Rep. John Lewis, civil rights icon and congressman, speaks at the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
John Robert Lewis (born February 21, 1940) is an American politician and was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. He was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and played a key role in the struggle to end segregation. Lewis, a member of the Democratic Party, has represented Georgia's 5th congressional district (map) in the United States House of Representatives since 1987. The district encompasses almost all of Atlanta.
Lewis became nationally known during his prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery marches. During the first march police attacked the peaceful demonstrators and beat Lewis mercilessly in public, leaving head wounds that are still visible today. At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963, Lewis, a representative of [SNCC], the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was the youngest speaker.
Lewis first ran for elective office in 1977, when a vacancy occurred in Georgia’s 5th District. A special election was called after President Jimmy Carter appointed incumbent Congressman Andrew Young to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Lewis lost the race to Atlanta City Councilman and future Senator Wyche Fowler.
In 1986, when Fowler ran for the United States Senate, Lewis defeated fellow civil rights leader Julian Bond in the Democratic primary to succeed Fowler in the 5th District. This win was tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic, majority-black 5th District. Lewis was the second African-American to represent Georgia in Congress since Reconstruction. Young was the first. Lewis has been re-elected ten times without serious opposition, often with over 70 percent of the vote.
Lewis was present on the stage during the inauguration of Barack Obama, as the only living speaker from the rally at the March on Washington. Obama signed a commemorative photograph for Lewis with the words, “Because of you, John. Barack Obama."