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PRESIDENT'S MEDAL

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Congressman John R. Lewis

One of the most courageous leaders to the Civil Rights Movement produced, Congressman John R. Lewis (D-GA) has dedicated his life to protecting human rights and securing personal dignity. He played a key role in the struggle to end segregation, was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and today is a nine-term Congressman representing Georgia’s 5th District which encompasses most of Atlanta. A passionate advocate for nonviolence, Lewis is respected on both sides of the House for his unerring ethical standards.

The son of sharecroppers, Lewis committed himself at a young age to activism and to the doctrine of non-violence practiced by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University and graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tenn.

Lewis helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. In 1961, he risked his life to participate in the Freedom Rides and was twice beaten almost to death, once in 1961 at a Greyhound bus station in Montgomery, Ala., and again in 1965 during a peaceful protest march in Selma, Ala. On the second occasion, Alabama state police attacked the marchers using tear gas, dogs and nightsticks in what came to be known as the "Bloody Sunday" march.

At just 23-years-old, Lewis was one of the organizers of the historic March on Washington and spoke to the same gathering that heard King’s "I Have a Dream" speech.

After leaving SNCC in 1966, Lewis worked with community organizations and was director of the Voter Education Project which, under his leadership, added nearly four million minorities to the rolls. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Lewis director of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency. He was elected to Congress in 1986 and has been senior chief deputy whip in the Democratic Caucus and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. For many years, he served on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and is the chairman of its Subcommittee on Oversight.

In November 2006, Esquire Magazine named Lewis one of the Nine Pillars of Congress, describing him as "a beacon of probity in the House."