Editor’s Note: This story was originally published Feb. 21, 2019, for Rep. John Lewis’ 79th birthday.
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 honor of the civil rights icon’s 79th birthday on Thursday, Feb. 21, we decided to dig through the web for some of the change-maker’s most viral internet moments in recent years.
Here are 13 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 on Sunday, Feb. 3.
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
Lewis is slated to introduce one of the eight best picture nominees at Sunday’s Academy Awards.
“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 will join 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 didn’t catch this fun video of Lewis dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” at an Abrams campaign event last year, you’re missing out. Watch below:
5. That time Freedom Parkway was renamed for him
Last year, 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.
“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.
“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."
In 2017, after Lewis publicly announced he would skip 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 continues to boycott Trump’s speeches.
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 re-created the outfit he wore when he marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., 50 years ago.
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.
“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.
In 2015, the recipient of the National Constitution Center of Philadelphia's Liberty Medal was the Dalai Lama. The next year, it was Lewis.
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.
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 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 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.”
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