February is celebrated as Black History Month or National African-American History Month, recognizing the achievements of African-Americans in U.S. History. Representative John Lewis of Georgia’s fifth District exemplifies these accomplishments. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) coined him as “the conscience of the U.S. Congress.”
Born to the family of sharecroppers in Troy, Ala. on Feb. 21, 1940, as a young boy he was inspired by the Montgomery bus boycotts and the activism of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
During the early sixties, he was engaged in with the freedom riders, a band of civil rights activist that challenged segregation particularly in the South. He participated in the sit-in demonstrations of segregated lunch counters in Nashville as a college student attending American Baptist College.
Lewis was named as the Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who were largely active in protests and demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement. His efforts in the SNCC included organizing community action programs and voter registration drives.
One of the major moments during the movement was when Lewis and Hosea Williams led a successful group of protesters (approx. 600 people) across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. on March 7, 1965. Williams was a former aid of Rev. King and well-known for his organized demonstrations and ability to mobilize protests.
Lewis’ activism in the movement helped to plunge him in the political arena. He became the Director of the Voter Education Project (VEP) and increased the number of minorities in the electoral rolls. He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers in a federal volunteer agency known as Action in 1977.
He was elected on the Atlanta Council, advocating for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. In 1986, he was elected to Congress to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. The District covers Atlanta, and parts of Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton counties.
Lewis has been a recipient of several awards from prominent organizations and institutions. He was awarded the Golden Plate Award by the Academy of Excellence, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize, the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and more. The Timberland Company, a global manufacturer and retailer of outdoor wear, developed the John Lewis Award honoring members of society who displayed impressive humanitarian work.