12 times Rep. John Lewis broke the internet in 2016

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12 times Rep. John Lewis broke the internet in 2016

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Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., waves after being presented with the Liberty Medal for his dedication to civil rights during a ceremony at the National Constitution Center, Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, in Philadelphia. The honor is given annually to an individual who displays courage and conviction while striving to secure liberty for people worldwide. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

U.S. Rep. John Lewis marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963, was elected to Congress in 1986 and has been awarded more than 50 honorary degrees from prestigious universities in his lifetime. 

In 2016, the civil rights icon who represents Atlanta and Georgia’s 5th Congressional District continued to earn big headlines by outraging critics, earning praise from supporters and crowd surfing on live television.

Here are 11 times Lewis had the internet buzzing in 2016:

In January, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus revealed the USNS Lewis, a U.S. Navy replenishment oiler named for the 76-year-old Georgia congressman.

The ship, the first of a fleet of oilers known as the John Lewis class, "will, for decades to come, serve as a visible symbol of the freedoms Representative Lewis holds dear, and his example will live on in the steel of that ship and in all those who will serve aboard her," Mabus said.

In June, however, Republican U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi introduced a bill that would block the Navy from naming ships and fleets after lawmakers who haven't served either as president or in the military, including Lewis.

According to The Washington Post, Palazzo says the legislation “has nothing — absolutely zero — to do with John Lewis or any other member of Congress."

September 11, 2015 Atlanta - Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders smiles as he speaks during his first Atlanta fundraiser at 200 Peachtree on Friday, September 11, 2015. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate, mades his first Georgia visit of the campaign on Friday for an Atlanta fundraiser. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/hshin@ajc.com

In February, Lewis' dismissal of Sanders' work on racial equality in the 1960s caused quite the uproar.

"I never saw him. I never met him," the Georgia congressman said about Sanders' involvement during the time period.

But soon after making headlines, Lewis released a statement saying he "did not intend to 'disparage' Bernie Sanders," according to a previous Atlanta Journal-Constitution report.

“The fact that I did not meet him in the movement does not mean I doubted that Sen. Sanders participated in the Civil Rights Movement, neither was I attempting to disparage his activism,” he said.

Lewis formally nominated Hillary Clinton for president in July.

This photo provided by Rep. Chillie Pingree,D-Maine, shows Democrat members of Congress, including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., center, and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn. as they participate in sit-down protest seeking a a vote on gun control measures, Wednesday, June 22, 2016, on the floor of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Rep. Chillie Pingree via AP) Rep. Chillie Pingree/AP

Lewis led the sit-in on the House floor to try to force gun control legislation following the June 12 Orlando, Fla., attack that left 50 people dead and 53 others wounded.


“Sitting there on the floor, I felt like I was reliving my life all over again,” he said to reporters. “During the ’60s the sit-ins started with three or four people, and they spread like wildfire. This will spread.”

Though the sit-in gained national praise on social media, the AJC's Tamar Hallerman reported that Lewis and other Democrats faced an ethics complaint for fundraising off the protest.

Members of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, an independent, conservative-leaning ethics watchdog group, called for investigations into several of the sit-in participants.

“This type of behavior is precisely why the public distrusts elected officials,” the complaint states.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the effort a "political stunt."

During a Congressional Black Caucus press conference less than one day after 12 police officers were shot in Dallas and after the controversial deaths of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castillo, by white law enforcement, Lewis called for unity and nonviolence.

“The scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in American society,” Lewis said. “We cannot sweep it under the rug in some dark corner. We have to deal with it, all of us.”

In July, the DeKalb County school board voted 6-1 to name a school after Lewis, but the decision caused some debate among the board members.

One member — Stan Jester — questioned the naming procedure and was accused of having racially motivated concerns.

Lewis joined other cosplayers — people who dress up in costume — in full costume at San Diego Comic Con after speaking about his graphic novel "March."


Jerry Emmett — the 102-year-old honorary chairwoman of Arizona's delegation — told the AJC's Erica Hernandez she never imagined she would get to meet Lewis.

But after he addressed Arizona delegates at the Democratic National Convention in July, she finally met him.

“She cried and I cried with her,” Lewis said. “It’s very moving to see people who have lived so many years and to see that their hopes and their dreams, their aspirations, are realized.”

And the internet just about lost it, especially when Colbert shared the video on Twitter.


Watch the full interview below:

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. holds the new installment of his award-winning graphic novel on civil rights and nonviolent protest, on Capitol Hill in Washington. A comic book about Martin Luther King Jr. helped bring John Lewis into the civil rights movement. The longtime Democratic congressman from Georgia now hopes that graphic novels about his life and what his contemporaries endured to overcome racism will guide today's protesters in search of justice. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite/AP

On Sept. 12, Lewis and his co-authors, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, were recognized for the final piece in a trilogy on Lewis' years in the civil rights movement.

For the young people's literature category, the graphic novel titled "March: Book Three" made the long list for a National Book Award.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., wipes his face during a ceremony where he was being presented with the Liberty Medal for his dedication to civil rights at the National Constitution Center, Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, in Philadelphia. The honor is given annually to an individual who displays courage and conviction while striving to secure liberty for people worldwide. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Matt Slocum/AP

Last year’s recipient of the National Constitution Center of Philadelphia's Liberty Medal was the Dalai Lama. This year, it's Lewis.

The medal was awarded to Lewis on Sept. 19 for his work in "help[ing] to extend the blessings of liberty and equality to all Americans," National Constitution Center CEO Jeffrey Rosen said.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. speaks during the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

After Lewis spent 15 years fighting for the landmark, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on Sept. 24.

It's the Smithsonian's latest addition to Washington's National Mall and another "historic crusade" for Lewis.

Lewis sat with President Barack Obama as he dedicated the museum Saturday and gave a compelling six-minute speech about the museum and its significance later that morning.

The AJC's Tamar Hallerman previously reported that Lewis plans to give the new museum some of his mementos, including a pair of slave shackles given to him by an Alabama farmer and perhaps the pen President Lyndon Johnson gave him when he signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Lewis choked up during his speech on Wednesday, Nov. 16 as he accepted the National Book Award for young people's literature.

“This is unreal,” Lewis said, according to the Star Tribune. “This is unbelievable. I grew up in rural Alabama, very, very poor, very few books in that home.”

RECOMMENDED VIDEO: John Lewis revisits Selma 50 years later

It was 50 years ago when a young John Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Lewis talks with AJC about that historic day and how it changed the Civil Rights movement. (Video by Ryon Horne/AJC)
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