When it comes to the names of the most influential people involved in the Civil Rights Movement, you’d be hard-pressed not to come across the name of John Lewis. As one of the "Big Six" leaders, along with Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young, these men organized the March on Washington for jobs and freedom in 1963 at the height of the movement. Later becoming a congressman, author, and recipient of 50 honorary degrees, the life of this amazing man came to an end on July 17, 2020. Lewis died at the age of 80 after battling a 6-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Born in Toy, AL in 1940, Lewis was the third children and had little interaction with white people until he grew older and started making trips with his family into town where racism and segregation was more prevalent. He would then learn from relatives in the north that they had integrated schools, buses, and businesses, and on a trip to Buffalo, NY, at the age of 11, Lewis became more aware of the segregation in his hometown.
In 1955, at the age of 15, he would hear the worlds of Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio, follow the Montgomery bus boycott, and meet Rosa Parks before finally meeting King at the age of 18. Such began his work in becoming an advocate for civil rights through organizing sit-ins at lunch counters when in college, organizing bus boycotts, and other nonviolent protests in his fight for racial equality. His experiences would then lean him to becoming one of the 13 original Freedom Riders in 1961 to promote integration, and fuel his fight for equality, which was prevalent through the rest of his lifetime.
If you’d like to learn more on his life, there are some great titles you can check out from your library that he wrote on his experiences. The first title is Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, co-written with Michael D’Orso. In this title, released in 1999, the congressman tells of his life in the trenches during the Civil Rights Movement including numerous arrests, sit-ins, and marches that led to breaking down the barriers of discrimination in the South during the 1950s and 1960s.
Another noteworthy title is Across that Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, co-written with Brenda Jones and published in 2012, which provided a discussion on Lewis’ philosophy and his viewpoint of the philosophical basis of t4he Civil Rights Movement. This title would later be the recipient of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work/Biography. Look for this book at your Main Library.
If wanting something for the young adult crowd, Lewis became the first congressman to author a graphic novel, with the help of Andrew Aydin, as a trilogy collectively titled March. Illustrated in black and white by Nate Powell, these three books were published between 2013-2016 and focused on providing the story of the Civil Rights Movement, told through his perspective. The first book in the series, March: Book One, became a number one New York Times bestseller for graphic novels, spending more than a year on the list. It also received an "Author Honor" from the American Library Association’s 2014 Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and it became the first graphic novel to win a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.