These John Lewis quotes will help you celebrate his unique position in history.
John Lewis was an American politician and civil rights activist. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders, inspired him to speak out against the unfair treatment of black people. He has been a congressman since 1987, where he has helped to preserve human rights. People often say John Lewis is “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced.”
His parents were sharecroppers who lived outside of Troy, Alabama. He was born at a time in our country when segregation was legal. This was not 400 years ago, or 200 years ago; it was 80 years ago. One lifetime, and while it is comforting to know that we have made progress, it saddens me to think there is still an entire generation of people out there who grew up in that America.
What exactly did John Lewis accomplish?
First, he earned a college degree, which is no minor feat anyway, but he had to leave the state of Alabama just so he could attend college because it was illegal for him to in his home state. In 1961, he became one of the original Freedom Riders.
He was also a speaker at the March to Washington in 1963, the same place that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous, “I have a dream” speech. John Lewis believed that activism was the responsibility of anyone who witnessed injustice, and he spent a lifetime dedicated to the cause.
Don’t forget to also read these Elijah Cummings quotes on hope and justice.
John Lewis quotes that make the claim for activism
1. “I say to people today, ‘You must be prepared if you believe in something. If you believe in something, you have to go for it. As individuals, we may not live to see the end.” – John Lewis
2. “You must be bold, brave, and courageous and find a way… to get in the way.” – John Lewis
3. “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” – John Lewis
4. “I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.” – John Lewis
5. “The civil rights movement was based on faith. Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith. We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something.” – John Lewis
6. “It was not enough to come and listen to a great sermon or message every Sunday morning and be confined to those four walls and those four corners. You had to get out and do something.” – John Lewis
7. “Rosa Parks inspired me to find a way to get in the way, to get in trouble… good trouble, necessary trouble.” – John Lewis
8. “We need some creative tension; people crying out for the things they want.” – John Lewis
9. “What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and it’s grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible.” – John Lewis
10. “Before we went on any protest, whether it was sit-ins or the freedom rides or any march, we prepared ourselves, and we were disciplined. We were committed to the way of peace – the way of non-violence – the way of love – the way of life as the way of living.” – John Lewis
11. “We all live in the same house, we all must be part of the effort to hold down our little house. When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just… do something about it. Say something. Have the courage. Have the backbone. Get in the way. Walk with the wind. It’s all going to work out.” – John Lewis
12. “We need someone who will stand up and speak up and speak out for the people who need help, for people who are being discriminated against. And it doesn’t matter whether they are black or white, Latino, Asian or Native American, whether they are straight or gay, Muslim, Christian, or Jews.” – John Lewis
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13. “I remember back in the 1960s – late ’50s, really – reading a comic book called ‘Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Story.’ Fourteen pages. It sold for 10 cents. And this little book inspired me to attend non-violence workshops, to study about Gandhi, about Thoreau, to study Martin Luther King, Jr., to study civil disobedience.” – John Lewis
John Lewis quotes on the results of activism
14. “Some of us gave a little blood for the right to participate in the democratic process.” – John Lewis
15. “There’s nothing wrong with a little agitation for what’s right or what’s fair.” – John Lewis
16. “Too many people struggled, suffered, and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.” – John Lewis
17. “Following the teaching of Gandhi and Thoreau, Dr. King, it set me on a path. And I never looked back.” – John Lewis
18. “You have to tell the whole truth, the good and the bad, maybe some things that are uncomfortable for some people.” – John Lewis
19. “Never become bitter, and in the process, be happy and just go for it.” – John Lewis
20. “People come up to me in airports, they walk into the office, and they say, ‘I’m going to cry; I’m going to pass out.’ And I say, ‘Please don’t pass out; I’m not a doctor.’” – John Lewis
21. “The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. made me very, very sad, and I mourned and I cried like many of our citizens did.” – John Lewis
John Lewis quotes on inequality, equality and segregation
22. “We are one people with one family. We all live in the same house… and through books, through information, we must find a way to say to people that we must lay down the burden of hate. For hate is too heavy a burden to bear.” – John Lewis
23. “When growing up, I saw segregation. I saw racial discrimination. I saw those signs that said white men, colored men. White women, colored women. White waiting. And I didn’t like it.” – John Lewis
24. “I was so inspired by Dr. King that in 1956, with some of my brothers and sisters and first cousins – I was only 16 years old – we went down to the public library trying to check out some books, and we were told by the librarian that the library was for whites only and not for colors. It was a public library.” – John Lewis
25. “We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jails over and over again. And then you holler, ‘Be patient.’ How long can we be patient?” – John Lewis
26. “I really believe that all of us, as Americans… we all need to be treated like fellow human beings.” – John Lewis
27. “Not one of us can rest, be happy, be at home, be at peace with ourselves, until we end hatred and division.” – John Lewis
28. “I believe race is too heavy a burden to carry into the 21st century. It’s time to lay it down. We all came here in different ships, but now we’re all in the same boat.” – John Lewis
29. “Too many of us still believe our differences define us.” – John Lewis
30. “We are one people; we are only family. And when we finally accept these truths, then we will be able to fulfill Dr. King’s dream to build a beloved community, a nation, and a world at peace with itself.” – John Lewis
31. “We’re one people, and we all live in the same house. Not the American house, but the world house.” – John Lewis
32. “The scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in the American society.” – John Lewis
John Lewis quotes on the progress he has seen in his lifetime
33. “If someone had told me in 1963 that one day I would be in Congress, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” – John Lewis
34. “Now we have black and white elected officials working together. Today, we have gone beyond just passing laws. Now we have to create a sense that we are one community, one family. Really, we are the American family. ” –John Lewis
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35. “I would say the country is a different country. It is a better country. The signs I saw when I was growing up are gone and they will not return. In many ways, the walls of segregation have been torn down.” – John Lewis
36. “When I was a student, I studied philosophy and religion. I talked about being patient. Some people say I was too hopeful, too optimistic, but you have to be optimistic just in keeping with the philosophy of non-violence.” – John Lewis
37. “If you ask me whether the election of Barack Obama is the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, I say, ‘No, it’s just a down payment.” – John Lewis
38. “There are still forces in America that want to divide us along racial lines, religious lines, sex, class. But we’ve come too far; we’ve made too much progress to stop or to pull back. We must go forward. And I believe we will get there.” – John Lewis
39. “Sometimes I hear people saying, ‘Nothing has changed.’ Come and walk in my shoes.” – John Lewis
40. “Sometimes I feel like crying, tears of happiness, tears of joy, to see the distance we’ve come and the progress we’ve made.” – John Lewis
John Lewis quotes on government and voting
41. “The government, both state and federal, has a duty to be reasonable and accommodating.” – John Lewis
42. “In the past, the great majority of minority voters, in Ohio and other places that means African American voters, cast a large percentage of their votes during the early voting process.” – John Lewis
43. “To make it hard, to make it difficult, almost impossible for people to cast a vote is not in keeping with the democratic process.” – John Lewis
44. “Obama is not an African American president, but a president of all Americans. It doesn’t matter if you are black, white, Hispanic, he’s the president of all races.” – John Lewis
45. “The vote controls everything that you do.” – John Lewis
46. “The vote is precious. It’s almost sacred, so go out and vote like you never voted before.” – John Lewis
47. “It’s a shame and a disgrace that so few people take part in the political process.” – John Lewis
48. “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.” – John Lewis
49. “We need comprehensive immigration reform. Dr. King wouldn’t be pleased at all to know that there are millions of people living in the shadow, living in fear in places like Georgia and Alabama.” – John Lewis
If you’re enjoying these quotes, make sure to read our collection of immigration quotes that explore each side of this social issue.
50. “Black men and women were not allowed to register to vote. My own mother, my own father, my grandfather and my uncles and aunts could not register to vote because each time they attempted to register to vote, they were told they could not pass the literacy test.” – John Lewis
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More John Lewis quotes and sayings
51. “I believe in freedom of speech, but I also believe that we have an obligation to condemn speech that is racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic, or hateful.” – John Lewis
52. “Darkness cannot overcome darkness, only light can do that. Violence can never overcome violence, only peace can do that. Hate can never overcome hate, only love can do that.” – John Lewis
53. “Every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation. What legacy do you want to leave behind?” – John Lewis
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54. “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.” – John Lewis
55. “I loved going to the library. It was the first time I ever saw Black newspapers and magazines like JET, Ebony, the Baltimore Afro-American, or the Chicago Defender. And I’ll never forget my librarian.” – John Lewis
56. “Some people have told me that I am a rare bird in the blue sky of dreamers.” – John Lewis
57. “Fury spends itself pretty quickly when there’s no fury facing it.” – John Lewis
58. “I believed innocently and profoundly as a child that the world could be a better place.” – John Lewis
59. “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”― John Lewis
60. “It is only through examining history that you become aware of where you stand within the continuum of change.” – John Lewis
61. “There is a power that can raise you up even from the lowliest of places and guide you to the forefront of change if you truly want to create a better world.” – John Lewis
Which of these John Lewis quotes inspired you to continue his work?
John Lewis has a unique position in history. He was alive to witness one of America’s darkest periods of history and do the work that brought about change. He also lived long enough to see activism lead to new laws and ideas. Leaders across the globe have spoken about John Lewis since his death.
French President, Emmanuel Macron, said, “A lifetime of struggle for civil rights. A lifetime of getting into ‘good trouble,’ of fighting for a world that is more just. A true hero. Indeed, ‘because of you, John.”
The Swedish Prime Minister said, “Learned with great sadness this morning of the passing of John Lewis – an icon of the civil rights movement, a hero and an inspiration to us all. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”
Joe Biden also offered his condolences and stated, “John’s life reminds us that the most powerful symbol of what it means to be an American is what we do with the time we have to make real the promise of our nation — that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally.”
It is up to us now, and the new leaders that the upcoming generations will elect to continue doing the work and ensure a world in which there is equity. A world that doesn’t bully, one that is not unjust, and one where all people are equal.