As someone who stood at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., has dedicated his life to protecting human rights and securing civil liberties while remaining on the frontline of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.
Lewis will speak at the Greenwald Pavilion at 6 p.m. Friday as part of the Aspen Institute’s 2014 McCloskey Speaker Series.
Lewis, 74, grew up in Alabama where he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
He dedicated himself to becoming an activist during the civil rights movement and has remained a voice for human rights for more than 50 years.
According to the website johnlewis.house.com, when Lewis was a college student, he organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. During the height of the civil rights movement from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which he helped form. At the age of 23, Lewis became a nationally recognized leader and was dubbed one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He was also an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in 1963.
In 1964, Lewis coordinated efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. In March 1965, Lewis and Hosea Williams, another notable Civil Rights leader, led more than 600 orderly protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
News broadcasts and photographs revealing the cruelty of the segregated South helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, Lewis remained an advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. In 1966, he continued his commitment to the civil rights movement by becoming the director of the Voter Education Project. Under his leadership, the voter project transformed the nation’s political climate by adding nearly four million minorities to the voter rolls.
Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986 and has served as the U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since then. He’s the senior chief deputy whip for the Democratic Party concerning leadership in the House, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a member of its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, and a ranking member of its Subcommittee on Oversight.