Study Guide

John Lewis (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) in I Have a Dream

By Martin Luther King, Jr.

John Lewis (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee)

Many people spend college partying, sleeping in, skipping class, and eating cold bricks of Top Ramen. (Yum.) A select few spend college trying to end racism—a much better reason to skip class than "Sorry, I was up all night playing Final Fantasy."

The Civil Rights Movement had young and old people, average citizens, religious leaders, and—you can't leave these people out—students. In fact, students were some of the most visible protesters.

John Lewis was a principle founder of the organization called the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The group coordinated (it's even in the name) efforts throughout the '50s and early '60s to "sit-in," a peaceful form of protest. Students would go to restaurants and cafes marked "for whites only" and hang around, ignoring the signs. (Source)

(By the way, this form of protest is mentioned in the Kanye West song "Never Let Me Down." Check out the lyrics.)

Lewis was prepared to give everything to advance the cause. During a series of sit-ins in Nashville, a gang of white people mugged him. Lewis started to wonder if the movement would actually cost him his life, but he pressed on. (Source)

To quote another famous college student: when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

In the early '60s, the SNCC hooked up with MLK's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. As one of the most prominent young people in the whole movement, John Lewis gave a major speech at the March on Washington. That's right, he was a headliner right alongside MLK.

At the time, in 1963, Lewis was only twenty-three years old—the age when most people are neck deep in quarter-life crises. But Lewis didn't have time to worry about the end of his fun-filled youth—because he was too busy worrying about how to change America for the better. (Source)

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