Note to Self: Georgia Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis

Georgia Congressman John Lewis was born and raised on a cotton farm outside Troy, Alabama. He later became one of the most prominent leaders of the civil rights movement and was known as the godfather of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, fighting 15 years for its creation.

In our ongoing series, “Note to Self,” he tells his younger self – “so full of passion” – about the 45 times he’ll be arrested in his “mission to help redeem the soul of America.”

“In 1956, when you were only 16 years old, you and some of your brothers and sisters and first cousins went down to the public library trying to get library cards, trying to check out some books, and you were told by the librarian that the library is for whites only, and not for coloreds,” Lewis recalls.

“I say to you now, when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to continue to speak up, to speak out,” he says.  

Lewis was so inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks that he got involved in the civil rights movement.

“Something touched you and suggested that you write a letter to Dr. King. You didn’t tell your teachers, you didn’t tell your mother and you father,” Lewis says.

King wrote him back and invited Lewis to Montgomery, Alabama. Meanwhile, Lewis was admitted to a school in Nashville, Tennessee, where he would get involved in the sit-ins.

“You’d be sitting there in an orderly, peaceful, non-violent fashion and someone would come up and spit on you, or put a cigarette out in your hair or down your back, pour hot water, hot coffee, hot chocolate on you,” Lewis says.

“You got arrested the first time, and you felt so free. You felt liberated. You felt like you had crossed over,” he added.

“The Boy from Troy,” as King called Lewis, would go on to become the embodiment of non-violence in America.

“Two years after you speak at the March on Washington, you will see the face of death leading the march for voting…

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