John R. Lewis

Civil Rights Icon
& U.S. Representative,
Georgia's 5th Congressional Distric

The 2015 IQLA Laureate is John Lewis, Civil Rights Icon and U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th Congressional Distric. Often called "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced," 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 many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress.

He has been called "the conscience of the U.S. Congress,” and Roll Call magazine has said, "John Lewis…is a genuine American hero and moral leader who commands widespread respect in the chamber.”

He was born the son of sharecroppers on February 21, 1940, outside of Troy, Alabama. He grew up on his family's farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama. As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. In those pivotal moments, he made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Ever since then, he has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.

John Lewis holds a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, Tennessee. He has been awarded over 50 honorary degrees from prestigious colleges and universities throughout the United States, including Harvard University, Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Duke University, Morehouse College, Clark-Atlanta University, Howard University, Brandeis University, Columbia University, Fisk University, and Troy State University.

John Lewis is the recipient of numerous awards from eminent national and international institutions, including the highest civilian honor granted by President Barack Obama, the Medal of Freedom, the Lincoln Medal from the historic Ford’s Theatre, the Golden Plate Award given by the Academy of Excellence, the Preservation Hero award given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Capital Award of the National Council of La Raza, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize, the President’s Medal of Georgetown University, the NAACP Spingarn Medal, the National Education Association Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award, and the only John F. Kennedy "Profile in Courage Award" for Lifetime Achievement ever granted by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

John Lewis is the co-author of the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel memoir trilogy MARCH, written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. The first volume, MARCH: Book One, received a 2014 American Library Association (ALA) Coretta Scott King Book Award Author Honor, an ALA Notable Children's Book designation, was named one of YALSA's 2014 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, and became the first graphic novel ever to receive a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. It was named one of the best books of 2013 by USA Today, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, School Library Journal, The Horn Book Review, Paste, Slate, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist, among others. MARCH: Book Two was released in 2015 and immediately became both a New York Times and Washington Post bestseller. The MARCH series is used in schools across the country to teach the Civil Rights Movement to the next generation of young activists, and has been selected as a First-Year common reading text at colleges and universities such as Michigan State University, Georgia State University, Marquette University, University of Utah, Henderson State University, University of Illinois Springfield, Washburn Univeristy, and many others. He is also the author of Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, written with Brenda Jones, and winner of the 2012 NAACP Image Award for Best Literary Work-Biography. His biography, published in 1998, is entitled Walking With The Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. Written with Michel D'Orso, Walking With The Wind is a receipient of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award as well as the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He is also the subject of two other books written about his life: Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement, by Ann Bausum and John Lewis in the Lead, by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, with illustrations by famous Georgia artist, Bennie Andrews.

IQLA Prior Laureates