Photo caption: John Lewis, leading peaceful protestors on voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery
John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights era, has died at the age of 80. The son of sharecroppers, he would go on to become chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s and was instrumental as a member of the “Big Six” in organizing the March on Washington and leading the Civil Rights Movement to end segregation in the United States.
Lewis admired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and credits him with inspiring him to public service. Lewis shared King’s sentiments on non-violence and would go on to be arrested and beaten in his commitment and efforts to protest Jim Crow laws of the South. In a peaceful protest from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., Lewis sustained a fractured skull at the hands of state troopers and local lawmen.
President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 and called him the “conscience of the United States Congress” for his courage and commitment to justice and equality. Elected to Congress in 1986, Lewis served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia’s 5th district from Jan. 3, 1987 until his death on July 17, 2020.
Lewis authored several books, including Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement and Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change and a graphic novel trilogy that chronicled his experiences and insights from the Civil Rights Movement. Lewis was also awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal and the sole John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award ” for Lifetime Achievement.
Below is a collection of Lewis’ sayings that convey the inspiration that fueled his fight for justice and equality and highlight the courage that drove his efforts to end racial segregation in America.
You must be bold, brave, and courageous and find a way… to get in the way.
I say to people today, ‘You must be prepared if you believe in something. If you believe in something, you have to go for it. As individuals, we may not live to see the end.’
I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.
When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.
When growing up, I saw segregation. I saw racial discrimination. I saw those signs that said white men, colored men. White women, colored women. White waiting. And I didn’t like it.
My parents told me in the very beginning as a young child when I raised the question about segregation and racial discrimination, they told me not to get in the way, not to get in trouble, not to make any noise.
Now we have black and white elected officials working together. Today, we have gone beyond just passing laws. Now we have to create a sense that we are one community, one family. Really, we are the American family.
I was so inspired by Dr. King that in 1956, with some of my brothers and sisters and first cousins – I was only 16 years old – we went down to the public library trying to check out some books, and we were told by the librarian that the library was for whites only and not for colors. It was a public library.
When I was a student, I studied philosophy and religion. I talked about being patient. Some people say I was too hopeful, too optimistic, but you have to be optimistic just in keeping with the philosophy of non-violence.
The civil rights movement was based on faith. Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith. We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something.
To make it hard, to make it difficult almost impossible for people to cast a vote is not in keeping with the democratic process.
We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jails over and over again. And then you holler, ‘Be patient.’ How long can we be patient?Credit: Brainy Quotes