Skip to main content
Select Source:

John Robert Lewis

John Robert Lewis

John Robert Lewis (born 1940), a veteran of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by the citizens of Atlanta, Georgia, in 1986.

John R. Lewis, a native of Troy, Alabama, first achieved national attention while he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the 1960s. Lewis was born on February 21, 1940, to Willie Mae and Eddie Lewis. He was one of ten children. The family led a relatively simple rural existence, with Eddie working as a tenant farmer and later a land holder while Willie Mae earned money by taking in laundry. The Lewis children were raised in a religious atmosphere characterized by loving concern for each child. No amount of love, however, could shield young John from the adverse effects of racial segregation then prevalent in Alabama. He was bussed past a well-equipped high school for white children to a one-room schoolhouse which only inadequately served the needs of African American students. Even as a schoolboy, Lewis observed that roads and modern conveniences which aided the development of the white community were denied to poverty-stricken African American neighborhoods in the Troy area.

While he was a teenager Lewis felt the call to the gospel ministry and began to preach periodically in local churches. He listened regularly to a radio gospel program presented by a young Boston-trained theologian, Martin Luther King, Jr., and was inspired because King, a southern African American man, was intelligent, articulate, and interesting. King also had thoughtful ideas about addressing the problems of racial injustice through passive resistance. When Lewis was 15 he learned of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott led by King, Ralph D. Abernathy, and other members of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The MIA led the vast majority of the African Americans in the city in their decision to refuse to ride the segregated city busses unless they were treated more fairly by white drivers and passengers. It filled Lewis with pride to see the African American community of Montgomery acting in concert and with determination to continue the boycott until the bus company agreed to their demands. The boycott drew national and international attention, and many people, both African American and white, rejoiced when, after a year-long struggle, the city bus company agreed to give African American passengers the same rights as whites and pledged to hire some African American bus drivers.

Lewis had much more than a passing interest in the boycott: it inspired him to want an active role in the civil rights struggle. He was not yet sure exactly what he could do, but he was a willing volunteer long before he could become actively involved. As King and Abernathy found in their religion an avenue for social action, so Lewis began to pursue more actively his own theological training with a view toward doing the same. He traveled to Tennessee, where he attended the American Baptist Seminary and later enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville. Both of these institutions of higher learning were open primarily to African American students.

Lewis was kept from actively participating in civil rights agitation for a while by his parents who were frightened for his life. But in 1960, after four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro sat down in the "white-only" section of the local Woolworth's lunch counter and refused to move, hundreds of African American and white students all over the South determined to follow their example. Such "sit-ins" provoked a spontaneous but quiet revolution which allowed students to register their protests without harming anyone or destroying any property. The students welcomed being jailed as a result of their sit-ins and, because of the publicity it gave to their cause, they often refused to post bail.

Though Lewis's parents continued to urge him not to get involved, he felt that at 20 he knew his own mind. He joined the lunch counter sit-in demonstrations that were taking place in Nashville. Soon he had been jailed four times, but this was just the beginning of the violence that would be inflicted on this apostle of nonviolence. Before the federal Civil Rights Act was passed four years later in 1964, Lewis had been jailed and beaten many times and had suffered a fractured skull at the hands of an angry white mob in Selma, Alabama, during the 1963 Selma to Montgomery protest march.

Because of the spontaneity of the sit-ins, the students had no organizational body or any general affiliation with existing civil rights groups. Ella Baker, the executive secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC, King's regional organization), called a meeting in 1960 to help the students get organized. The students met at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April 1960. There, with Lewis as a co-founder along with about 200 other students, SNCC was formed. The students refused to affiliate with any of the existing major civil rights groups such as the SCLC, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), or the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), formed their own organization, and elected Marion Barry, a graduate student at Fisk University, as their first chairman.

After a 1961 Supreme Court decision declaring illegal all segregation in interstate bus depots and on busses, CORE leaders decided to stage a "freedom ride" from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. Their purpose was to ignore all traditional forms of segregation on the busses and in the terminals. Led by CORE director James Farmer, 13 freedom riders, seven African Americans and six whites, left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961. Lewis was among them. The riders, who had pledged themselves to nonviolence, were brutally beaten during the ride. Lewis was the first to be attacked. Finally, when the Greyhound bus that some of the demonstrators were riding in was burned outside of Anniston, Alabama, the CORE volunteers were ready to discontinue their protest. SNCC members including Lewis refused to be dissuaded from their cause and continued the freedom rides. Lewis also led marches against segregated movie theaters in Nashville, again prompting numerous arrests as well as physical and verbal abuse by local whites. Through it all Lewis maintained a path of nonviolence toward achieving civil rights.

Lewis was unanimously elected chairman of SNCC in 1963 and served until 1966 when Stokely Carmichael, the proponent of the more aggressive "Black power" strategy, won his seat. During the time that he was chairman Lewis had the opportunity to be one of the speakers during the August 28, 1963, March on Washington, when nearly 250,000 African Americans and whites converged on the U.S. capital to stage a peaceful march for jobs and freedom. After he was ousted as SNCC chairman, Lewis went on to work for the Field Foundation, where in a number of capacities he continued his efforts. One of the most significant roles he played at the foundation was as director of its Voter Education Project (VEP). From 1970 through 1977, Lewis led grass roots efforts to organize southern African American voters, politically educate the youth the give voter assistance programs. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter appointed his to be director of US operations for ACTION, a federal agency overseeing economic recovery programs on the community level.

Determined to have a greater voice in community issues, Lewis became more involved in mainstream politics. In 1982 he was elected to Atlanta City Council where he was known for his close attention to the needs of the poor and the elderly. Twenty years after he stepped down as the leader of SNCC, Lewis, a member of the Atlanta city council, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives after a hard fought battle with his former SNCC co-worker, Georgia state senator Julian Bond. Lewis' reputation as a diligent listener to the needs of the poor, elderly African Americans and labor carried him onto victory.

As a Congressman, Lewis carried on the fight for civil rights. Although critics accused him of not having effective strategies for adapting his positions to the changing needs of African Americans, he nonetheless remained a voice calling for a "sense of shared purpose, of basic morality that speaks to blacks and whites alike". In 1991, Lewis became one of the three chief deputy whips for the Democratic Party, one of the most influential positions in the House. His criticism of House speaker Newt Gingrich brought him to the forefront of controversy in 1996, although he was considered a moderate by many African Americans. In 1994, during a speech to African Leaders in Ghana, Lewis summed up his experience and his commitment to civil rights for all peoples: "Do not give up, do not give out, and do not give in. We must hold on and we must not get lost in a sea of despair."

Further Reading

Although there is no full-length biography available on Lewis, there are several histories of SNCC which provide information about his life— Howard Zinn, SNCC, The New Abolitionists (originally published 1964, revised 1985); Cleveland Sellers, The River of No Return (1973); James Foreman, The Making of African American Revolutionaries (1972, 1985); and Clayborne Carson, In Struggle (1981). In addition an in depth article in The New Republic July 1, 1996 offers excellent biographical and political information. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"John Robert Lewis." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 10 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"John Robert Lewis." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/john-robert-lewis

"John Robert Lewis." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/john-robert-lewis

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Lewis, John Robert

LEWIS, JOHN ROBERT

John Robert Lewis first achieved national attention while he was chairman of the student nonviolent coordinating committee (SNCC) during the 1960s and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986. Lewis was born on February 21, 1940, to Willie Mae and Eddie Lewis in Troy, Alabama.

While he was a teenager, Lewis felt the call to the Christian ministry and began to preach periodically in local churches. He listened regularly to a radio Gospel program presented by a young, Boston-trained theologian, martin luther king jr. and was inspired because King, a Southern, African-American man, was intelligent,

articulate, and interesting. King also had thoughtful ideas about addressing the problems of racial injustice through passive resistance. When Lewis was age 15, he learned of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott led by King, ralph david abernathy, and other members of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The MIA led the vast majority of the African-Americans in the city in their decision to refuse to ride the segregated city buses unless they were treated more fairly by white drivers and passengers. It filled Lewis with pride to see the African-American community of Montgomery acting in concert and with determination. After a year-long struggle, the bus company agreed to their demands.

"If we are ever to move toward a colorblind society, one America, one society, one family, one people—we must have policies that promote and encourage diversity."
John Lewis

Lewis was kept from actively participating in civil rights agitation for a while by his parents, who were frightened for his life. But in 1960, after four students from North Carolina A&T College in Greensboro sat down in the "whites only" section of the local Woolworth's lunch counter and refused to move, hundreds of African-American and white students all over the South followed their example. Although Lewis's parents urged him to remain uninvolved, he joined the lunch counter sit-in demonstrations that were taking place in Nashville. Before the federal civil rights act of 1964 was passed, Lewis had been jailed and beaten many times and had suffered a fractured skull at the hands of an angry, white mob in Selma, Alabama, during the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery protest march.

Because of the spontaneity of the sit-ins, the students had no organizational body or any general affiliation with existing civil rights groups. ella baker, the executive secretary of the southern christian leadership conference (SCLC, King's regional organization), called a meeting at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April 1960. The students refused to affiliate with any of the existing major civil rights groups such as the SCLC, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp), or the congress on racial equality (CORE), and formed their own organization. There, with Lewis as a cofounder, along with about 200 other students, SNCC was formed.

After a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring illegal all segregation in interstate bus depots and on buses, CORE leaders decided to stage a "freedom ride" from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. Led by CORE director James Farmer, seven African-American and six white freedom riders left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961. Lewis was among them. The riders, who had pledged themselves to nonviolence, were brutally beaten during the ride. Lewis was the first to be attacked. Finally, when the Greyhound bus that some of the demonstrators were riding in was burned outside of Anniston, Alabama, the CORE volunteers were ready to discontinue their protest. SNCC members—including Lewis—refused to be dissuaded. Lewis also led marches against segregated movie theaters in Nashville, again prompting numerous arrests as well as physical and verbal abuse by local whites. Through it all, Lewis maintained a path of nonviolence toward achieving civil rights.

Lewis was unanimously elected chairman of SNCC in 1963 and served until 1966, when stokely carmichael, the proponent of the more aggressive "Black Power!" strategy, won his seat. During the time that he was chairman, Lewis was one of the speakers during the August 28, 1963, March on Washington, when nearly 250,000 people converged on the U.S. capital to stage a peaceful protest for freedom and fairness in hiring practices. After he was ousted as SNCC chairman, Lewis went on to work for the Field Foundation. One of his most significant roles there was as director of its Voter Education Project. From 1970 through 1977, Lewis led grass-roots efforts to organize Southern African-American voters and to educate the youth politically. In 1977, President jimmy carter appointed Lewis to be director of U.S. operations for ACTION, a federal agency overseeing economic recovery programs at the community level.

In 1982, Lewis was elected to Atlanta City Council, where he was known for his close attention to the needs of the poor and the elderly. Twenty years after he stepped down as the leader of SNCC, Lewis was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives after a hard-fought battle with his former SNCC co-worker, Georgia state senator julian bond. Although, as a congressman, critics accused him of not adapting his positions to the changing needs of African-Americans, he nonetheless remained a voice calling for a "sense of shared purpose, of basic morality that speaks to blacks and whites alike." In 1991, Lewis became one of the three chief deputy whips for the democratic party, one

of the most influential positions in the House. His criticism of House speaker newt gingrich brought him to the forefront of controversy in 1996, although many African-Americans considered him to be a moderate. In 1994, during a speech to African Leaders in Ghana, Lewis summed up his experience and his commitment to civil rights for all peoples: "Do not give up, do not give out, and do not give in. We must hold on, and we must not get lost in a sea of despair."

In 1998, Lewis published his autobiography: Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. In 2000, he participated in a gathering in Selma, Alabama, commemorating the 35th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery protest march.

In 2003, Lewis was a member of the House Budget Committee, and served on the Subcommittee on Health that is part of the House Ways and Means Committee. He was also Senior Chief Deputy Democratic Whip in the 108th Congress, as well as a member of the Democratic Steering Committee, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Committee to Support Writers and Journalists. Lewis additionally served as co-chair of the Faith and Politics Institute.

Lewis has been the recipient of numerous and awards and honors, including the National Constitution Center's "We the People" Award, the NAACP's Spingarn Medal, and the National Education Association's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award. In March 2003, Lewis led a group of fellow representatives and other politicians on a "Civil Rights Pilgrimage," a tour of significant sites in Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, Alabama. The purpose of the tour was to acquaint political leaders with the history of the civil rights movement and to encourage dialogue on the topics of race and civil rights in the United States.

further readings

John Lewis House of Representatives site. 2003. Available online at <www.house.gov/johnlewis> (accessed April 21, 2003).

Lewis, John, with Michael D'Orso. 1999. Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Lewis, John Robert." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. 10 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Lewis, John Robert." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lewis-john-robert

"Lewis, John Robert." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved December 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lewis-john-robert

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Lewis, John Robert

John Robert Lewis, 1040–, African-American politician and civil-rights leader, b. near Troy, Ala., grad. American Baptist Theological Seminary (B.A. 1961), Fisk Univ. (B.A. 1967). The son of sharecroppers, he was an early advocate of nonviolence in the pursuit of civil rights for African Americans. A member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and its president (1963–66), he organized lunch-counter sit-ins, was one of the Freedom Riders, and helped organize the historic March on Washington (1963). Arrested more than 40 times, he was beaten by white mobs and police, most violently during the Selma to Montgomery march on "Bloody Sunday" (1965), when he was severely injured. After leaving SNCC, Lewis concentrated on voter education and headed (1977–80) ACTION, a federal volunteer agency. A liberal Democrat, he won election to the Atlanta city council in 1982; four years later he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

See his Walking with the Wind (with M. D'Orso, 1999); D. Halberstam, The Children (1998).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Lewis, John Robert." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 10 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Lewis, John Robert." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lewis-john-robert

"Lewis, John Robert." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lewis-john-robert

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Lewis, John Robert

LEWIS, John Robert

(b. 21 February 1940 near Troy, Alabama), leader of the Nashville, Tennessee, sit-in demonstrations, freedom rider, and head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who was involved in nearly all phases of the southern civil rights movement from 1960 to 1966.

The third of ten children born to Eddie and Willie Mae Lewis, Lewis was raised on a 110-acre cotton and peanut farm in Pike County, Alabama. As a boy he dreamed of being a preacher. In 1957 he enrolled at the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville. His interest in civil rights was enhanced when he attended workshops in non-violence conducted by James Lawson, a Methodist divinity student who had gone to India to study the tactics of the Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi. On 13 February 1960 Lewis was one of 124 well-dressed and highly disciplined students who sat in at segregated downtown Nashville lunch counters, insisting that they be served. Lewis viewed his participation as a manifestation of his religious beliefs: "it was like being involved in a Holy Crusade," he recalled. "I really felt that what we were doing was so in keeping with the Christian faith." The nonviolent students continued their protest for four months until Mayor Ben West publicly conceded that segregation was morally wrong. A few days later lunch counters quietly desegregated.

Lewis was one of the southern sit-in leaders who attended an Easter weekend conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1960 to discuss ways to sustain and expand their movement. Out of that meeting the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed. Lewis received a B.A. from American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961 and would later receive a second B.A. from Fisk University in 1967.

In May 1961 Lewis joined an interracial band of non-violent activists organized by the Congress of Racial Equality. They planned to ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans to test compliance with a Supreme Court ruling that declared segregated transportation facilities unconstitutional. In Rock Hill, South Carolina, angry whites assaulted Lewis and other riders. Outside of Anniston, Alabama, their bus was firebombed. When they arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, the so-called freedom riders were savagely beaten by a white mob. Lewis had left the group in South Carolina but rejoined the journey for its next leg from Birmingham to Montgomery, Alabama, where another mob lay in wait. Lewis was hit over the head with a wooden crate and knocked unconscious, but he later continued to Jackson, Mississippi, where he was arrested and sentenced to sixty days in jail.

In 1963 Lewis left college to work full-time as a freedom fighter. He soon was elected SNCC's chairman, a position he held for the next three years during the height of the civil rights movement.

As SNCC's spokesman, Lewis was among the "Big Six" civil rights leaders who planned the 1963 March on Washington. He delivered one of the major addresses at the rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial on 28 August. The original version of his oration strongly criticized President John F. Kennedy's timid commitment to civil rights: "In good conscience, we cannot support the administration's civil rights bill for it is too little, and too late." When other, more moderate leaders objected to the harsh tone of his remarks, Lewis was forced to excise the most critical passages.

Lewis was an early advocate of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer, which brought 800 volunteer civil rights workers to the most violent southern state. In August he worked on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (formed to circumvent the segregationist-dominated mainstream Democratic Party in Mississippi) by attempting to seat their delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In early 1965 Lewis was in Selma, Alabama, campaigning for voting rights. On 7 March 1965 Lewis and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference activist Hosea Williams led a column of some 600 demonstrators intending to march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery to protest the killing of Jimmy Lee Jackson in Marion, Alabama. As the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a force of 200 state troopers and sheriff's deputies blocked the road. When ordered to turn back, the marchers refused to disperse and the lawmen attacked with tear gas and clubs. Lewis was one of the first to fall, knocked to the pavement with a fractured skull and concussion. The brutal scene was rapidly transmitted around the world by television and became known as "Bloody Sunday." The resulting outrage was instrumental in securing passage of the Voting Rights Act five months later.

In the summer of 1966 the civil rights movement headed in a new, more militant direction. Lewis was criticized for participating in the planning of the White House Conference on Civil Rights and was voted out as SNCC's chairman. His replacement by Stokely Carmichael, the leading advocate of Black Power, signaled the group's shift in the direction of extremism. Shortly afterwards Lewis resigned from SNCC, expressing concern that the organization had strayed from its nonviolent roots.

Lewis remained active in the civil rights movement, working first for the Field Foundation and later for the Southern Regional Council. From 1970 to 1977 he headed the Voter Education Project, which added millions of African Americans to the voter rolls. In 1977 he joined the administration of President Jimmy Carter as director of ACTION, the agency that coordinated federal volunteer programs including the Peace Corps and VISTA. In 1981 Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council, and in 1986 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia's Fifth Congressional District in Atlanta. He later sat on the House Ways and Means Committee and served as chief deputy minority whip.

Lewis married Lillian Miles in 1968. They had one son, John Miles Lewis.

One of the genuine heroes of the southern civil rights movement, Lewis was jailed more than forty times and was the victim of several vicious beatings, yet his faith in non-violence never wavered. His great personal courage and quiet leadership earned him the respect and admiration of his colleagues in the movement, even those who disagreed with his politics. Furthermore, his rise from a sharecropper's cabin to the halls of Congress is an inspirational American success story.

John Lewis with Michael D'Orso, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (1998), is the best single source on Lewis's career. David Halberstam, The Children (1998), profiles the lives of Lewis and seven other Nashville protest leaders. Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (1981), places Lewis's role within SNCC in perspective. Lewis is also prominently featured in several segments of the 1987 Public Broadcasting System documentary series Eyes on the Prize.

Paul T. Murray

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Lewis, John Robert." Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: The 1960s. . Encyclopedia.com. 10 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Lewis, John Robert." Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: The 1960s. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lewis-john-robert

"Lewis, John Robert." Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: The 1960s. . Retrieved December 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lewis-john-robert

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.