- Interview with John Lewis conducted for Eyes on the Prize. Discussion centers on the voting rights movement in Selma, Alabama, his friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., the relationship between SCLC and SNCC, his view on the philosophy of nonviolence, and his involvement in the March on Washington.
John Lewis was born in 1940 in Troy, Alabama. He received a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy at Fisk University. In addition, he graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. Early in his life, Lewis committed himself to the causes and concerns of the civil rights movement. Having attended segregated schools in Pike County, Alabama, he had been exposed first-hand to the reality of racial inequality. John Lewis was a vital personality and leader during the Nashville sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the early 1960s. At age 23, Lewis delivered a keynote address at the March on Washington in 1963. As chairman of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he led some of the most perilous nonviolent protests in the movement, repeatedly putting his life at risk. He was arrested more than 40 times and severely injured several times. With close to 600 protestors, Lewis led crowds across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. After being told to cease walking by the Alabama State Troopers, the police attacked the peaceful protestors. His leadership on Bloody Sunday is partially responsible for President Johnson’s responsiveness to the civil rights movement. President Johnson submitted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 within days of the tragedy. Lewis joined Congress in 1986 as a representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District (Atlanta, GA) and served as a much respected member. He died July 17, 2020.