Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Biography

Elected: 1986, 14th term.

Born: February 21, 1940, Troy, AL

Home: Atlanta, GA

Education: Amer. Baptist Theol. Seminary, B.A. 1961, Fisk U., B.A. 1963

Professional Career: Chmn., Student Nonviolent Coord. Cmte., 1963–66; Field Foundation, 1966–67; Community organization dir., Southern Regional Cncl., 1967–70; Exec. dir., Voter Educ. Project, 1970–76; Assoc. dir., ACTION, 1977–80; Community affairs dir., Natl. Coop. Bank, 1980–82.

Ethnicity: Black/African American

Religion: Protestant - Unspecified Christian

Family: Widower (Lillian Miles (deceased)) , 1 child

John Lewis, a Democrat first elected in 1986, made history as a leader of the civil rights movement, an experience that informs his work as a legislator on voting rights and helping the poor and makes him one of the iconic figures in American politics today.

A sharecropper’s son from Troy, Ala., Lewis was seized by religious fervor as a child, preaching in the barnyard, determined to be a minister. Lewis was the first in his family to finish high school. He wrote to activist Ralph Abernathy for help in suing for the right to enter Troy State College, and he met the Rev. Martin Luther King when he was 18. In 1959, at age 19, he helped organize the first lunch counter sit-in, which was received with open hostility. In 1960, the day after John F. Kennedy was elected president, Lewis sat in the Krystal Diner in Nashville, where a waitress poured cleansing powder down his back and water over his food to get him to leave. The restaurant manager then turned a fumigating machine on him.

In May 1961, he was on the first of the Freedom Rides, in which protesters of segregation rode buses through the South and were attacked as they went. Lewis was viciously beaten in Rock Hill, S.C., and Montgomery, Ala. He spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, criticizing Kennedy liberals for inaction on civil rights and calling for massive help for the poor. In 1964, he helped coordinate the Mississippi Freedom Project. And in March 1965, he led the Selma-to-Montgomery march to petition for voting rights. During that historic event, he was beaten by policemen, who fractured his skull. Quietly maintaining his poise and sound judgment under harsh circumstances, Lewis was one of the people who risked their lives to make the civil rights revolution happen. He worked for Robert Kennedy’s campaign for president in 1968 and was with him in Indianapolis when they heard King had been shot. He recounted his experiences in his 1998 autobiography, Walking with the Wind, and in another book published in 2012, Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, in which he describes what he learned in his early years.

Lewis’ first foray into electoral politics was unsuccessful. He ran in 1977 to succeed Democratic Rep. Andrew Young in the House and was soundly beaten by Democrat Wyche Fowler in a special election. After winning a seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1981, Lewis ran again for Congress in 1986 and trailed Julian Bond 47%-35% in the primary. Even though Bond won more than 60% of the black vote, Lewis won the runoff by assembling a coalition of poor blacks and affluent whites. “Vote for the tugboat, not the showboat” was his slogan, stressing his work on local issues. He has been reelected easily ever since.

Lewis has been a strong partisan, with a firmly liberal voting record. Usually quiet, he can speak in the forceful cadences reminiscent of black civil rights-era preachers, as he did in opposition to the Gulf War resolution in January 1991 and to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in December 1998. At the dramatic finale of the health care legislation in March 2010, Lewis linked arms with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and walked to the Capitol through a gauntlet of taunting anti-health care reform protestors. “I think I will remember the walk across the street with John Lewis for the rest of my life,” Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., said later. In a September 2012 speech marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lewis said, “We’re one people, one family, the American family. We live in the same house, the American house, the world house.”

Lewis is the senior chief deputy whip in the Democratic leadership, and also the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee. In 2009, the ethics travails of Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., fueled speculation that Lewis could be an acceptable alternative if Rangel were forced to step down, even though Lewis was only the fifth-ranking Democrat on the panel. But he ultimately ceded the job to Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich. Only occasionally does he defect from his party, as when he opposed the 1994 crime bill because of his disapproval of capital punishment, and when he voted against the Iraq supplemental spending bill in 2007 because it contained funds for continued military action.

Lewis has worked to commemorate the civil rights revolution in which he played such a large part. He got a federal building in Atlanta named for King and won historic trail designation for the demonstrators’ route from Selma to Montgomery. Since 1998, he has led members of Congress on pilgrimages to civil rights sites. Lewis has stoutly defended racial quotas and preferences. He strongly championed the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, and his support helped ensure it carried by a large majority over the objections of critics, who claimed it was no longer necessary.

The 2008 presidential campaign was a difficult experience for Lewis. Following extensive pressure from various camps, he endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2007 as “a strong leader,” and he defended her from attacks by other civil rights leaders. When Barack Obama won the Georgia primary, Lewis came under local and national pressure to switch to his camp. Some of the pressure came from two challengers in the July primary, which Lewis eventually won, with 69% of the vote. In late February, he endorsed Obama “following a long, hard, difficult struggle” and spoke of Obama’s candidacy as a transformational moment. “Something’s happening in America, something some of us did not see coming,” Lewis said. “It’s a movement. It’s a spiritual event.”

Obama welcomed the switch, and Lewis became an outspoken advocate, sometimes excessively so, as in an October statement when he compared the campaign rhetoric of Republican nominee John McCain to that of former segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace of Alabama. McCain called the comparison “beyond the pale.” At the Democratic convention in August, where he was treated as a hero, Lewis broke down in tears as he spoke of Obama’s historic candidacy and the 45th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In a dramatic epilogue to Lewis’ involvement in the presidential campaign, in February 2009, Elwin Wilson of Rock Hill, S.C., apologized on national television for slugging Lewis in the Freedom Ride attack, saying, “I am ashamed.” Seated next to him, Lewis embraced the 68-year-old man, and said, “I forgive you.” Lewis called the apology “amazing, unreal, unbelievable” and said that it showed the “power of reconciliation.”

Four years later, Lewis campaigned vigorously for Obama’s reelection. He complained in September 2011 that a series of voter identification laws and other measures passed by GOP-led state legislatures “constitute the most concerted effort to restrict the right to vote since before the Voting Rights Act.” A year later, he said in a speech in Florida that Democrats needed to respond to criticism that Obama’s supporters are “lost in a sea of despair, that we’re disappointed. That’s not the way I feel.”

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-3801

(202) 225-0351

CHOB- Cannon House Office Building Room 343
Washington, DC 20515-1005

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-3801

(202) 225-0351

CHOB- Cannon House Office Building Room 343
Washington, DC 20515-1005

DISTRICT OFFICE

(404) 659-0116

(404) 331-0947

Equitable Building Suite 1920
Atlanta, GA 30303-1906

DISTRICT OFFICE

(404) 659-0116

(404) 331-0947

Equitable Building Suite 1920
Atlanta, GA 30303-1906

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

2015 Wallace Road
Atlanta, GA 30331

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

2015 Wallace Road
Atlanta, GA 30331

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Election Results

2012 GENERAL
John Lewis
Votes: 234,330
Percent: 84.39%
Howard Stopeck
Votes: 43,335
Percent: 15.61%
2012 PRIMARY
John Lewis
Votes: 69,985
Percent: 80.77%
Michael Johnson
Votes: 16,666
Percent: 19.23%
2010 GENERAL
John Lewis
Votes: 130,782
Percent: 73.72%
Fenn Little
Votes: 46,622
Percent: 26.28%
2010 PRIMARY
John Lewis
Votes: 44,379
Percent: 100.0%
2008 GENERAL
John Lewis
Votes: 231,368
Percent: 99.95%
2008 PRIMARY
John Lewis
Votes: 36,713
Percent: 69.03%
Markel Hutchins
Votes: 8,287
Percent: 15.58%
'Able' Mabl Thomas
Votes: 8,185
Percent: 15.39%
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (74%), 2008 (100%), 2006 (100%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (100%), 2000 (77%), 1998 (79%), 1996 (100%), 1994 (69%), 1992 (72%), 1990 (76%), 1988 (78%), 1986 (75%)

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