Rep. John Lewis

John Lewis, the U.S. Representative of Georgia's 5th District and civil rights activist, delivered the 2011 Mary Frances Early Lecture on April 19 at 4 p.m. in the University of Georgia Chapel. Lewis first rose to prominence as a civil rights leader in the 1960s. Since then, he has worked in public service at both the state and national level for more than 30 years.

Since 1987, Lewis has represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, an area that includes Atlanta, in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the Committee on Ways and Means and two of its subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Oversight and the Subcommittee on Human Resources.

Motivated by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Lewis became extensively involved in the civil rights movement during his twenties. In 1963, he was named the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a prominent civil rights organization, and planned lunch sit-ins, non-violent protests, and voter registration drives.

Lewis quickly turned into a national figure when he spoke alongside King at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. He was only 23-years-old at the time.

Two years later in an event deemed “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis led a group of 600 protestors from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. to demonstrate the need for equal voting rights. While crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, state police attacked Lewis and the protesters. Television coverage and images from the violent confrontation helped sway public opinion onto the side of the civil rights activists and advance the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Every year on March 7, Lewis commemorates the march’s anniversary by returning to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.