John Lewis is the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, serving since 1987. He was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), playing a key role in the struggle to end segregation. Born in Troy, Alabama, Lewis was educated at the American Baptist Theological Seminary and at Fisk University, both in Nashville, Tennessee, where he became active in the local sit-in movement. He participated in the Freedom Rides to desegregate the South, and was a national leader in the struggle for civil rights. Lewis was instrumental in organizing student sit-ins, bus boycotts and non-violent protests in the fight for voter and racial equality. He endured brutal beatings by angry mobs and suffered a fractured skull at the hands of Alabama State police as he led a march of 600 people in Selma, Ala. in 1965. Lewis became nationally known during his prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery marches. During the first march police attacked the peaceful demonstrators and beat Lewis mercilessly in public, leaving head wounds that are still visible today. At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963, Lewis was the youngest speaker. Historian Howard Zinn wrote: "At the great Washington March of 1963, the chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis, speaking to the same enormous crowd that heard Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, was prepared to ask the right question: 'Which side is the federal government on?’ That sentence was eliminated from his speech by organizers of the March to avoid offending the Kennedy Administration. But Lewis and his fellow SNCC workers had experienced, again and again, the strange passivity of the national government in the face of Southern violence." "John Lewis and SNCC had reason to be angry. John had been beaten bloody by a white mob in Montgomery as a Freedom Rider in the spring of 1961. The federal government had trusted the notoriously racist Alabama police to protect the Riders, but did nothing itself, except to have FBI agents take notes. Instead of insisting that blacks and whites had a right to ride the buses together, the Kennedy Administration called for a 'cooling-off period,' a moratorium on Freedom Rides. Lewis had been imprisoned for forty days in the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County, Mississippi after participating in a Freedom Riders activity in that state. In February 2009, forty-eight years after he had been bloodied by the Ku Klux Klan during civil rights marches, Lewis received an apology on national television from a white southerner, former Klansman Elwin Wilson. "I'm so sorry about what happened back then," Wilson said breathlessly. "It's OK. I forgive you," Lewis responded. Ad from January 2011.
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