chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

About the 2019 Recipient

Honoring Congressman John Lewis

The Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice honored civil rights leader John Lewis with the 2019 ABA Thurgood Marshall Award. The legendary John Lewis was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, a founding member and Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the only one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders who organized the 1964 March on Washington still living, a 17 term congressional leader, and one of only two Lifetime Achievement recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award.

The conscience of the U.S. Congress.

Roll Call Magazine

Often called "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced," Congressman John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls "The Beloved Community” in America. His dedication to the highest ethical standards and moral principles has won him the admiration of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress, and of Americans all over the country.

As a boy, John Lewis was inspired by the activism of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. In those pivotal moments, he decided to become part of the Civil Rights Movement. Ever since, he has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.

He was one of the original 13 participants in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. During the height of the Movement, he helped form and was Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC was largely responsible for organizing student activism in the Movement, including sit-ins and other activities.

While still a very young man, John Lewis became a nationally recognized leader. By 1963, he was one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed John Lewis to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency. In 1981, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. While on the Council, he was an advocate for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. He was first elected to Congress in November 1986 and has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District ever since.

Congressman Lewis received the first ever LBJ Liberty and Justice for All Award, is one of two Lifetime Achievement awardees of the JFK Library Foundation Profile in Courage Award, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2018, construction began on the USNS John Lewis, a navy ship named in his honor.