Lewis was an influential SNCC leader and is recognized by most
as one of the important leaders of the civil rights movement as
a whole. He was born on February 21, 1940, in Troy, Alabama. His
family were sharecroppers. He was a hard-working young man who
overcame poverty and political disenfranchisement to educate himself.
from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville and
then received a bachelor's degree in Religion and Philosophy from
Fisk University. As a student, Lewis was very dedicated to the
civil rights movement. He organized sit-ins at segregated lunch
counters in Nashville and took part in many other civil rights
1961, Lewis joined SNCC in the Freedom Rides. Riders traveled
the South challenging segregation at interstate bus terminals.
Lewis and others received death threats and were severely beaten
by angry mobs. In 1963, when Chuck McDew stepped down as SNCC
chairman, Lewis was quickly elected to take over. Lewis' experience
at that point was already widely respected--he had been arrested
24 times as a result of his activism. He held the post of chairman
Lewis helped plan and took part in the March on Washington. At
the age of 23, he was a keynote speaker at the historic event.
In 1965, he led 525 marchers across the Pettus Bridge in Selma,
Alabama. State troopers attacked the marchers in a violent incident
that later became known as "Bloody Sunday." In 1981, Lewis was
elected to his first official government office as an Atlanta
City Council member. In 1986, he was elected to Congress, where
he is currently serving his seventh term.
John Lewis describe his experience on the Freedom Rides