleviation, healthcare reform, and an improved educational system. Until his death, he represented Georgia’s Fifth District and remained a respected congressman.
JOHN LEWIS’S DEATH
On July 17, 2020, the congressman died in Atlanta, Georgia, following a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Lewis first disclosed his cancer diagnosis in December 2019, revealing the condition had progressed to stage IV.
Following John Lewis’s death, several prominent figures joined a host of other citizens mourning the passing of a legend.
“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did.”
George Bush and Bill Clinton also paid tributes to Lewis. Many others called for the renaming of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma after the late icon as a last honor.