For six decades John Robert Lewis (1940–2020) was a towering figure in the U.S. struggle for civil rights. As an activist and progressive congressman, he was renowned for his unshakable integrity, indomitable courage, and determination to get into “good trouble.”
In this first book-length biography of Lewis, Raymond Arsenault traces Lewis’s upbringing in rural Alabama, his activism as a Freedom Rider and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, his championing of voting rights and anti-poverty initiatives, and his decades of service as the “conscience of Congress.”
Both in the streets and in Congress, Lewis promoted a philosophy of nonviolence to bring about change. He helped the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders plan the 1963 March on Washington, where he spoke at the Lincoln Memorial. Lewis’s activism led to repeated arrests and beatings, most notably when he suffered a skull fracture in Selma, Alabama, during the 1965 police attack later known as Bloody Sunday. He was instrumental in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and in Congress he advocated for racial and economic justice, immigration reform, LGBTQ rights, and national health care.
Arsenault recounts Lewis’s lifetime of work toward one overarching goal: realizing the “beloved community,” an ideal society based in equity and inclusion. Lewis never wavered in this pursuit, and even in death his influence endures, inspiring mobilization and resistance in the fight for social justice.
“Beautifully written and deeply researched, Arsenault’s biography of John Lewis captures his indomitable courage and steadfast moral clarity.”— Mia Bay, author of Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance
“Arsenault’s highly readable book presents us not just with an indispensable chronicle of a transformative era, but with the portrait of a remarkable human being whose character and vision challenge us all to live up to both his ideals and his sacrifices.”—Drew Gilpin Faust, Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor and President Emerita, Harvard University
“This is a lovely, honest, and thorough book about an American hero who should be better known.”—Thomas E. Ricks, author of Waging a Good War: How the Civil Rights Movement Won Its Battles, 1954–1968
“An inspiring and movingly drawn portrait of a true American hero who, armed only with raw moral courage, managed to leave his beloved nation better than he found it.”—Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., author of Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith