A mugshot of 21-year-old John Lewis who spent 31 days in Mississippi State Penitentiary, aka Parchman Farm, for using a “white” restroom during the Freedom Rides of 1961.
Two years after his arrest, Lewis helped organize the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Over his many decades of activism, Lewis has been arrested 45 times, including 5 arrests while serving Congress. In his fight for freedom, he endured repeated beatings by southern policemen, one of which left him completely unconscious, soaking in a pool of his blood.
In 1986, Lewis was elected to serve as the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District. He served in that role up until yesterday when he died at the age of 80 to pancreatic cancer.
In a 1987 interview, Lewis discussed why he decided to dedicate his life to activism and fight for true freedom for every American: “As I was growing up in rural Alabama, I saw all around me the system of segregation and racial discrimination. The visible signs in the little town of Troy, the population of about 7,000, we saw the sign that said ‘colored only! White only. Colored waiting. In a little 5&10 store was a civil fountain, a clean fountain for white people to come and drink water, but in another corner of the store there was a little spigot, a rusty spigot, (that) said ‘colored drinking.’ And I became resentful of the sign and all the visible evidence of segregation and racial discrimination.”