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John Lewis, Congressman and Civil Rights Legend, to Speak at Juniata

(Posted September 27, 2004)

Rep. John Lewis


HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- John Lewis, who was born a sharecropper's son and changed American history as a civil rights activist and later as a Congressman, will lecture at Juniata College on the legacy of the struggle for civil rights at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 3 in Rosenberger Auditorium in Oller Hall on the Juniata campus.

The lecture is free and open to the public. The talk is sponsored by the Will Judy endowment.

Lewis' 1998 autobiography, "Walking With the Wind" has been chosen as the summer reading assignment for freshmen at Juniata College. In addition, Lewis will be available at a book-signing at 10 a.m., Monday, Oct. 4, in Sill Boardroom in the von Liebig Center for Science.

John Lewis came to national prominence as a young activist who was born on a small farm in Troy, Ala., and later earned a bachelor's degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. He went on to earn his ministerial certification at Nashville's American Baptist Theological Seminary.

Lewis began his activism early, participating in the 1961 Freedom Rides, which organized sit-ins to challenge segregation at bus terminals throughout the South. As a student, he also participated in sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. Lewis soon rose within the movement to become chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). By 1963, at age 23, he was working directly with such elder civil rights leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins.

In 1963 he was one of the featured speakers at the March on Washington event where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. Lewis continued to organize voter registration drives and other programs throughout the next two years until March 7, 1965, when he and fellow activist Hosea Williams led 600 marchers in Selma, Ala. to protest voting rights in the state capitol, Montgomery, As the crowd approached Selma's imposing Edmund Pettus Bridge, state police attacked the crowd, severely injuring Lewis and many others.

That march, seen across the country on television, is credited with mobilizing legislators to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lewis left SNCC in 1966 and continued to work in voter registration programs, most notably as director of the Voter Education Project.

In 1977, Lewis was named by President Jimmy Carter to run ACTION, a federal volunteer agency. Lewis decided to enter the political arena in 1981, when he successfully ran for Atlanta City Council. He resigned from the counsel in 1986 to run for Congress.

Today, Lewis represents Georgia's Fifth Congressional District and is serving his ninth term. He has become a major influence in the Democratic party. He is a member of the House ways and Means Committee and the House Budget Committee, and also serves as Senior Chief Deputy Democratic Whip. He also is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The Will Judy Lectureship Series was established by Captain Will Judy, an attorney, soldier, author, and publisher who graduated from Juniata in 1911. Most of his work involved publications about dogs, including the writing of eight books, editing a dog encyclopedia, and serving as publisher for Dog World magazine. Will Judy established the lectureship series in 1960 in order to supplement and enrich the academic program at the college.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.