Tuesday, February 18, 2020

John Lewis: Getting to Know the Statesman Who Marched for Civil Rights by Jehan Jones Radgowski

In 1965 John Lewis organized a peaceful protest in Selma, Alabama,... to improve voter rights. The first protest took place on March 7. John planned to march from Selma to Montgomery (the state capital). As they crossed the bridge just outside Selma. Alabama state troopers demanded they turn around. Those who did not do so were beaten by police officers. John Lewis's skull was fractured.

Journalists called it "Bloody Sunday." News stations broadcast the images around the world. People were horrified to see violence used against peaceful protesters. Bloody Sunday was a turning point in the civil rights movement. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.

John was born in Troy, Alabama, where he attended a two-room school for black children when he wasn't need to help on his family's farm. As he grew up, Rosa Parks' arrest led the Montgomery bus boycott. Black students led the "sit-ins" which tried to integrate eating places. As a student participated in the "Freedom Riders," who attempted to integrate public accommodations such as buses and trains. One bus was hit and by a firebomb. "Burn them alive," the attackers yelled. But the Riders were sworn to non-violence and they persisted until segregation in public facilities was made illegal by Congress.
John was willing to risk everything for equality. But it was only the beginning of his battle.

There was much more to be done. John Lewis went to college and finally was elected a congressman from Georgia in 1986, where he has served since.

George Lewis has been there through it all, and he still serves in Congress, the last surviving member of the "Big Six," civil rights leaders who worked with Martin Luther King. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 and helped bring about the National Museum of African American History opened in 2016. Jehan Jones-Radgowski's John Lewis: Get to Know the Statesman Who Marched for Civil Rights (People You Should Know) (Capstone Books, 2019) is a brief biography of Lewis which also incorporates the significant moments in the civil rights movement. Brief and succinct, this 32-page non-fiction book covers a lot of ground in American history.  With ample historic illustrations, and names, dates and places, this entry in Capstone's People You Should Know series puts the biography of John Lewis in its historical setting, and includes a glossary, a short bibliography and list of internet sources, and an index to help young researchers in those Black History Month presentations and reports.

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