SNCC 1960-1966: Six years of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Hear John Lewis describe his experience on the Freedom RidesJohn 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.

He graduated 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 activities.

Police carry John Lewis - SNCC Chairman - to paddy wagon.In 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 until 1966.

In 1963, 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.

Hear John Lewis describe his experience on the Freedom Rides