John Lewis (politician)
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Georgia's 5th district
|Assumed office |
January 3, 1987
|Preceded by||Wyche Fowler|
|3rd Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee|
|Preceded by||Charles F. McDew|
|Succeeded by||Stokely Carmichael|
|Born|| John Robert Lewis|
February 21, 1940
Troy, Alabama, United States
|Spouse(s)||Lillian Miles Lewis (m.1968-d.2012)|
|Alma mater||American Baptist Theological Seminary, Fisk University|
|Occupation||political consultant, civil rights leader|
John Robert Lewis (born February 21, 1940) is an American politician and civil rights leader. He is the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, serving since 1987, and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. The district includes the northern three-quarters of Atlanta.
Lewis was one of the "Big Six" leaders in the American Civil Rights Movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), playing a key role in the struggle to end legalized racial discrimination and segregation. A member of the Democratic Party, Lewis is a member of the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives and has served in the Whip organization since shortly after his first election to the U.S. Congress.
He is Senior Chief Deputy Whip, leading an organization of chief deputy whips and serves as the primary assistant to the Democratic Whip. He has held this position since 1991.
- 1 Early life, education, and early career
- 2 Civil rights activism
- 3 Early political career
- 4 U.S. House of Representatives
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Honors
- 7 Electoral history
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 External links
Early life, education, and early career
Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama, the third son of Willie Mae (née Carter) and Eddie Lewis. His parents were sharecroppers. Lewis was educated at the Pike County Training High School, Brundidge, Alabama, and also American Baptist Theological Seminary and at Fisk University, both in Nashville, Tennessee, where he became a leader in the Nashville sit-ins. While a student, he was invited to attend non-violence workshops held in the basement of Clark Memorial United Methodist Church by the Rev. James Lawson and Rev. Kelly Miller Smith. There he became a dedicated adherent to the discipline and philosophy of non-violence, which he still practices today. The Nashville sit-in movement was responsible for the successful desegregation of lunch counters in downtown Nashville. Lewis was arrested and jailed many times in the struggle to desegregate the downtown area of the city. Afterwards, he participated in the Freedom Rides sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality or CORE, led by James Farmer and ultimately became a national leader in the struggle for civil rights and respect for human dignity. In an interview, John Lewis said "I saw racial discrimination as a young child. I saw those signs that said "White Men, Colored Men, White Women, Colored Women."..."I remember as a young child with some of my brothers and sisters and first cousins going down to the public library trying to get library cards, trying to check some books out, and we were told by the librarian that the library was for whites only and not for "coloreds." During a rather dangerous childhood trip to Buffalo, NY, John saw for the first time black men and white men working together, unsegregated water fountains, and for the first time, John began to believe the dream of equality was more than just a dream. John Lewis followed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks on the radio. He and his family supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Civil rights activism
John Lewis was chairman of SNCC during its most productive years. During his tenure, SNCC opened Freedom Schools, launched the Mississippi Freedom Summer and is generally recognized as one of the important leaders of the civil rights movement. He was a hard-working young man who overcame poverty and political disenfranchisement to educate himself.
He graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville and then received a bachelor's degree in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University. As a student, Lewis was very dedicated to the civil rights movement. He organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville and took part in many other civil rights activities as part of the Nashville Student Movement. He was instrumental in organizing student sit-ins, bus boycotts and non-violent protests in the fight for voter and racial equality.
In 1960, Lewis joined the Freedom Riders. He was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders. There were seven whites and six blacks who were determined to ride from Washington, DC, to New Orleans in an integrated fashion. At that time, several states of the old Confederacy still enforced laws prohibiting black and white riders from sitting next to each other on public transportation. The Freedom Ride, originated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and revived by Farmer and 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. In the South, Lewis and other non-violent Freedom Riders were beaten by angry mobs, arrested at times and taken to jail. When CORE gave up on the Freedom Ride because of the violence, Lewis and fellow activist Diane Nash arranged for the Nashville students to take it over and bring it to a successful conclusion.
In 1963, when Chuck McDew stepped down as SNCC chairman, Lewis, one of the founding members of SNCC, was quickly elected to take over. Lewis's experience at that point was already widely respected. His courage and his tenacious adherence to the philosophy of reconciliation and non-violence made him emerge as a leader. By this time, he had been arrested 24 times in the non-violent struggle for equal justice. He held the post of chairman until 1966.
By 1963, he was recognized as one of the "Big Six" leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, along with Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins. In that year, Lewis helped plan the historic March on Washington in August 1963, the occasion of Dr. King's celebrated "I Have a Dream" speech. Currently, he is the last remaining speaker from the march. Lewis represented SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and at 23 was the youngest speaker that day.
In 1964, Lewis coordinated SNCC's efforts for "Mississippi Freedom Summer," a campaign to register black voters across the South. The Freedom Summer was an attempt to expose college students from around the country to the perils of African-American life in the South. Lewis traveled the country encouraging students to spend their summer break trying to help people in Mississippi, the most recalcitrant state in the union, to register and vote. 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, 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 night sticks. Lewis's skull was fractured, but he escaped across the bridge, to a church in Selma. Before he could be taken to the hospital, John Lewis appeared before the television cameras calling on President Johnson to intervene in Alabama. On his head, Lewis bears scars that are still visible today.
Historian Howard Zinn wrote: "At the great Washington March of 1963, the chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis, speaking to the same enormous crowd that heard Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech, was prepared to ask the right question: 'Which side is the federal government on?' That sentence was eliminated from his speech by organizers of the March to avoid offending the Kennedy Administration. But Lewis and his fellow SNCC workers had experienced, again and again, the strange passivity of the national government in the face of Southern violence."
"John Lewis and SNCC had reason to be angry. At 21 years old, John Lewis was the first of the Freedom Riders to be assaulted while in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He tried to enter a whites-only waiting room and two white men attacked him, injuring his face and kicking him in the ribs. Nevertheless, only two weeks later Lewis joined a Freedom Ride that was bound for Jackson. "We were determined not to let any act of violence keep us from our goal. We knew our lives could be threatened, but we had made up our minds not to turn back," Lewis said recently in regard to his perseverance following the act of violence.
In an interview with CNN during the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Lewis recounted the sheer amount of violence he and the 12 other original Freedom Riders endured. In Anniston, Alabama, the bus was fire-bombed after Ku Klux Klan members deflated its tires, forcing it to come to a stop. In Birmingham, the Riders were mercilessly beaten, and in Montgomery, an angry mob met the bus, and Lewis was hit in the head with a wooden crate. "It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious," said Lewis, remembering the incident.
The original intent of the Freedom Rides was to test the new law that banned segregation in public transportation. It also exposed the passivity of the government regarding violence against citizens of the country who were simply acting in accordance to the law. The federal government had trusted the notoriously racist Alabama police to protect the Riders, but did nothing itself, except to have FBI agents take notes. The Kennedy Administration then called for a "cooling-off period", a moratorium on Freedom Rides. Lewis had been imprisoned for forty days in the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County, Mississippi, after participating in a Freedom Riders activity in that state.
In February 2009, forty-eight years after he had been bloodied by the Ku Klux Klan during civil rights marches, Lewis received an apology on national television from a white southerner, former Klansman Elwin Wilson.
After leaving SNCC in 1966, Lewis worked with community organizations and was named community affairs director for the National Consumer Co-op Bank in Atlanta.
Early political career
Before being elected to Atlanta City Council in 1981, Lewis faced "years of criticism as a holier-than-thou publicity seeker who challenged city leaders on ethical matters". In the context of the "war on drugs", Lewis challenged Julian Bond to take a urine drug test during the 1986 Democratic runoff. The Houston Chronicle called it "perhaps the best-known example" of congressional candidates challenging their opponents to drug testing. The challenge could have served in Lewis' favor in his upset win as "there were signs that it may have damaged Bond among older black voters concerned about drug abuse among blacks".
Lewis first ran for elective office in 1977, when a vacancy occurred in Georgia's 5th congressional district. A special election was called after President Jimmy Carter appointed incumbent U.S. Congressman Andrew Young to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Lewis lost the race to Atlanta City Councilman and future U.S. Senator Wyche Fowler.
After his unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1977, Lewis was without a job and in debt from his campaign. He accepted a position with the Carter administration as associate director of ACTION, responsible for running the VISTA program, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and the Foster Grandparent Program. He held that job for two and a half years, resigning as the 1980 election approached. In 1981, Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council.
U.S. House of Representatives
In January 1977, incumbent Democrat U.S. Congressman Andrew Young, of Georgia's 5th congressional district, decided to resign in order 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, Jr. 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%.
After nine years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Fowler gave up the seat to make a successful run for the U.S. Senate. Lewis decided to run for the 5th district again. In the August Democratic primary--the real contest in this heavily Democratic, black-majority district--State Representative Julian Bond ranked first with 47%, just three points shy of winning outright. Lewis earned 35% in second place. In the run-off, Lewis pulled an upset against Bond, defeating him 52%–48%. In the November general election, he defeated Republican Portia Scott 75%–25%.
Lewis has been reelected 13 times. He has dropped below 70 percent of the vote only once. In 1994, he defeated Republican Dale Dixon by a 38 point margin, 69%–31%. He even ran unopposed in 1996 and from 2004 to 2008.
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, as well as the Reverend Markel Hutchins. Lewis defeated Hutchins and Thomas 69%–16%-15%.
Lewis is one of the most liberal members of the House, and one of the most liberal congressmen ever to represent a district in the Deep South. He has been labeled a "far-left Democratic leader" by GovTrack and a "Hard-Core Liberal" by Issues2000. 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 has cited former Florida Senator and Congressman Claude Pepper, a staunch liberal, as being the colleague that he has most admired. Lewis has spoken out in support of gay rights and national health insurance, and he has worked with the Faith and Politics Institute to advance their goals.
Lewis opposed the U.S. waging of the 1991 Gulf War, NAFTA, and the 2000 trade agreement with China that passed the House. Lewis 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 Bush authority to retaliate 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 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 draws on his historical involvement in the civil rights movement as part of his politics. He "makes an annual pilgrimage to Alabama to retrace the route he marched in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery – a route Lewis has since had declared part of the Historic National Trails program. That trip has become 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".
Charges about Tea Party using racial epithets
In March 2010, a report that Lewis and another black Congressman, Andre Carson, had been called nigger by Tea Party protesters outside the Capitol received media attention. Some conservative sources criticized the claim, saying that no video showed up to prove the charges, and the videotapes of the event that later surfaced seemed to in fact disprove them. The New York Times issued a correction in July 2010, acknowledging that there was no evidence of Tea Party members hurling racial epithets at Lewis and Carson. Andrew Breitbart offered a $100,000 reward for anyone who could provide audio or video evidence of one of these instances, but none surfaced.
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. He was arrested in 2006 and 2009 and outside the Sudan embassy in protest against the genocide in Darfur. 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 illegal immigration reform. The lawmakers' participation and subsequent arrest in the protest occurred despite the fact that the 2013 government shutdown was going on at the time.
When Lewis was asked at a news conference whether he would support Joe Lieberman for re-election to the Senate in 2006 after Lieberman's loss to Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary, he simply said that Lieberman "was a good man." That was taken to mean that he endorsed Lieberman in the race. Actually he had been invited to Connecticut by another member of Congress and had made no plan to formally endorse Lieberman.  In the 2004 Presidential race, Lewis endorsed Senator John Kerry (Democrat). Lewis was one of 31 House members who voted not to count the electoral votes from Ohio in the 2004 presidential election.
2008 Presidential election
At first, Lewis supported Hillary Rodham 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' 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."
Occupy Atlanta meeting
In October 2011, a meeting of Occupy Atlanta participants did not reach consensus to allow Lewis address the crowd. A video clip of protestors discussing the situation, and Lewis leaving without speaking, is published online. Lewis said that he was not perturbed by the incident, and noted that "These are different times."
Lewis's autobiography published in 1999. His life is also the subject of a 2002 book for young people.
A special election was called in 1977 after President Jimmy Carter appointed incumbent U.S. Congressman Andrew Young to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In the Democratic special primary, Lewis and fellow Atlanta City Councilman Wyche Fowler qualified for the run-off primary because no candidate reached the 50% threshold and they were the top two candidates. Fowler defeated Lewis 62%–38%. In 1986, when Fowler retired to run for the United States Senate, Lewis defeated fellow civil rights leader and State Senator Julian Bond in the run-off primary 52%–48%. This upset win was tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic, majority-black 5th District, Lewis won the 1986 general election with 75% of the vote. Lewis was the second African American to represent Georgia in Congress since Reconstruction. (Young was the first.) In 1988, he won re-election with 78% of the vote. In the 1990s, his lowest winning percentage was 69% in 1994. In 2010, he won re-election with 74% of the vote.
- Committee on Ways and Means
- Subcommittee on Oversight (Ranking member);
- Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support.
- Congressional Black Caucus;
- Co-chair of the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Caucus;
- Bipartisan Taskforce on Nonproliferation;
- Congressional Progressive Caucus;
- Congressional Caucus on Global Road Safety.
Since 1991, Lewis has been senior chief deputy whip in the Democratic caucus. A December 2009 report on privately financed Congressional travel by The New York Times found Lewis to be recipient of the most trips since 2007, with a total of 40.
Lewis grew up in Pike County, Alabama. He also has a deaf brother named Edward. He has other siblings, including brothers Grant, Freddie, Sammy, Adolph, and William, and sisters named Ethel, Rosa, and Ora. He survived a tornado at the age of four with fourteen cousins. He had only seen two white people in his life until age six. The church he attended was attacked by the Ku Klux Klan in 1904.
In 2013, Lewis became the first member of Congress to write a graphic novel, March: Book One, the first in a planned autobiographical trilogy co-written with Andrew Aydin and drawn by Nate Powell. 
Lewis was the only living speaker from the March on Washington who was present on the stage during the inauguration of Barack Obama. Obama signed a commemorative photograph for Lewis with the words, “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.”
On November 17, 2010, Lewis was awarded the First LBJ Liberty and Justice for All Award, given to him by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation.
|1986||John Lewis||93,229||75%||Portia Scott||30,562||25%|
|1988||John Lewis||135,194||78%||J. W. Tibbs||37,693||22%|
|1990||John Lewis||86,037||76%||J. W. Tibbs||27,781||24%|
|1992||John Lewis||147,445||72%||Paul Stabler||56,960||28%|
|1994||John Lewis||85,094||69%||Dale Dixon||37,999||31%|
|1996||John Lewis||136,555||100%||No candidate|
|1998||John Lewis||109,177||79%||John H. Lewis||29,877||21%|
|2000||John Lewis||137,333||77%||Hank Schwab||40,606||23%|
|2002||John Lewis||116,259||100%||No candidate|
|2004||John Lewis||201,773||100%||No candidate|
|2006||John Lewis||122,380||100%||No candidate|
|2008||John Lewis||231,368||100%||No candidate|
|2010||John Lewis||130,782||74%||Fenn Little||46,622||26%|
|2012||John Lewis||234,330||84%||Howard Stopeck||43,335||16%|
- Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1963–1973 (Library of America: 2003) ISBN 1-931082-29-4
- Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis with Michael D'Orso, (Harvest Books: 1999) ISBN 0-15-600708-8. The U.S. Congressman tells of life in the trenches of the Civil Rights movement, the numerous arrests, sit-ins, and marches that led to breaking down the barriers of discrimination in the South during the 1950s and 1960s.
- John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, illustrated by Benny Andrews, (Lee & Low Books: 2006) ISBN 978-1-58430-250-6. A biography of John Lewis, one of the "Big Six" civil rights leaders of the 1960s, focusing on his involvement in Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
- John Lewis: From Freedom Rider to Congressman by Christine M. Hill, (Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2002) ISBN 0-7660-1768-0. A biography of John Lewis written for juvenile readers.
- Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement by Ann Bausum, (National Geographic, 2006) ISBN 0-7922-4173-8.
- Across That Bridge by John Lewis with Brenda Jones, (Hyperion: 2012)ISBN 978-1-4013-2411-7.
- March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, (Top Shelf: 2013)ISBN 978-1-60309-300-2.
|has a collection of quotations related to: John Lewis (politician)|
- Congressman John Lewis official U.S. House site
- John Lewis for Congress
- Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Project Vote Smart
- Roll Call
- Federal Election Commission
- The Washington Post
- On the Issues
- The Library of Congress
- The Washington Post
- C-SPAN programs
- Internet Movie Database
- Bloomberg News
- The New York Times
- The Washington Post
- Oral Histories of the American South
- , July 12, 1998.
- interview with Lewis, August 5, 2012
- Democracy Now!
- "SNCC- People: John Lewis." N.p., n.d. Web. Apr 11, 2011.
- "Congressman John R Lewis." www.achievement.org. N.p., n.d. Web. Apr 11, 2011.
- John Lewis debates the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), June 11, 1996.
|Non-profit organization positions|
Charles F. McDew
|Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
| Succeeded by|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 5th congressional district
January 3, 1987 – present
|United States order of precedence (ceremonial)|
|United States Representatives by seniority
| Succeeded by|