John Lewis

John Lewis

Freedom Rider Troy, AL

By the time 19-year-old John Lewis joined the 1961 CORE Freedom ride, he already had five arrests under his belt as a veteran of the Nashville Student Movement. The son of hardscrabble tenant farmers from Pike County, AL, he attended American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, TN where he was deeply influenced by Rev. Kelly Miller Smith and Rev. James Lawson.

On May 10, several days before the Riders crossed into Alabama, Lewis had left the CORE Ride to interview for a fellowship. By chance, he was in Nashville on May 14 when the news broke of the violent bus burning in Anniston, AL and the riot at the Birmingham Trailways Bus Station. Lewis helped to convince his friends and mentors from the Nashville Student Movement to get involved. He rode to Birmingham with the Nashville cohort, endured the angry mob in Montgomery, and was arrested in Jackson and served jail time at Mississippi's Parchman State Prison Farm.

Lewis would become the best-known among the youthful Freedom Riders, serving as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), speaking at the 1963 March on Washington, and playing a pivotal role in the 1965 Selma — Montgomery March. In 1986, John Lewis was elected to represent Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives where he currently is serving his 12th term.

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