|Birth Day:||February 21, 1940|
|Birth Place:||Troy, United States|
|#1||Andrew Lewis||$1 Million - $2 Million (Approx.)||N/A||61||War Hero|
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He participated in Freedom Rides to desegregate the South during the American Civil Rights movement.
John Robert Lewis was born near Troy, Alabama, on February 21, 1940, the third of ten children of Willie Mae (née Carter) and Eddie Lewis. His parents were sharecroppers in rural Pike County, Alabama, of which Troy was (and still is) the county seat.
In 1955, Lewis first heard Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio, and he closely followed King's Montgomery bus boycott later that year. At age 15, Lewis preached his first public sermon. At 17 Lewis met Rosa Parks, notable for her role in the bus boycott, and met King for the first time at the age of 18. In later years, Lewis also credited evangelist Billy Graham, a friend of King's, as someone who "helped change me." Lewis also stated that Graham inspired him "to a significant degree" to fulfill his aspirations of becoming a minister.
Public ceremonies honoring Lewis began in his hometown of Troy, Alabama at Troy University, which had denied him admission in 1957 due to racial segregation. Services were then held at the historic Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama. Calls to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, in Lewis's honor grew after his death. On July 26, 2020, his casket, carried by a horse-drawn caisson, traveled the same route over the bridge that he walked during the Bloody Sunday march from Selma to Montgomery, before his lying in state at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.
In 1961, Lewis became one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. The group of seven blacks and six whites planned to ride on interstate buses from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans to challenge the policies of Southern states along the route that had imposed segregated seating on the buses, violating federal policy for interstate transportation. The Freedom Ride, originated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and revived by James Farmer and the 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 revealed the passivity of local, state and federal governments in the face of violence against law-abiding citizens. The project was publicized; and organizers had notified the Department of Justice about it. It depended on the Alabama police to protect the riders, although the state was known for notorious racism. It did not undertake actions except assigning FBI agents to record incidents. After extreme violence broke out in South Carolina and Alabama, the Kennedy Administration called for a cooling-off period, with a moratorium on Freedom Rides.
In 1963, when Charles McDew stepped down as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis, a founding member, was elected to take over. Lewis's experience was already widely respected. His courage and tenacious adherence to the philosophy of reconciliation and nonviolence had enabled him to emerge as a leader. He had already been arrested 24 times in the nonviolent movement for equal justice.
In 1963, as chairman of SNCC, Lewis was one of the "Big Six" leaders who were organizing the March on Washington that summer. The youngest, he was scheduled as the fourth to speak, ahead of the final speaker, Dr. Martin Luther King. Other leaders were Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer, and Roy Wilkins.
In 1964, Lewis coordinated SNCC's efforts for Freedom Summer, a campaign to register black voters in Mississippi and to engage college student activists in aiding the campaign. Lewis traveled the country, encouraging students to spend their summer break trying to help people vote in Mississippi, which had the lowest number of black voters and strong resistance to the movement.
In 1965 Lewis became nationally known during his prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery marches. 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 and the city-county boundary, 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 nightsticks. Lewis's skull was fractured, but he was aided in escaping across the bridge to Brown Chapel, a church in Selma that served as the movement's headquarters. Lewis bore scars on his head from this incident for the rest of his life.
Lewis drew on his historical involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as part of his politics. He made an annual pilgrimage to Alabama to retrace the route he marched in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery – a route Lewis worked to make part of the Historic National Trails program. That trip became "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 drew 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.
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.
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 Lewis. Lillian died on December 31, 2012.
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's leadership. During his tenure, the VEP expanded its mission, including running Voter Mobilization Tours.
In January 1977, incumbent Democratic U.S. Congressman Andrew Young of Georgia's 5th congressional district resigned 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 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%.
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.
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. Each time it was blocked in the Senate, most often by conservative Southern Senator Jesse Helms. In 2003, Helms retired. The bill won bipartisan support, and 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.
In 1991, Lewis became the senior chief deputy whip in the Democratic caucus.
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; Markel Hutchins also contested the race. Lewis defeated Hutchins and Thomas 69%–16%–15%.
Lewis was reelected 16 times, dropping below 70 percent of the vote in the general election only once in 1994, when he defeated Republican Dale Dixon by a 38-point margin, 69%–31%. He ran unopposed in 1996, 2004, 2006, and 2008, and again in 2014 and 2018.
Lewis opposed the 1991 Gulf War, and the 2000 U.S. 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 President George W. Bush authority to use force against the perpetrators of 9/11 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 an early opponent of 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 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 was 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 cited Florida Senator and later Representative Claude Pepper, a staunch liberal, as being the colleague whom he most admired. Lewis also spoke out in support of gay rights and national health insurance.
Lewis's 1998 autobiography Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, co-written with Mike D'Orso, won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Christopher 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."
Lewis was honored by having the 1997 sculpture by Thornton Dial, The Bridge, placed at Ponce de Leon Avenue and Freedom Park, Atlanta, dedicated to him by the artist. 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 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 did not believe Bush was the true elected president.
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's statement was rated as "Pants on Fire" by PolitiFact.
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.
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. In 2006 and 2009 he was arrested for protesting against the genocide in Darfur outside the Sudanese embassy. 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.
In 2004, Lewis received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.
In 2006, he received the U.S. 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.
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's 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."
In February 2009, 48 years after the Montgomery attack, Lewis received a nationally televised apology from Elwin Wilson, a white southerner and former Klansman.
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.
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.
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.
Lewis attended comics conventions to promote his graphic novel, most notably the San Diego Comic-Con, which he attended in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017. During the 2015 convention, Lewis led, along with his graphic novel collaborators Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, an impromptu simulated Selma civil rights march arm in arm with children, during which he wore the same clothes as he did on Bloody Sunday, garnering thousands of con goers to participate. The event became so popular it was repeated in 2016 and 2017.
March: Book One received an "Author Honor" from the American Library Association's 2014 Coretta Scott King Book Awards, which honors an African American author of a children's book. 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.
Lewis gave 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.
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 2017, John Lewis voiced himself in the Arthur episode "Arthur Takes a Stand.” Lewis's life was chronicled in the 2017 PBS documentary John Lewis: Get in the Way and the 2020 CNN Films documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble.
Lewis wrote in 2015 that he had known the young activists Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman from New York. They, along with James Chaney, a local African-American activist from Mississippi, were abducted and murdered in June 1964 in Neshoba County, Mississippi, by members of the Ku Klux Klan including law enforcement.
March: Book Two was released in 2015 and immediately became both a New York Times and Washington Post bestseller for graphic novels.
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.
Lewis supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries against Bernie Sanders. Regarding Sanders's 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 expressing his disappointment with Lewis's comments on Sanders. Lewis later clarified his statement, saying "During the late 1950s and 1960s when I was more engaged, [Sanders] 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," but once again clarified and said of Sanders, "The fact that I did not meet him in the movement does not mean I doubted that Senator Sanders participated in the civil rights movement, neither was I attempting to disparage his activism."
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 for excellence in young-adult literature, 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.
In 2016, it was announced that a future United States Navy underway replenishment oiler would be named USNS John Lewis. Also in 2016, Lewis and fellow Selma marcher Frederick Reese accepted Congressional Gold Medals which were bestowed to the "foot soldiers" of the Selma marchers. The same year, 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 14th 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.
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's 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's reputation – no one else's."
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 a sequel to the March series entitled Run. The graphic novel picks up the events in Lewis's 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.
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."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that Lewis would lie in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda on July 27 and 28, with a public viewing and procession through Washington, D.C. He is the first African-American lawmaker to be so honored in the Rotunda; in October 2019 his colleague, representative Elijah Cummings, lay in state in the Capitol Statuary Hall. Health concerns related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic led to a decision to have his casket displayed outdoors on the East Front steps during the public viewing hours, rather than the usual line of people in the Rotunda filing past the casket to pay their respects. On July 29, 2020, Lewis's casket left the U.S. Capitol and was transported back to Atlanta, Georgia, where he lay in state for a day at the Georgia State Capitol.
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 1968 assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr..
Lewis appeared alongside Amandla Stenberg to present Green Book as Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards that took place on February 24, 2019.
Lewis endorsed Joe Biden for president on April 7, 2020, a day before he effectively secured the Democratic nomination. He recommended Biden pick a woman of color as his running mate.
On July 17, 2020, Lewis died at the age of 80 after a six-month battle with the disease in Atlanta, on the same day as his friend and fellow civil rights activist C.T. Vivian. Lewis had been the final surviving "Big Six" civil rights icon.
Lewis's death in July 2020 has given rise to support for renaming the historically significant Pettus bridge in Lewis's honor, an idea previously floated years ago. After his death, the Board of Fairfax County Public Schools announced that Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia would be renamed John R. Lewis High School.
Currently, John Lewis is 82 years, 7 months and 5 days old. John Lewis will celebrate 83rd birthday on a Tuesday 21st of February 2023.
Find out about John Lewis birthday activities in timeline view here.