Born to sharecroppers in 1940, congressman John Lewis grew-up in a home with no running water and electricity to become one of the most critical Civil Rights leaders in American history.
He was an original Freedom Rider (one of 13 Americans) – a movement of young activists – both black and white – who road buses, organizing non-violent protests to highlight continuing segregation in the South despite a ruling making it illegal by the Supreme Court.
Lewis was beaten, arrested and imprisoned. He suffered a fractured skull by a state trooper, during a violent showdown between law enforcement and peaceful protestors in Selma, Alabama, later called “Bloody Sunday.” The mayor of the city at the time of the protest (1965) later gave Lewis the key to the city (1998).
He founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (a group that help organize sit-ins at segregated lunch-counters) and was a friend/ally of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis helped organize and also spoke at the “March on Washington” in 1963 – when MLK delivered his famous “I have a dream speech…”
As a young man, Lewis’ parents didn’t agree with his tactics – not wanting their son to challenge the status quo and get into trouble. Lewis said this is when he realized the need for “good trouble” – necessary trouble as a catalyst for change. You’ll often see the term “good trouble” associated with him or with a hashtag.
Lewis in the U.S. Congress for 3 decades. He was called the “conscience of congress” by President Barack Obama when he awarded Congressman Lewis the Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Lewis passed away at age 80 from pancreatic cancer.
Some beautiful reflection of Lewis’ life: WORTH IT TO READ
Here’s some background on The Freedom Riders:
New York Times article from 1998 when Lewis received key to city of Selma, Alabama