John Lewis

(b. 1940)

One of the youngest heroes of the civil rights movement, Lewis rode the buses with the freedom riders through Mississippi. Lewis, the son of Alabama sharecroppers, moved to Atlanta in 1963 to head the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1965 he marched from Selma to Montgomery and was famously beaten on the Edmund Pettis Bridge and jailed. In 1986 he was elected to the House of Representatives, serving in the fifth district in the state of Georgia, becoming the second African American (after Andrew Young) to represent the state since Reconstruction. That year Time magazine described him as a living saint. He’s held the seat ever since. He was instrumental in getting the Voting Rights Act extended in 2006 and last year helped the city procure $47 million for a streetcar project.

Gold Prize This February President Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “When parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind,” Obama said.

Photograph courtesy of the Atlanta History Center

This article originally ran in the May 2011 issue.