A compilation of John Lewis’ best quotes and memorable moments

1. Lewis was physically attacked and injured several times marching for civil rights in the '60s. 2. He was the youngest speaker in 1963's March on Washington. 3. President Obama awarded Lewis the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive. 4. Lewis has spent decades protesting injustice. He has been arrested 45 times, including 5 times as a congressman. 5. He has also written several acclaimed books, including a graphic novel about Selma.

John Lewis, who died late Friday at age 80, was the last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Lewis was best known for leading 600 protesters in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

Here is a compilation of Lewis’ most memorable quotes, courtesy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Associated Press, and noteworthy moments:

“As I was growing up in rural Alabama, I saw all around me the system of segregation and racial discrimination. The visible signs in the little town of Troy, the population of about 7,000, we saw the sign that said ‘colored only.’ White only. Colored waiting. .... In a little 5&10 store was a civil fountain, a clean fountain for white people to come and drink water, but in another corner of the store there was a little spigot, a rusty spigot, (that) said ‘colored drinking.' And I became resentful of the sign and all the visible evidence of segregation and racial discrimination.”

— Interview conducted for “America, They Loved You Madly,” a precursor to the 1987 documentary “Eyes on the Prize.”

“You saw these men putting on their gas masks and behind the state troopers are a group of men, part of the sheriff’s posse, on horses. They came toward us, beating us with nightsticks, trampling us with horses, and releasing their tear gas. I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick. My legs went from under me. I don’t know how I made it back across the bridge but apparently a group just literally took me back.”

— Recounting the Bloody Sunday confrontation of March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, in an oral history interview conducted by the House historian, Dec. 11, 2014.

“For four years I had traveled by bus from going from rural Alabama to Montgomery, Montgomery to Birmingham, Birmingham to Nashville and I saw the segregation, the racial discrimination. I saw those signs that said white waiting, colored waiting; white men, colored men...and I wanted to do something about it. And the Freedom Rides was my opportunity to do something about it.”

— Recounting the Freedom Rides in an interview with the AJC in June 2018.

“Selma is a place where we injected something very meaningful into our democracy. We opened up the political process and made it possible for hundreds and thousands and millions of people to come in and be participants.”

— Oral history interview conducted by the House historian, Dec. 11, 2014.

“He was my friend. He was my hero. I loved him. He was like a big brother.”

— Reflecting on his relationship with King during interview on Jan. 17, 2015.

“My involvement in the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery have been the driving force. When I was younger I spent a lot of time going to Washington. I remember the first time going there for the Freedom Rides, then going back there for the March on Washington and to meet with President Kennedy.”

— Reflecting on what led Lewis to enter politics, in an interview with the AJC in June 2018.

“Our goal was true freedom for every American. Since then, America has made a lot of progress. We are a different society than we were in 1961. And in 2008 we showed the world the true promise of America when we elected President Barack Obama.”

— Campaign speech for Obama in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 6, 2012.

King “inspired me to stand up, to speak up, and speak out. And I got in the way, I got in trouble — good trouble, necessary trouble. ...You must find a way to get in the way and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. … You have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, when you leave here, to go out and seek justice for all. You can do it. You must do it.”

— Recounting his first meeting with King in his address to Bates College’s Class of 2016.

“We must continue to teach the way of peace, the way of love, the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence. And never, ever give up on any of our brothers and sisters. We’re one people; we’re one family.”

In an interview with MSNBC in late May 2020 about protests that were sweeping the nation.

“My dear friends: Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”

— Speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 6, 2012.

“I kept saying to myself: How many more? How many young black men will be murdered? It made me so sad. It was so painful. It made me cry.”

— In a June 2020 interview with “CBS This Morning” after watching the video of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”

— Remarks atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020.

Lewis marched with King in 1963, was elected to Congress in 1986 and was awarded more than 50 honorary degrees from prestigious universities in his lifetime.

In honor of the civil rights icon’s 79th birthday in 2019, the AJC decided to dig through the web for some of Lewis’ most viral internet moments in recent years.

Here are 15 times Lewis had the internet buzzing:

1. His super moment at Atlanta’s Super Bowl

Lewis joined fellow Atlanta leaders Bernice King and Andrew Young for the coin toss before the city’s mega showdown between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams in 2019.

While many viewers raved about an inspiring vision, others argued the league had used the African American icons “as props” in light of its backlash against former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s #TakeAKnee protests against police brutality toward blacks.

But some Twitter users reminded the public that Lewis had been “taking a knee for 57 years.” Here’s a photo he liked himself on the day of the game:

2. When Lewis was announced as an Oscars presenter

'Black Panther' Makes History With Oscar Nomination for Best Picture It is the first superhero film to receive the honor at the Academy Awards. 'Black Panther' received lots of praise from critics and audiences when it was released in February last year. Many have considered it to be a cultural milestone thanks to its nearly all-black cast. The 2019 Academy Awards are set to air on February 21 on ABC.

Lewis introduced one of the eight best picture nominees at the Academy Awards in 2019.

“The press release didn’t identify which film he’ll introduce but it will likely be ‘Green Book,’ since that was set in the South during the early 1960s and addresses black-white relationships at the time,” the AJC’s Rodney Ho reported.

Lewis joined fellow presenters Serena Williams, Trevor Noah, Queen Latifah and Barbra Streisand.

3. That time he marched across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge with a 10-year-old fan on the 53rd anniversary of Bloody Sunday

Fourth grader Tybre Faw of Johnson City, Tennessee, traveled seven hours with his grandmother to Selma, Alabama, to join his hero in March 2018.

According to the Tennessean, "Lewis invited him to join the annual commemorative march across the Edmond Pettus Bridge, where Lewis and others were beaten in 1965 by Alabama state troopers who had ordered them to disperse."

“It showed me that it doesn’t matter what your age is, how old you are, you can still be active in standing up for what you're supposed to be for,” the 10-year-old said.

4. His ‘Happy’ dance while campaigning for Stacey Abrams

If you haven’t seen this fun video of Lewis dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” at a Stacey Abrams campaign event when she ran for governor, you’re missing out. Watch below:

5. That time Freedom Parkway was renamed for him


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In 2018, Lewis’ family members, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and former Mayors Shirley Franklin and Bill Campbell gathered for the unveiling of John Lewis Freedom Parkway.

“John Lewis is synonymous with freedom. He’s our hero.” said Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens when asked about the pick.

Bottoms also presented Lewis with the Phoenix Award, which she called the highest honor from the mayor’s office that can be bestowed on someone, the AJC previously reported. The newly named parkway adds to the list of other Atlanta odes to Lewis, including a mural on Auburn Avenue, John Lewis Plaza in Freedom Park and the John Lewis Invictus Academy.

6. When he led a gun control sit-in on the House floor after the June 2016 Orlando massacre


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Lewis led the sit-in on the House floor to try to force gun control legislation after the June 12, 2016, Orlando, Florida, attack that left 50 people dead and 53 others wounded.

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.

7. That time President Donald Trump called him out on Twitter and Atlantans were not having it

In 2017, after Lewis publicly announced he would skip Donald Trump’s inauguration because he doesn’t see him as a “legitimate president,” Trump attacked the Georgia congressman’s 5th District.

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results,” Trump tweeted. The backlash against Lewis didn’t go over too well in Atlanta. Lewis continued to boycott Trump’s speeches.

8. When he showed up to San Diego's 2016 Comic-Con in full costume

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."

Lewis recreated the outfit he wore when he marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, 50 years ago.

9. The day he met this 102-year-old delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention


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Jerry Emmett — the then-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 2016, she finally met him.

10. The night he crowd surfed on Stephen Colbert's 'Late Show'


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

11. That time he won the prestigious Liberty Medal for his civil rights work


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The medal was awarded to Lewis on Sept. 19, 2016, for his work in "help[ing] to extend the blessings of liberty and equality to all Americans," National Constitution Center CEO Jeffrey Rosen said.

12. When he had his dream realized with the opening of the Smithsonian’s African American museum


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After Lewis spent 15 years fighting for the landmark, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on Sept. 24, 2016.

It was 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 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 planned 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.

13. When he won the National Book Award for his graphic novel "March: Book Three"


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Lewis choked up during his speech Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, as he accepted the National Book Award for young people's literature.

“This is unreal,” he said. “This is unbelievable. I grew up in rural Alabama, very, very poor, very few books in that home.”

14. When he visited the Black Lives Matter street mural in Washington

Lewis made an early morning stop at Washington’s 16th Street to take in a new mural authorized by Mayor Muriel Bowser in early June 2020.

A reporter for the local Fox affiliate caught his reaction to the two-block-long art piece that includes the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

“It’s very moving. Very moving. Impressive,” Lewis said, according to Stephanie Ramirez.

15. When he surprised marchers with a visit to Selma for the 55th anniversary of Bloody Sunday

Lewis participated in the commemoration of the 55th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March 2020.

“I’m inspired to come back to this bridge and to see so many people who are gathered here today,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


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Editor’s Note: This story was originally published Feb. 21, 2019, for Rep. John Lewis’ 79th birthday.