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If you like John Lewis's story, you might also like:
Willie Brown,
Ernest J. Gaines,
Daniel Inouye,
Frank M. Johnson,
James Earl Jones,
B.B. King,
Coretta Scott King,
Rosa Parks,
Shimon Peres,
Sidney Poitier,
Anthony Romero,
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Albie Sachs,
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Antonio Villaraigosa,
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and Andrew Young

John Lewis can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring John Lewis in the Achievement Curriculum area:
The Road to Civil Rights
Social Advocacy

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John Lewis
John Lewis
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John Lewis Interview (page: 7 / 7)

Champion of Civil Rights

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  John Lewis

If a member of this generation, one of these young men or women came to you, and asked you for advice, what would you say to them?

John Lewis Interview Photo
John Lewis: If a young person of this generation came to me and said, "What should I do? What should I be doing?" I would say, "Find a way to follow the dictates of your conscience. Find your own inner compass and follow it. Do what is right. Be kind. Don't hate. Love is a better way. Don't become cynical. Forget about your own circumstances and find a way to get involved in the circumstances of others. Try to do something to serve the common good."

What books would you tell them to read?

John Lewis: I would say, "Read the literature of the Civil Rights Movement. Read the literature. Read Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch. Read David Halberstam's book, The Children." There are several other books -- I would tell them to read my little book, Walking with the Wind, which is a memoir of the Movement -- but also watch the videos. Watch Eyes on the Prize. There's a lot of film footage on the Movement. Another generation of young people, just ordinary young people, got out there and they brought about a nonviolent revolution in America. I would say to them, "Read the literature. Study the literature of the Movement and don't be afraid."

Are there still battles to be won?

John Lewis: There are many battles. There's so much that needs to be done. We need to protect the environment. Save this little planet. Not just this little piece of real estate we call America, but save the planet. We have a right to know what is in the food we eat, what is in the water we drink, what is in the air we breathe.

We need to find a way to make this world a little more peaceful. Maybe this generation of young people can get humankind to come to another level, to move to a higher level where we can lay down the tools and instruments of violence and war and stop the madness. Maybe in our own country we can do something about providing health care for all of our citizens, that some of the resources that we use to build bombs and missiles and guns can be used for education, for health care, taking care of the elderly, our children, the disabled, the homeless, and find a cure for some of the ills and diseases that impact human beings, not just here in America but around the world.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

As a kid being turned away from the public library in Troy, Alabama, could you ever have imagined the life you've lived, and the level of achievement that you have realized?

John Lewis: If someone had told me when I was growing up outside of Troy, Alabama, that one day I'd be on the Atlanta City Council, elected by the good citizens of Atlanta, or that one day I would be in the House of Representatives, elected by the good people of Georgia, I would say, "You're crazy. You're out of your mind. You don't know what you're talking about." I feel more than lucky. I feel very blessed.

When I go back to Alabama and go back to some of these places, go back to Nashville or even in Atlanta, pass by places that years ago I was arrested for sitting there, and now you go back and people invite you to come by and I go back to this little drug store in the little town of Troy! Years ago, when I was growing up, we had to go in and get a soda and bring it outside to drink it, and now I go back and the owner invites me to come in and have something to drink or eat with him. It's amazing. Troy State University, for an example, after I got elected to the Congress, the local high school and the Mayor and the business people had John Lewis Day there. Troy State led the parade through the little town. The chancellor, who was a close friend of Governor Wallace, came up to me and said, "We understand you wanted to attend Troy State years ago. We would love for you to come back and visit, and we'll give you an honorary degree." So a few years ago they gave me an honorary degree from Troy State. So when I go there and speak, I tell the students I got my education from Troy State the easy way.

Did you ever get a library card from the public library in Troy?

John Lewis: On July 5th, 1998, I went back to the Pike County Public Library in Troy, Alabama, for a book signing of my book, Walking with the Wind, and hundreds of black and white citizens showed up. It was almost like a family reunion. The land that my father and mother lived on, my grandfather lived on, my great-grandfather lived on, the people that owned the land, their offspring came to the book signing. That evening they had a lot of food. They had a little program and they gave me a library card. It took me from 1956 to 1998 to get it, but they gave it to me, and I cherish this library card. I have it in a drawer at my house in Washington.

What do you think were the greatest obstacles you had to overcome to achieve what you've achieved?

John Lewis: More than anything else, I had to combat the barriers, and we tore down those barriers. I just had to set a sail against the wind, those strong winds, to end segregation and racial discrimination, but somehow, in some way, I didn't let those barriers keep me down. When I would get arrested from time to time and thrown in jail one day, and I'd get out, I'd go right back the next day. That's how I got arrested 40 times. There were people who didn't want me to march all the way from Selma to Montgomery because I had been hurt, but two weeks after Bloody Sunday I was back on the line, marching all the way. They didn't want me to continue the Freedom Ride from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi, because I had been hurt, because I had a patch on my head but I kept going. You have to be determined. You have to feel that somehow in some way you can make it, that you will survive, that it's all going to work out.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Thank you very much.

John Lewis: Thank you, sir.

We truly appreciate it.

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This page last revised on Mar 18, 2015 00:24 EST
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