U.S. Rep. John Lewis to discuss "Civil Rights and Race in America"

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) will discuss Civil Rights and Race in America at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29, in the Edmund S. Muskie Archives, 70 College Ave. The public is invited to attend the Muskie Archives Millennial Series lecture without charge.

Author of Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (Simon & Schuster, 1998), Lewis’ leadership in the Nashville movement — a student-led effort based on the teachings of Ghandi that successfully desegregated the city of Nashville through nonviolent means — became a model for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

In 1961, Lewis risked his life and suffered severe mob beatings while participating in the Freedom Rides that were organized to challenge segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South.

During the height of the civil rights movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for the sit-ins and other activities of students in the struggle for civil rights. In spite of his youth, Lewis became a recognized leader in the civil rights movement. In August 1963, at the age of 23, he was one of the planners and a keynote speaker at the March on Washington. In 1964, he coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer.

The following year, Lewis led one of the most dramatic nonviolent protests of the civil rights movement. Along with fellow activist Hosea Williams, Lewis led 525 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965. Alabama state troopers attacked the marchers in a confrontation that became known as Bloody Sunday. That fateful march and a subsequent march between Selma and Montgomery, Ala., presaged the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, Lewis remained a devoted advocate for the philosophy of nonviolence. After leaving SNCC in 1966, he remained active in the civil rights movement through his work as associate director of the Field Foundation and his participation in the Southern Regional Council’s voter registration programs. Lewis went on to become the director of the Voter Education Project. Under his leadership, the VEP added nearly four million minorities to the voter rolls.

His first electoral success came in 1981 when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. In November 1999, he was elected to his seventh consecutive term in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the 105th Congress, Lewis is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, where he serves on the Subcommittee on Health. Lewis, who serves as a chief deputy Democratic whip, is a co-chair of the Congressional Urban Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Anti-Semitism.

Since joining the U.S. Congress, Lewis has drawn praise from political observers who have predicted a bright future for him in national politics. In 1990, the National Journal named Lewis as one of 11 “rising stars” in Congress. “Few House members have had such momentous experiences before coming to Washington that other members of Congress want to hear about them. John R. Lewis has that cachet,” stated the National Journal.

Lewis co-wrote Walking With the Wind with Michael D’Orso of Norfolk, Va. The title is based on one of Lewis’ childhood experiences. When he was 4, he and 15 young cousins and relatives literally walked with the wind as it threatened to pick up first one side and then the other of his aunt’s tin-roof house during a severe thunderstorm in rural Alabama, where he was born into a family of sharecroppers. His Aunt Seneva told the children to hold hands and walk toward the corner of the house that was rising.

“Our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another. But the people of conscience never left the house. They clasped hands and moved toward the corner of the house that was the weakest. That is America to me — not just the movement for civil rights, but the endless struggle to respond with decency, dignity and a sense of brotherhood to all the challenges that face us as a nation, as a whole,” Lewis said.

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