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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

In Memoriam: Rep. John Lewis (1940-2020)

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

"When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something" - John Lewis.

The son of Alabama cotton croppers, Democratic congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis was the last surviving member of the Big Six who organised the 1963 March on Washington where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech.

On March 7, 1965, Lewis led the 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery in his home state of Alabama demanding voting rights for Black people. After crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge, the demonstrators were stopped by armed police and brutally attacked with bats, whips and tear gas after they refused to turn back. On Bloody Sunday Lewis suffered a broken skull, and other 58 people had to be treated for injuries. A petition has now been started to rename the bridge after him. That same year, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which finally granted African Americans their constitutional right to vote.

John Lewis with fellow protestors at Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma (1965)

© Alabama Department of Archives and History. Photo by Tom Lankford, Birmingham News.

John Lewis is beaten by a state trooper in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965.

AP Photo

Rep. John Lewis stands on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Feb. 14, 2015.

Photo Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via AP

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