John Lewis: Man of the people

In 2018, two-year-old Pheonix Lewis and her mother Saidah Lewis, bumped into John Lewis at Atlantic Station. Naturally, they took a photo with the congressman. To mark his passing, Pheonix Lewis visited his mural and left flowers - and the photo.
In 2018, two-year-old Pheonix Lewis and her mother Saidah Lewis, bumped into John Lewis at Atlantic Station. Naturally, they took a photo with the congressman. To mark his passing, Pheonix Lewis visited his mural and left flowers - and the photo.

Credit: Saidah and Zena Lewis

Credit: Saidah and Zena Lewis

Congressman and civil rights icon never met a camera he didn't like, or a hand he didn't shake

Two summers ago, Saidah Lewis and her then two-year-old daughter Phoenix Lewis had just finished having lunch at Atlantic Station, minding their own businesses, when they caught a glimpse of John Lewis.

She was nervous, but Saidah Lewis introduced herself to the long-time congressman and civil rights icon.

“I thanked him for his service and asked him if we could have a picture,” she said.

After a few group photos, John Lewis reached down and picked up Phoenix Lewis, for a photo of just the two of them.

“It was just natural. She was holding on to him like she knew him. It was almost surreal,” Saidah Lewis said. “I couldn’t believe I was in the presence of such a great man and to have it documented that he was holding my daughter. She didn’t understand then, but with time she is going to understand who this great man was and the memories that she will have from that moment.”

ExploreJOHN LEWIS PHOTOS: Readers share their ribbons, other tributes to John Lewis

Since the death of John Lewis on July 17, traditional and social media have been filled with stories about and tributes to the long-time congressman and civil rights icon.

But the social media presence has been special. Dozens, if not hundreds of photographs have been posted of Lewis with snapshots of ordinary people.

At grocery stores. In malls. In his office. In the park. At the airport.

If you had a camera and John Lewis, chances are, you have a photograph with him.

Lewis’ younger brother Henry Grant Lewis mused that a 10-minute trip to the grocery store would turn into a three-hour mission, because he would shake every hand and pose for every picture. “That is the kind of person my brother was.”

And that is why, two years after bumping into Lewis at Atlantic Station, the now four-year-old Phoenix and her father Zena visited the John Lewis mural in downtown Atlanta.

Along with a bouquet of flowers, she carried with her a framed photo of her and the congressman.

“It is very powerful that we have that image,” Zena Lewis said.

Phoenix carefully placed the flowers at the foot of the memorial.

She also left the photo – as a gift.

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Congressman John Lewis
ExploreJohn Lewis funeral schedule - and how to celebrate the life of the civil rights icon

Here is how Lewis touched others, in their words:

Beth Browning - The Cheerleader

Hope Browning and John Lewis
Hope Browning and John Lewis

Credit: Beth Browning

Credit: Beth Browning

In March of 2019, my daughter, Hope, and I were on our way out of town for a cheerleading competition. We were at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and I saw John Lewis walking through with some of his security. I prompted my daughter to go up and introduce herself and ask for a picture. He was so welcoming and cordial. He wanted to know all about her cheer buttons on her backpack and asked for her name. He never hesitated for a moment to speak to us and happily obliged for a picture! So genuine! What a legend.

ExploreJohn Lewis guestbook: Read and share the notes, memories, photos and condolences left by readers

Angalita Stephens - You can be president

My son, Henry Stephens IV, had an opportunity to interview John Lewis in 2013 at the age of 10 as a reporter from Augusta. History is his favorite subject so meeting and interviewing his hero was beyond amazing. Mr. Lewis invited him to Washington D.C. I recorded the interview and took pictures. It was an experience that we will never forget. The office was full of pictures like a civil rights museum. Mr. Lewis walked in and the room was filled with peace. He was so humble and kind. It was so full of wisdom. He shared with Henry how proud he was of him, being a young professional reporter and encouraged him to become president one day. After the interview, he invited him back in June of 2014 to vote on the floor with him. Henry later had the pleasure of introducing him, before an address in the district where Henry also gave him an award. John Lewis will be missed by many.

Robyn and Stuart Jackson - Something to believe in

Robyn and Stuart Jackson and John Lewis
Robyn and Stuart Jackson and John Lewis

Credit: Robyn and Stuart Jackson

Credit: Robyn and Stuart Jackson

The couple was canvassing for Pete Buttigieg at the Decatur Book Festival last Labor Day when Lewis came up to them and said: “thank you for being here and keep up the good work.”

“It was awesome, said Stuart Jackson. “He told us he would be honored to take a picture with someone who was campaigning for something they believed in.”

Sharon Sigler - Fan Girl

Sharon Sigler and John Lewis
Sharon Sigler and John Lewis

Credit: Sharon Sigler

Credit: Sharon Sigler

“Keep getting in good trouble,” Rep. John Lewis quietly said to me as we posed for a photo. We were at a register-to-vote rally for Jon Ossoff in September 2019. He had gathered around him so many people, who wanted to be in the presence of a civil rights icon. It was a fairly warm day, so I had brought my WJZA/ Smooth Jazz 100/101 hand fan with me. I worked at WJZA as an account executive. He saw my fan and said “I like smooth jazz. I listen to that station.” So I quickly placed the fan in his hand, and the photo was taken.

ExploreA family story about John Lewis from the AJC's Bill Torpy. How John Lewis treated us not as ‘good trouble,’ but no trouble

Mitzi Williams - In awe

Mitzi Williams and John Lewis
Mitzi Williams and John Lewis

Credit: Mitzi Williams

Credit: Mitzi Williams

I took a trip to Washington, D.C. in March 2014 for a conference. I hung around his office hoping to catch a glimpse of Mr. Lewis. His intern actually allowed me and another coworker to stay for a few minutes and to our surprise, he walked in! He spent about an hour with us and talked about stories that kept us in awe. In touched my heart.

Jamie Gray - Tie shopping

Jamie Gray and John Lewis
Jamie Gray and John Lewis

Credit: Jamie Gray

Credit: Jamie Gray

Though a 5th District resident, I was stationed in Washington, D.C. at the time. On a trip home to Atlanta, my best friends and godchildren, we ran into the congressman at Macy’s. He asked the kids to help him pick a tie. After he learned that they actually lived in Maryland, he invited them to come help him cast some of his votes on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Marjorie Pak - School visit

Marjorie Pak and John Lewis
Marjorie Pak and John Lewis

Credit: Marjorie Pak

Credit: Marjorie Pak

He visited our daughter’s school (Midtown International School) in fall 2017. This is him signing her copy of “March.”

Kimberly Vernon - Just walking along

Kimberly Vernon and John Lewis
Kimberly Vernon and John Lewis

Credit: Kimberly Vernon

Credit: Kimberly Vernon

Just walking along at Atlantic Station, there he was! I was so honored to see him with my daughter, who was five at the time. He will be greatly missed.

Kathryn Bryant - Sooo nervous

Kathryn Bryant and John Lewis
Kathryn Bryant and John Lewis

Credit: Kathryn Bryant

Credit: Kathryn Bryant

I remember being sooo nervous asking for this picture, but he was very gracious. Both of us were tired after a long day, coming to Atlanta from D.C. He and I were often on the same flight when D.C. was my region for work. I truly appreciate what he and many others accomplished towards civil rights.

Beth Haynes - Quiet minutes

Beth Haynes and John Lewis
Beth Haynes and John Lewis

Credit: Beth Haynes

Credit: Beth Haynes

Congressman Lewis was at the Center for Civil and Human Rights to receive one of the countless awards he received during his career. We had a few quiet minutes together before the ceremony. I don’t know exactly what I was saying. It was something about how he stayed the course for so long, but look at how intently he was listening. He treated everyone with so much grace and dignity. We have to say goodbye to one of the best people we’ve ever been blessed with.

Amber Efé Tingle - Coca-Cola and peanuts

Amber Efé Tingle and John Lewis
Amber Efé Tingle and John Lewis

Credit: Amber Efé Tingle

Credit: Amber Efé Tingle

Oglethorpe Elementary School took a field trip to D.C. in 1990 and Congressman Lewis welcomed us! Yes, it’s a Polaroid! We drank Coca-Cola and ate peanuts. I interned with him when I was at Howard University in Spring 2000 as a Patricia Roberts Harris Public Affairs Fellow. And the last picture is at the Peachtree Road Race finish line in 2012. “He hugged me and I was sweaty and he didn’t care,” Tingle said. “He was an exceptional man. He was exactly who we thought he was. A wonderful man. A man of the people and he loved us.”

Anna Rains - Who are you looking for?

Anna Rains
Anna Rains

Credit: Anna Rains

Credit: Anna Rains

Earlier this year John Lewis joined Jon Ossoff for a political rally. I was one of the people helping Jon organize the event. One of my first jobs of the day was to get Lewis out of his Uber. But once he got in the Uber we had no way of contacting him. So about an hour went by and no sign of him. I was worried, running around the venue looking for him. After about 15 minutes and in the back of the venue through a side door, a man tapped on my shoulder and said, “who are you looking for?” It was Rep. Lewis. I turned around and said, “you.” He shook my hand and I walked him to the green room.

Gil Robison - Birthday party

Gil Robison and John Lewis
Gil Robison and John Lewis

Credit: Gil Robison

Credit: Gil Robison

Photo of me with John Lewis the last time I saw him, at Tom Houck’s birthday party.

Tamara Stevens - Dancing with a dinosaur

Tamara Stevens , T-Rex and John Lewis
Tamara Stevens , T-Rex and John Lewis

Credit: Tamara Stevens

Credit: Tamara Stevens

Remembering that time I danced with John Lewis in a T-Rex costume at Juneteenth in Marietta.

Carmen Ashley - Runway

Carmen Ashley and John Lewis
Carmen Ashley and John Lewis

Credit: Carmen Ashley

Credit: Carmen Ashley

On Oct. 12, 2016, I was fortunate enough to be on the same ATL-DCA flight with Rep. John Lewis. I remember playing amateur quarterback, running to get off the plane to catch a moment with him before he went about his day. Of course, I wasn’t the only one trying to do so. Still, Rep. Lewis had no problem talking with each of us who wanted to meet him – even taking pictures as requested.

Armin and Annie Baur - Calmness and Peace

Armin and Annie Baur and John Lewis
Armin and Annie Baur and John Lewis

Credit: Armin and Annie Baur

Credit: Armin and Annie Baur

My wife and I met the congressman during our visit to Atlanta in 2018. We told John that we greatly appreciate his work in Washington and he in turn assured us that he will continue fighting the injustice. Meeting John in person was a humble experience we will never forget. His presence radiated an air of calmness and peace.

Wendell Crittenden - New Year’s shopping

Wendell Crittenden and John Lewis
Wendell Crittenden and John Lewis

Credit: Wendell Crittenden

Credit: Wendell Crittenden

This photo was taken at Dillard’s Atlantic Station on Jan. 1, 2019. I’m not sure if Congressman Lewis was preparing for an event, however, our paths crossed and he was kind enough to converse with me for a few moments and take this photo. I was so honored to be in his presence. This photo has been and will remain one of my cherished possessions.

Elizabeth Wallace - Preaching to the choir

Elizabeth Wallace and John Lewis
Elizabeth Wallace and John Lewis

Credit: Elizabeth Wallace

Credit: Elizabeth Wallace

I am a nurse at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital. I work in the inpatient dialysis unit helping folks with end-stage renal disease. Through my professional nursing organization, I lobbied House and Senate leaders from Georgia in the halls of Congress several years ago, asking for funds to expand and protect the nursing workforce and for protection for kidney donors. Fortunately, in John Lewis’ office, we were preaching to the choir. Which left time for photos and learning more about the civil rights movement.

Rachel Norwood - Up close

Rachel Norwood and John Lewis
Rachel Norwood and John Lewis

Credit: Rachel Norwood

Credit: Rachel Norwood

My husband took this photo of my daughter and me at Atlanta Pride in October of 2014. We had moved to Atlanta from Athens and I was so excited to get to see one of the heroes of the civil rights movements up close.

Jennifer Dickey - Buckhead bookstore

Jennifer Dickey and John Lewis
Jennifer Dickey and John Lewis

Credit: Jennifer Dickey

Credit: Jennifer Dickey

At a book signing at the Buckhead Barnes & Noble.

Colleen McNamara - St. Patrick’s Day

Colleen McNamara and John Lewis
Colleen McNamara and John Lewis

Credit: Colleen McNamara

Credit: Colleen McNamara

I met John Lewis in 2013 at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Atlanta. I have to admit, when I moved to Atlanta in 1993, I didn’t know much about Mr. Lewis. I heard him speak at an AIDS Walk and I was mesmerized. I came home and read everything I could find about the man’s work. As the parade was finishing up, I saw him on the stage and no one seemed to be paying attention to him. I’m not the most forward person, but I wasn’t going to let my chance go by. I walked up to him and was warmly greeted with a handshake. He listened so politely as I gushed about how

ExploreJohn Lewis was grand marshal of the Atlanta St. Patrick's Day Parade in 2017

he was a hero of mine. Then we talked for a bit about the importance of children learning about the civil rights struggle.

Lana Lockhart - Morehouse rally

Lana Lockhart and John Lewis
Lana Lockhart and John Lewis

Credit: Lana Lockhart

Credit: Lana Lockhart

I met Congressman John Lewis at a campaign rally for Stacey Abrams at Morehouse College. This is also the rally that former president Barack Obama attended.

Janine Evans - Laundry on The Hill

Janine Evans and John Lewis
Janine Evans and John Lewis

Credit: Janine Evans

Credit: Janine Evans

Saturday morning brunch on The Hill in 2017 and who do I meet on the way to drop off his white shirts to the cleaners? I told him that he needed to have his congressional interns do that. He told me that he liked to get out in the fresh air and meet people. The conversation will forever be a treasured memory.

Nichole Francis Reynolds - Children’s school

Clark and Stella Grace Reynolds and John Lewis
Clark and Stella Grace Reynolds and John Lewis

Credit: Nichole Francis Reynolds

Credit: Nichole Francis Reynolds

Nichole Francis Reynolds worked on Capitol Hill and knew Congressman Lewis very well. She invited him to speak at Beauvoir, The National Cathedral School, where her children attend and he accepted the invitation. And of course, he posed for a picture with Clark and Stella Grace.

Dee Griffin - Hello Fiskite

Pierce Griffin and John Lewis
Pierce Griffin and John Lewis

Credit: Dee Griffin

Credit: Dee Griffin

I was at the 2016 Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Boule when Congressman Lewis was being swiftly ushered through the convention center. I got close and said, “Hello fellow Fiskite!” He immediately stopped and motioned for my son. He spoke with my son for a little bit then I asked to snap a picture. He took a few minutes to make sure everyone felt welcomed and he looked us in our eyes. Congressman Lewis made sure my son knew he mattered!

Add Seymour - Nashville reminiscing

Add Seymour and John Lewis
Add Seymour and John Lewis

Credit: Add Seymour

Credit: Add Seymour

At the Morehouse Gala in 2016, when Lewis was given a Candle Award for Lifetime Achievement in Civil Rights and Public Service. I ran into him before the gala started and he asked me where I was from. After I said Nashville, he smiled and we talked awhile about the city, the way it was then and how it was to grow up there. We had a really fun and cool conversation.

Aryeonne Johnson - Ageism talk

Aryeonne Johnson and John Lewis
Aryeonne Johnson and John Lewis

Credit: Aryeonne Johnson

Credit: Aryeonne Johnson

I met him when he participated in the Distinguished Speaker Series at Georgia State University. He spoke about ageism and I was able to interview him afterward. He was passionate about the oversight and discrimination of older adults. He spoke about how our generation could learn from the elders. He emphasized that their contributions to society were being disregarded more and more.

Krista Harrell - South Alabama commencement

Krista Harrell and John Lewis
Krista Harrell and John Lewis

Credit: Krista Harrell

Credit: Krista Harrell

I was blessed to have met him in 2015 when he was the December commencement speaker at The University of South Alabama. My amazing boss, Mike Mitchell, knew how much I wanted to be at the lunch before the ceremony to hear him speak to the small group and let me be his plus one. Speaking to him was a dream and hearing his genuine conviction in every word he shared with us was a moment of a lifetime.

Sherial Cubit - Kroger aisle at Cascade

Sherial Cubit and John Lewis
Sherial Cubit and John Lewis

Credit: Sherial Cubit

Credit: Sherial Cubit

When you find one of your heroes making groceries and you enjoy a chat about the state of our country. A couple of years ago, I ran into John Lewis at our neighborhood Kroger at Cascade and 285. He was walking in front of me, and I asked, “don’t I know you?” He said, “of course you do!” We pulled out of the main path to chat, and he gave me more time than I expected. As we parted, he invited me to call on him whenever I need anything. I kept my cool in person and cried when I got to my car.

Renee Nixon - Remembering a father

Renee Nixon and John Lewis
Renee Nixon and John Lewis

Credit: Renee Nixon

Credit: Renee Nixon

The radio station that I work for asked me to interview Congressmen John Lewis and GK Butterfield. The interviews were supposed to be five minutes but Mr. Lewis could talk and it ended up being between 15 minutes. After the interview, Mr. Butterfield mentions to Mr. Lewis who my father was and his eyes brighten and he looked at me and said that he knew my father very well. A wave of pride kinda hit me.

Kimberly Willis Green - MARTA opening

Kimberly Willis Green and John Lewis
Kimberly Willis Green and John Lewis

Credit: Kimberly Willis Green

Credit: Kimberly Willis Green

This photo of Congressman John Lewis and I was taken on Dec. 15, 2000, the day I coordinated the opening of the Sandy Springs and North Springs MARTA stations as an assistant communications officer. This was my first time meeting him and he was very kind to everyone and didn’t want a lot of fanfare.

Fumiko Sakashita - Once in a lifetime

ajc.com

Credit: Fumiko Sakashita

I was in Atlanta in November 2018 to attend the annual meeting of the American Studies Association. I bumped into Congressman Lewis, who seemed to have just come back from a business trip, at the airport. I couldn’t believe my eyes but managed to greet him and shook his hand. Then I went to the restroom. That could have been it. I ended up chasing him down to the parking lot. I called his name as I approached, and he noticed that it was the same person whom he had just met minutes ago. I asked him for a picture in tears, saying that I couldn’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime occasion because I was holding a bag that said: “The March Continues” (from Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery) and wearing a Legacy Museum T-shirt. I told him that I had just visited Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma for research and that I study African American history. He wished me a safe trip. Heading back to the international terminal, I was crying, and my heart was pounding. A few days later I printed a few copies of a picture of us and displayed them on the bookshelves in my university office, one facing me, the other sitting behind me. Looking at these pictures has made me feel encouraged and motivated to continue to do my small part in helping the public in Japan better understand the life and history of African Americans.

Brett Feldman - Student activist

Brett Feldman and John Lewis
Brett Feldman and John Lewis

Credit: Brett Feldman

Credit: Brett Feldman

I first met Congressman Lewis when I was a 21-year-old student at the University of Georgia. I traveled to Washington as a student activist, lobbying members of Congress for continued support for Israel. I had not scheduled a meeting with Congressman Lewis in advance but was hoping to stop in to shake his hand and say hello. After taking one step into his office, I was not greeted by a staffer or an intern, but by Congressman Lewis himself. He took my hand and grabbed my arm as if he had known me for my entire life. I was somewhat startled by this - a man I admired so highly and who was a national hero - was speaking with me and genuinely interested in my story. We spoke about my experiences as a student activist, a Jewish kid in Georgia, and my responsibility as a member of the next generation of leaders. It instantly became one of the most memorable and impactful moments of my life.

Crystal and Derek Parten - Two meetings

Crystal and Derek Parten and John Lewis
Crystal and Derek Parten and John Lewis

Credit: Crystal and Derek Parten

Credit: Crystal and Derek Parten

I met him in 2003 when I gave the invocation before his speech at Young Harris College. I was able to spend a little time with him and he signed his book “Walking with the Wind” for me. I met him again in 2018 while touring the Carter Center. I asked a security guard if we could approach him, and were told that was fine. He was such a force for good throughout his life. It breaks my heart that he is now gone but I am so thankful for such a courageous American that helped to make our country a more perfect union and that I was privileged enough to meet him.

John Robert Lewis. 1940-2020

Stella Grace Reynolds and John Lewis
Stella Grace Reynolds and John Lewis

Credit: Nichole Francis Reynolds

Credit: Nichole Francis Reynolds

ExploreSpecial presentation: Remembering John Lewis 1940-2020