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The Big Six: John Lewis and His Contemporaries


SNCC leader John LewisJohn Lewis is arrested and taken to jail.

Despite his youth, John Lewis became a recognized leader in the Civil Rights Movement. The other "Big Six" leaders were Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer and Roy Wilkins.  Lewis, at the age of 23, was one of the planners and a keynote speaker at the historic “March on Washington” in August 1963.

SNCC:  While attending the American Baptist Theological Seminary John Lewis became a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

John Lewis was first elected to the House of Representatives (D-GA) in 1986 after serving for four years on the Atlanta city council. His work in the early and mid '60s as a civil rights leader and Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) nearly cost him his life at the hands of angry white mobs and club wielding state troopers.

My Work is Not Done, John Lewis says.  His medal is for those jailed or killed in the struggle.                 

Remembering Bloody Sunday: The Young John Lewis  - beaten, kicked, bandaged, spat on, jailed 40 times - stares out of almost every photograph.

We Shall Overcome: First Baptist Church, along with its close neighbor, Brown Chapel AME Church, played a pivotal role in the Selma, Alabama, marches that helped lead to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Congressman John Lewis  frequently appears on the college lecture circuit. He has been awarded  honorary degrees from Clark Atlanta University, Columbia University, Fisk University, Princeton University, Williams College and  the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize.
The Honorable John Lewis  received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University at Albany in 2001.
 Described as "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced," John Lewis  has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing personal dignity and building what he calls the "The Beloved Community."

"When I was growing up, I couldn't check a book out of the public library in the town where I grew up in Alabama. I couldn't get a library card."                         John Lewis

 James Farmer

Several  Christian pacifists, chief among them, James Farmer,
founded the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942.                                                  

James Farmer Dies. James Farmer, Civil Rights giant  in the 50's and 60's once said "I was meant to die that night," ...  "They were kicking open doors, beating up blacks in the streets, interrogating them with electric cattle prods."  A funeral home director had Farmer  "play dead" in the back of a hearse that carried him along back roads and out of town.

Another fallen warrior:  Reflections on the death of James FarmerPresident Clinton awarded James Farmer the Presidential Medal of freedom in 1998. "He was one of the founding fathers not just of the new South, but of the New America," said Congressman John Lewis.

Whitney Young

We Shall Overcome. A short biographical sketch of Whitney Young includes a picture of his birthplace.  Young was one of the role  models for John Lewis.

Nancy J. Weiss, in her 1989 book, "Whitney M. Young Jr. and the Struggle for Civil Rights," wrote that Whitney Young "spent most of his adult life in the white world, transcending barriers of race, wealth and social standing to advance the welfare of black Americans. His goal was to gain access for blacks to good jobs, education, housing, health care and social services. His tactics were reason, persuasion and negotiation.

"Someone has to work within the system to change it"  was how Whitney Young often explained
 his own position and the National Urban League’s role in the struggle for equality. Founded in 1910, the Urban League worked to improve the lives of African Americans, particularly those moving from the rural south to northern cities. It provided job training, as well as assistance with housing, education, health care and social services."

Places of  Historic Significance This page is a listing of the remarkable sites in this nation where so much of the fight for Civil Rights took place.

During the Second World War, Whitney Young served  in an anti-aircraft company of African American soldiers with white officers.  This experience of racism increased his interest in C
ivil Rights.

In 1969 Whitney Young  was one of the 20 Americans selected by President Johnson to receive the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

Until his tragic and untimely death in 1971 Whitney Young Jr.  was Executive Director of the National Urban League. He worked tirelessly to bring the races together.

The Annual National Urban League Conferences perpetuate Young' s legacy through presentation of leadership awards in memory of Whitney Young Jr.

A. Philip Randolph


For Jobs and Freedom:  A Chronology of Blacks in the Labor Movement. A Philip Randolph  was born April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida, one of two sons of Reverend James William and Elizabeth Robinson Randolph, both  descendants of slaves.

As spokesperson for African American rights in the 1940's and 1950's, A. Philip Randolph  stepped into the limelight and became a very visible national spokesperson for Civil Rights in America.         

The March on Washington was initiated by A. Philip Randolph, international president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labor Council, and vice president of the AFL-CIO. The March was sponsored by five of the largest Civil Rights organizations in the United States. Randolph led 250,000 people in the historic 1963 March on Washington. He spoke for all the dispossessed: Blacks, poor Whites, Puerto Ricans, Indians and Mexican Americans.

Roy Wilkins

Roy Wilkins addressed the "March for Jobs and Freedom."
History and Politics out loud.

National Civil Rights Museum: The Struggle Continues Virtual Tour
This tour is arranged in chronological order beginning with Brown v. the Board of Education and you may begin with the first exhibit and move on to the next exhibit through links at the end of the page.                   

The Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice is a research, teaching center in the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, devoted to find problems of racial inequality.

Alabama Moments in American History included the March on Washington with spotlight on Roy Wilkins                   

This is a great honor for Roy Wilkins' memory, the Wilkins family and the NAACP he served so well for  so long"  said Julian Bond, NAACP Chairman, Board of Directors. "Always soft-spoken, he carried a big stick leading the thousands of organized volunteers of the country's oldest and largest civil rights organization. We honor ourselves when we honor him."

Roy Wilkins, the director of the (NAACP) National Association for the Advancement of Colored people, was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1901. He attended Minnesota University in 1923, then joined the staff, of the Crisis. As director of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins testified before many congressional hearings and he talked with the U.S. presidents of the Civil Right era. Wilkins contributed  legally and financially to help less fortunate people.

Roy Wilkins  Memorial Park: The central element in this sculpture is a ‘spiral’ advancing to higher levels through a series of cyclical movements. The spiral is used to symbolically represent Mr. Wilkins’ lifetime achievements. The walls in the memorial symbolize the barriers and obstacles created by racial segregation, that impede the progress of African Americans and people of color towards achieving equality.                  

Roy Wilkins  and others are featured in the
Bibliography for Students on "Leaders in the Struggle for Civil Rights"  Web site. An excellent source for students on Civil Rights history, with background on the leaders represented here and the roles of their organization, can be found in The March on Washington by James Haskins.

Roy Wilkins                          
Anti Defamation League's American Democratic Legacy Award
Alpha Phi Psi Fraternity's Outstanding Citizen Award
American Jewish Congress' Civil Rights Award
Boy Scout's Scout of the Year Award
Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award of the University of Minnesota
Japanese - American Citizens' League Award
Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice
B'nai B'rith Lodges Award
The Jewish War Veterans Award
The Postal Alliance Award
The National Medical Association Award
The Eastern Star Lodge Award
The Russwurm Award
National Newspaper Publishers Association
The NAACP Springarn Medal

Hosea Williams

Civil Rights leader Hosea Williams died in 2000.  President Clinton called Williams a foot soldier for freedom. "From his bravery in the fields of battle in World War 11, to his leadership in the Civil Rights struggle at home, Hosea Williams was a profile in courage,"

Semla, Alabama, March 7, 1965

Hosea  Williams and John Lewis marched in the Front Line for Freedom

Inspired  by Martin Luther King Jr., Hosea Williams  and John Lewis organized the "Bloody Sunday" protest march in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, that left more than 80 people injured.   Williams and John Lewis led the line of demonstrators through the streets of Selma, Alabama.  The police violence that day led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act . 

Williams began life in abject poverty, born January 5th, l926.  The son of an unmarried  teenager who had been committed to a trade institute for the blind in Macon, Georgia, Hosea Williams only knew that his father was another blind teenager.

Williams joined the NAACP but faced discrimination within that organization's ranks when his status as the child of unmarried parents prevented him from serving on its board.                      

Hosea Williams and John Lewis ...  demonstrated for African American voting rights and to commemorate the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, shot three weeks earlier by a state trooper while trying to protect his mother at a Civil Rights demonstration.

Twice more, groups tried to cross that bridge.  The third time, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and a phalanx of leaders from across the religious spectrum (including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) succeeded under the protection of the United States Army.  Three hundred people completed the walk to Montgomery; 25.000 accompanied them by the time they entered the capital city. The third crossing took place on March 21.                             
On November 16, 2000, Rev. Hosea Williams,  died of complications from kidney cancer at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.  Hosea is most famous for his philosophy of being "Un-BOSSED and Un- BOUGHT," which allowed him to continue his fight against injustice on political and economic fronts throughout his life. He continued  to his last days giving hope to the hopeless and a voice to the voiceless.

In the death of Hosea Williams,  one of Dr. King's most trusted and effective field workers, America has lost a distinguished Civil Rights warrior.


     Lewis' Peers From the North


Stokely Carmichael                            Marion Barry                       Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin     

Stokely Carmichael was born in the Port of Spain, Trinidad, on 29th June, 1941. Carmichael moved to the United States in 1952 and attended high school in New York City. He entered Howard University in 1960 and soon afterwards joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

H. Rap Brown was born in Baton Rouge on 4th October 1943. While attending Southern University (1960 to 1964) he joined the civil rights organization, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee  (SNCC). He became Alabama project director in 1966 and national director of (SNCC) after Carmichael left in May, 1967.
Brown converted to the Dar-ul Islam movement in the 1970s, and changed his name to Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.

Marion Barry  was elected national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960.  He was elected mayor of the District of Columbia.  He held the post until 1998.

The Movement

The Big Six  including John Lewis at 23 years old

The Results of the March     
Immediately after the march, due to prior arrangements, the Top Ten (Roy Wilkins, Walter Reuter, Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, A. Philip Randolph, Joachim Prinz, John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, and Matthew Ahmann) met to discuss their future.  They  had many things to discuss, and a very short time in which to do it.

Civil Rights Movement      
There is no doubt that the Civil Rights Movement that began in the late 1950s in the American South pricked the conscience of our nation, transformed black-white political, economic and social relations, and had a profound affect on the rest of the world.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.                       
James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., fought over 25 years for a retrial.  He insisted that he did not kill Dr. King.

Martin Luther King, Jr.                                    
Unfortunately, many people remain blissfully unaware of the horrific racial inequities that Dr. King decried in "I Have a Dream."

African American Political and Cultural Figures                                  
While he was the Washington, D.C., political reporter for The Saturday Evening Post, Ollie Atkins had the occasion to  photograph several important African American leaders during the 1960s.  From the March on Washington in August 1963 to the Poor People's Campaign of May 1960, he photographed many important figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and Roy Wilkins.

Civil Rights Movement                                             
The Ku Klux Klan hoped that this violent treatment would stop other young people from taking part in freedom rides. However,  over a thousand people took part in freedom rides.

The March on Washington                                           
In the summer of 1963, a single event captured the attention of the world: The March on Washington. More than 250,000 people came to the nation's capital to demand equality for blacks and urge Congress to pass pending civil rights legislation.  

Civil Rights Movement                                              
Images of 20th Century African American Activists: A Select List

Civil Rights Movement                           
March on Washington: A massive public demonstration that articulated the goals of the Civil Rights Movement. It was A. Philip Randolph who conceived the march.  In 1941 his threat to assemble 100,000 African Americans in the capital helped convince President Franklin D. Roosevelt to sign an executive order banning discrimination in the defense industries and creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee.  More than 20 years later, Randolph revived his idea.  His primary interest, as always, was jobs - African Americans were disproportionately unemployed and underpaid.

Civil Rights Movement                                  
Two hundred students were jailed on election day in Jackson. The downplaying of such news, which would be splashed across the front page in today's newspapers, was the order of the day in the 1960s. The Jackson Sun, like many small Southern newspapers, largely ignored the civil rights movement as it occurred in its backyard.

Civil Rights Act                                       
A commentary on the Civil Rights Bill and history since it has been past.

Civil Rights Movement                            
Encyclopedia of USA History:  The Struggle for Civil Rights

Congress of Racial Equality Members were mainly
pacifists who had been deeply influenced by Henry David Thoreau and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent civil disobedience campaign that he used successfully against British rule in India.

Civil Rights                               
A bibliography for students on leaders in the struggle  for civil rights.

Civil Rights                                 
Profile in Courage:  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Foundation

Freedom Rides:
As night fell, a mob of several thousand whites surrounded the church.  The blacks could not leave safely.  At 3 AM, Dr. King called Robert Kennedy and Kennedy called Governor Patterson.  Patterson declared martial law and sent in state police and the National Guard.  The mob dispersed and the blacks left safely.
Time 100: Leaders & Revolutionaries
Profile of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Useful Links
Biographies of John Lewis
Lewis' Writings, Speeches, Awards, Tributes
Lewis' Congressional Activitites

Bibliography of Works by or about Civil Rights Leaders
Histories of SNCC and other Organizations

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