George T. French, Jr. Third Lyceum Speakers Series
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WHO IS CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS
Q: Who is Congressman Lewis?
A: Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights activist, was born in Troy Alabama; grew up on his family’s farm there and was graduated from both Fisk University and the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, TN. As a child, he wanted to be a minister, and since he was responsible for caring for the chickens, he used to preach to them and baptize them. By the time he was six, he had seen only two white people. When he visited relatives in Buffalo, New York, he got a chance to see how people lived without segregation. He hated the “Whites Only” signs in Troy and the segregated movie seating. His family begged him not to cause any trouble.
Q: Who inspired him to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement?
A: He was inspired at age 15 by listening to Dr. Martin Luther King on the radio. From King he heard, “John Lewis you need to find a way to get in the way.” Upon hearing King’s words, he felt called. As in the Old Testament, there’s a story that says the way a prophet stirs things up is just like the way a mother eagle stirs her nest to give the little birds the courage to get out and test their wings. Lewis said “I was being called to get into trouble – good trouble—necessary trouble--and I’ve been getting into trouble ever since.”
Q: What did he become famous for while in college?
A: He became famous for organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters; for participating in the Freedom Rides and participating in the march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on “Bloody Sunday” for voter rights. He suffered a concussion and was trampled by horses. The brutal attack on these marchers hastened the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Q: What were the Freedom Rides?
A: The Freedom Rides were organized to challenge segregated seating in interstate transportation. The Freedom Riders volunteered to take buses in to the Deep South, while sitting in seats reserved for whites. One of those buses was burned in Anniston, AL while angry white mobs tried to prevent the riders from getting out of the buses. Another incident involved a bus ride into Birmingham, where local whites beat the Freedom Riders unmercifully for as long as they wanted without interference from the Birmingham Police Department.
Q: How did the Freedom Rider Movement affect or propel the Civil Rights Movement?
A: The Freedom Riders inspired more direct action and particularly impressed some rural African-Americans and got them more involved in the movement. Subsequently, this inspired voter registration in the South and later the Black Power Movement.
Q: Did he play a role in the March on Washington in August 1963?
A: As President of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, (SNCC) a national organization that organized students for participation in the Civil Rights Movement, Congressman Lewis helped to organize the march and was one of the speakers.
Q: Was he an advocate for non-violence and what does this mean to me?
A: Yes. In spite of being arrested over 40 times, being beaten and seriously injured, he remained an advocate for the philosophy of non-violence
Q: What is the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) of which Congressman Lewis is a member?
A: The CBC is an African American organization representing Black members of the U.S. Congress.
As students, you can honor the sacrifices of Congressman Lewis and other civil rights activists by registering to vote and voting . It is your right as a citizen.