In a long life of activism, Rep. John Lewis never shied away from speaking out. A few quotations:
“To those who have said ‘Be patient and wait,’ we must say that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now. The time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. We will march through the South, through the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham. We must say ‘Wake up America! Wake up!’ For we cannot stop and we will not and cannot be patient.”
— During his March on Washington speech in 1963
“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.”
— Interview conducted for “America, They Loved You Madly,” a precursor to the 1987 documentary “Eyes on the Prize.”
“You saw these men putting on their gas masks and behind the state troopers are a group of men, part of the sheriff’s posse, on horses. They came toward us, beating us with nightsticks, trampling us with horses, and releasing their tear gas. I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick. My legs went from under me. I don’t know how I made it back across the bridge but apparently a group just literally took me back.”
— Recounting the Bloody Sunday confrontation of March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, in an oral history interview conducted by the House historian, Dec. 11, 2014.
“Selma is a place where we injected something very meaningful into our democracy. We opened up the political process and made it possible for hundreds and thousands and millions of people to come in and be participants.”
— Oral history interview conducted by the House historian, Dec. 11, 2014.
“When I look out over this diverse crowd and survey the guests on this platform, it seems to realize what Otis Redding sang about and what Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about: this moment in our history has been a long time coming. But a change has come. We are standing here in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln, 150 years after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and only 50 years after the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. We have come a great distance in this country in the 50 years, but we still have a great distance to go before we fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. Sometimes I hear people saying, ‘Nothing has changed.' But for someone who grew up the way I grew up in the cotton fields of Alabama to now be serving in the United States Congress makes me want to tell them, ‘Come and walk in my shoes.‘”
— Speaking during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013
“He was my friend. He was my hero. I loved him. He was like a big brother.”
— Reflecting on his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during interview on Jan. 17, 2015.
“History will not be kind to us. So you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to speak up, speak out and get in good trouble. You can do it. You must do it. Not just for yourselves but for generations yet unborn.”
— Commencement speech at Lawrence University in 2015
“Our goal was true freedom for every American. Since then, America has made a lot of progress. We are a different society than we were in 1961. And in 2008 we showed the world the true promise of America when we elected President Barack Obama.”
— Campaign speech for Obama in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 6, 2012.
“My dear friends: Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”
— Speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 6, 2012.
“This is unreal. This is unbelievable. Some of you know I grew up in rural Alabama, very, very poor. Very few books in our home. I remember in 1956 when I was 16 years old, some of my brothers and sisters and cousins went down to the public library trying to get library cards and we were told that the library was for whites only and not for coloreds. And to come here and receive this award, this honor. It’s too much. I had a wonderful teacher in elementary school who told me, ‘Read my child, read.' And I tried to read everything. I love books.”
— When accepting an award from the National Book Foundation in 2016
“The future of our democracy is at stake. There comes a time when you have to be moved by the spirit of history to take action to protect and preserve the integrity of our nation. I believe — I truly believe — the time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come. To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy.”
— Speaking on the House floor in favor of beginning impeachment proceedings against President Trump in September 2019.
“Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”
— Remarks atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020.