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Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement

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An eloquent, epic firsthand account of the civil rights movement by a man who lived it-an American hero whose courage, vision, and dedication helped change history. The son of an Alabama sharecropper, and now a sixth-term United States Congressman, John Lewis has led an extraordinary life, one that found him at the epicenter of the civil rights movement in the late '50s and '60s. As Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis was present at all the major battlefields of the movement. Arrested more than forty times and severely beaten on several occasions, he was one of the youngest yet most courageous leaders.

Written with charm, warmth, and honesty, Walking with the Wind offers rare insight into the movement and the personalities of all the civil rights leaders-what was happening behind the scenes, the infighting, struggles, and triumphs. Lewis takes us from the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where he led more than five hundred marchers on what became known as "Bloody Sunday." While there have been exceptional books on the movement, there has never been a front-line account by a man like John Lewis. A true American hero, his story is "destined to become a classic in civil rights literature." (Los Angeles Times)

496 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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About the author

John Lewis

30 books859 followers
John Robert Lewis was the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, serving since 1987 and was the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. He was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), playing a key role in the struggle to end segregation. He was a member of the Democratic Party and was one of the most liberal legislators.

Barack Obama honoured Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and they marched hand in hand in Selma on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday attack (March 7, 1965).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 494 reviews
Profile Image for Howard.
339 reviews244 followers
January 31, 2021

HEADLINE -- January 31, 2021

Georgia County To Replace Confederate Monument With John Lewis Statue


John Lewis has died. His favorite poem says it all:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

-- Invictus, William Ernest Henley


In the wake of the presidential election of 2016 and reports that Russian hackers had influenced the outcome in favor of Donald Trump, Congressman John Lewis was quoted as saying “I don’t see the president-elect as a legitimate president” and that he would not be attending the inauguration.

Mr. Trump, never one to allow a criticism to go untweeted, reached for his always handy phone on the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday and tweeted that Lewis should “spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to … mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.”

He went on to accuse Lewis of being “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”

Journalists and other individuals were quick to point out that Lewis’ personal history was characterized by much action and little talk. Furthermore, many of them pointed out that his district, which includes some of the more affluent sections of Atlanta, was doing much better than Trump indicated.

One of the by-products of the dispute was that Lewis’ books experienced resurgence in sales. His autobiography, Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, sold out on Amazon with used copies going for nearly a hundred dollars. The March trilogy went to number one and also sold out. Across that Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change sold out as well.

Was Trump ignorant of Lewis’ personal history or was he gambling that the public had forgotten or was unaware of the passionate and courageous actions of a man of peace who still in his early twenties rose to the top of one of the major organizations in the civil rights movement of the 1960s? Did he know that Lewis, dedicated to the principles of nonviolent protest against injustice, was arrested forty times; was imprisoned for forty days in the Mississippi State Penitentiary; was beaten and knocked unconscious during the Freedom Rides; and sustained a fractured skull at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama? Did he know that Lewis was the youngest person to speak at the historic March on Washington and is the last living person to have done so?

Those book sales indicate to me that the public had not forgotten or at least learned through news stories detailing the controversy that Lewis was anything but “all talk.”

David Remnick said it best when he wrote in The New Yorker:

“One can agree or not with Lewis when he calls Trump’s legitimacy into doubt. What cannot be doubted is Lewis’ exemplary life, his moral gravity and authority. He is the rare figure who reminds a people of the fragility of their freedoms and puts his body on the line to protect them.”

Lewis writes in Walking With the Wind that his well-known stubborn streak and his religion were keys to his dogged attachment to his principles that allowed him to survive the 60s.

Unlike some of the major Civil Rights leaders he was not flamboyant or a great orator. Instead of “all talk,” he was truly a man of action. He contrasted himself with “people who are like fireworks, popping off right and left with lots of sound and sizzle….Where will they be at the end?... Firecrackers go off in a flash then leave nothing but ashes. I prefer a pilot light – the flame is nothing flashy, but once it is lit, it doesn’t go out. It burns steadily, and it burns forever.”

In 1986, Lewis was elected to the House of Representatives. Every two years since then he has been re-elected. In a total of sixteen elections, including 2018, he ran unopposed seven times. In only one of those elections did he receive less than seventy per cent of the vote and in that one he received sixty-nine per cent.

He has been called “the conscience of Congress.” I don’t think that goes far enough. For many years this son of Alabama sharecroppers has been “the conscience of the nation.” You name it and John Lewis was there.

If Trump was not playing games when he criticized Lewis and truly did not know about the sacrifices this honorable man of conscience, compassion and action made during his formative years, he should turn off the TV, put down his phone, and read Walking With the Wind.
Profile Image for Michael O'Brien.
313 reviews93 followers
December 15, 2019
This is a memoir by Congressman John Lewis dealing mostly with his experiences as a civil rights leader in the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This is an outstanding history of a difficult time in American history, the Civil Rights Era, that, sadly, is increasingly forgotten or diminished in the minds of succeeding generations.

John Lewis grew up in a large family in southern Alabama in grinding poverty. A very, very tough upbringing in a sharecropper family whose way of life and agricultural methods had changed little from the Civil War, even though it was in the 1940s. Infrastructure was primitive and education for black youth was poor, both due to the demands of sharecropper farming and due to Alabama’s low funding for black education. It’s a way of life that toughened the young John Lewis and made him esteem education as well as motivate him to desire a better way for his fellow black citizens.

After graduating from high school, Lewis went to a Baptist seminary with the aim of becoming a preacher, but soon became involved with other students who would form SNCC.

If great civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy. Thurgood Marshall, and others were the generals of the movement, it was men like Lewis who would be its platoon leaders and foot soldiers —- the ones who would put into practice the principles of nonviolence and peaceful civil disobedience and who would be the very first ones to feel the blow from police clubs, the sting of tear gas, the bite of police dogs. This is where the value of this memoir truly is.

While avoiding self-promotion, Lewis tells the story of what this was like for those at the front lines of ending Jim Crow in the South. It is an amazing story of courage, love, and incredible patience because, notwithstanding the gross injustice and cruelty with which they were treated by white southern authorities and citizens, SNCC volunteers and individual black citizens never wavered in these qualities. In so doing, they captured the imagination of an America that had been previously indifferent to the plight of black Americans.

I was particularly moved by Lewis’ account of his experiences as a Freedom Rider —- in which SNCC sought to exercise the right of interstate bus travel mandated by Federal court order but ignored and unenforced in the South. In this Lewis and his companions were very nearly beaten to death by an angry mob as well as having their bus burned, almost with them being trapped inside.

With each success, SNCC grew with more volunteers of all races, many from outside the South. In addition, whilst before many members of SNCC were either seminarians or of a religious background, these new members would, over time, change the nature of SNCC profoundly.

As the struggle dragged on, some results were made, but grudgingly and slowly. Some began to question the effectiveness of MLK’s nonviolence. Two events would weaken the integrationist and nonviolent portions of the movement: the 1964 Democratic National Convention and “Bloody Sunday “ in Selma. The state Democratic Parties in the South were whites only, and their delegations reflected that. SNCC and the SCLC worked to send a rival “Democratic Freedom Party” that had a delegation elected by black voters that had illegally been kept from voting. Despite all the work these had done, in contesting for credentials at the 1964 Convention, the national Democratic Party at the behest of LBJ double crossed them, seating the segregationists instead. In doing so, moderate black leaders like MLK and Lewis were discredited —- working within the system, following the rules seemed like a fool’s errand — and black separatist demagogues such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael gained increasingly large followings in the Movement.

In 1965, SNCC and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) continued efforts to register blacks to vote, facing bitter resistance especially in Mississippi and Alabama. That year, black citizens chose to march peacefully to the courthouse in Selma, only to be blocked and then attacked by the police. In this attack, Lewis sustained a fractured skull after a severe beating from a trooper as well as many other demonstrators being wounded or killed in this atrocity. It outraged the nation, and finally Congress and the President acted with new civil rights legislation.

But it was too late. The black power wing would point again and again to Bloody Sunday as well as other injustices and now they had the initiative. MLK, himself, was being called “Uncle Tom” . And so was Lewis, the man whose body bore the marks and damage from numerous police beatings by this time. Stokely Carmichael replaced Lewis as SNCC’s chairman, would change SNCC so much that wags began referring to it as the “Nonstudent Violent Coordinating Committee”, would purge SNCC of its white members, and run it into the ground.

Nevertheless, Lewis left SNCC, no longer able to abide its racial divisiveness and hatred under its new radical leadership, and built a new direction in his life, one that would lead eventually to his election as a congressman in Georgia.

While I cannot agree with all of Lewis’s policy ideas for today and think his notion of applying the nonviolence that worked in the Civil Rights Movement to foreign and national security policy to be dangerously naive, I do believe he is a man of conviction, integrity, honor, and courage. I highly recommend this book for anyone desiring to learn more on the Civil Rights Movement, and am glad I added it to my reading list when I choose Civil Rights Era as my reading topics for 2019!
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books815 followers
November 7, 2018
This autobiography is subtitled A Memoir of the Movement and, yes, the story of the Civil Rights Movement is the main focus; but it’s also more than that. Lewis begins with his childhood, his life with his hardworking parents in Alabama. He feels different from his parents, from his siblings, he wants more. He hides until he can catch the school bus, instead of working in the cotton fields. He awakens to what that ‘more’ is the moment he hears Martin Luther King, Jr., on the radio preaching a “social gospel.” At the articulation of what he’d been in search of, he feels an instant connection, an awakening, and never looks back.

Some of the events detailed in this book were familiar to me from the March trilogy of graphic novels, but it was great to get more detail, especially since in March I found the different names of the different people in various groups, some of which overlapped, rather confusing. I was once again touched by the account of Lewis’ childhood, especially at his care and love for his chickens from the time he was four years old. I was moved by his reactions after the murders of King and Robert Kennedy. I teared up at the end of the chapter that accounts Lewis’ first Congressional win.

Reading March, I'd struggled with understanding how these courageous young people could endure such physical violence. Lewis does a great job explaining that here, though I still marvel at their nonviolent “tactics,” which include making eye contact with their attackers; picturing them as innocent babies and as victims of their upbringing; and loving them. As Lewis says, you have to believe in all of this with your whole being, as a way of life. Not many can do what he's done and I started to think of him as a ‘saint.’ When I read of a Times magazine article naming him (along with other individuals like Mother Teresa) a “living saint," I realized what I’d been thinking wasn’t a stretch.

Lewis loves humanity, individually and collectively, and he has empathy to spare. In the last chapter he warns of the consequences of the track we're on, and says he feels he’s living in the past in many ways—this book was published in 1998. March, published later, speaks of Lewis’ hope and encouragement when Obama was elected, but I know Lewis is back to feeling the way he did in 1998—and, likely, worse. Personally, I am struck by how similar the conditions at the U.S.-Mexican border right now seem to those in 1965 that led to Bloody Sunday on the bridge in Selma.

I finished the book yesterday, Election Day in the U.S., appropriate as Lewis fought so hard, almost losing his life, in his efforts to ensure that the 15th Amendment was enforced in every state.

Thank you to my good friend Howard for recommending this book to me, as well as for sharing with me his admiration for John Lewis. It’s been a rewarding, enriching experience, one I likely wouldn’t have had without his friendship.
Profile Image for Erin .
1,274 reviews1,197 followers
June 6, 2017
Some people think John Lewis is "all talk" and has "never done anything" but those people are idiots and should be treated as such.

John Lewis is a Congressman, Civil-Rights Icon, Husband, Father, and Servant For Justice.
John Lewis did more before the age of 25 than most people will do if they live to be 125. As a college student Congressman Lewis led efforts to desegregate Nashville through sit-ins. His guidelines became the rules by which all other nonviolent activists in the civil rights movement would follow. In Selma he was nearly beaten to death by state troopers. Even in his sixth decade as a freedom fighter Congressman Lewis continues to fight the good fight. In the 60's he fought against the racism of George Wallace and today he leads the fight against the racism of Donald Trump. John Lewis is an American Hero and I recommend this book and The March Series to anyone who wants to see courage in action.

Popsugar 2017 Reading Challenge: Book Written by Someone You Admire.
Profile Image for Lorna.
719 reviews417 followers
October 11, 2020
Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement written by civil rights icon John Lewis in 1998, was a compelling look at the history of the civil rights movement from one who tirelessly devoted his life to ensuring freedom and justice for all. Having lived through the tumultuous 1950's and 1960's, this stunning memoir was a testament to the resilience, courage and resolve of all of those dedicated to the cause of the civil rights movement and with that vision, helped to change the history of this nation. John Lewis was at the forefront of this movement working with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Reverend James M. Lawson, Ralph D. Abernathy, Julian Bond, Harry Belafonte, Diane Nash, C.T. Vivien, and so many other historical figures engaged in peaceful and non-violent protests to bring about racial equality. His personal accounts of the Freedom Riders and the March from Selma to Montgomery were riveting, as were his experiences with Governor George Wallace and the bombing and subsequent killing of four little black girls in a Birmingham church. John Lewis takes us back to those volatile times including the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy. This was an amazing life and we are all better for having had him among us; what an inspirational and beautiful life. John Lewis, you will be missed.

"It was at this time that I began believing in what I call the Spirit of History. Others might call it Fate. Or Destiny. Or a Guiding Hand. Whatever it is called, I came to believe that this force is on the side of what is good, of what is right and just. It is the essence of the moral force of the universe, and at certain points in life, in the flow of human existence and circumstances, this force, this spirit, finds you or selects you, it chases you down, and you have no choice; you must allow yourself to be used, to be guided by this force and to carry out what must be done."

"The same Bobby Kennedy who had resisted responding to so many of our pleas early on in the movement ended up out front later on, leading a one man crusade across the country, speaking out against hunger, against poverty, going into Mississippi, into the Southwest, going to the Indian reservations, going into the coal-mining sections of West Virginia, standing up and speaking for the dispossessed of all races--blacks, Hispanics, Native-Americans, Appalachian whites."

"Dr. King used to say there is nothing more powerful than the rhythm of marching feet, and that was what this was, the marching feet of a determined people. That was the only sound you could hear."
Profile Image for Sarah.
87 reviews13 followers
February 10, 2008
Want to know more about the Civil Rights movement? Want to hear about
it from a perspective other than Martin Luther King Jr.s? This is the
book! Reading this book I realized how little I really know about the
Civil Rights movement. I don't remember huge discussions about this
life changing and country changing movement in school. That should change!

John Lewis is a contemporary of MLK. He is the son of sharecroppers
and part of a very large family all of whom worked in the fields
starting at 5 or 6 years old. He had a deep love of God and a desire
to share his faith to the point where when put in charge of taking
care of the chickens, he spent hours preaching to them and conducting
funerals for those who had died.

This conviction carried him through into school and eventually college
- a much different path than his family had planned for him. John
carries his faith convictions through the entire memoir - making it
more than a book of facts about each event and more of a personal
story of his faith and how it guided him in decisions and
steadfastness to nonviolent demonstration for significant change in
this country. He was key in organizing and participating in some of
the first major demonstrations (sit-ins and picket lines) and then in
the major walks and protests that took place around the south.

Despite the horrific events that he lived through I found the book to
be really positive - he always comes back to his belief that in spite
of the horrible things happening he believes that love expressed in
nonviolence will change the course of the country and individuals in a
positive way.

I just really was amazed and moved by John's continued hope for race
relations and his love for individuals even when they were beating him
over the head with a bat - it was amazing.

"Love is the central motif of nonviolence. Love is the force by which
God binds man to Himself and man to man. Such love goes to the
extreme; it remains loving and forgiving even in the midst of
hostility. It matches the capacity of evil to inflict suffering with
an even more enduring capacity to absorb evil, all the while
persisting in love."
Profile Image for Mikey B..
1,005 reviews374 followers
November 14, 2018
John Lewis is a true American hero. He grew up dirt poor in rural Alabama. He left home for religious studies in Nashville in 1958, but quickly became involved in the burgeoning civil rights movement. John Lewis always had an innate sense of right from wrong – and he knew segregation was evil and anti-humanitarian. He became increasingly involved as a pacifist protester. He was influenced as well by the actions and non-violent doctrine of Dr. Martin Luther King who a few years before had succeeded in desegregating the buses in Montgomery, Alabama. So John Lewis, with a group of like-minded people, began training in non-violence to break-down the segregation at lunch-counters in Woolworth and other assorted stores in Nashville.

This autobiography is visceral – John Lewis was beaten on several occasions and was arrested multiple times. He encountered racism head-on and did not flinch. He always maintained his non-violent position in front of often barbaric policemen and authority figures. Not only did he participate in trying to integrate lunch counters, but he was in the “Freedom Rides”, he spoke in the March on Washington in 1963, and he went to rural Alabama and Mississippi to attempt to register black voters. He was beaten unconscious in Selma, Alabama in a voter march.

We get close-up views of the participants in the civil rights movement. Mr. Lewis is not afraid to express his opinion on many of them. He also knew the value of having the media close by during the protracted and often violent confrontations in the Jim Crow South. The level of hatred of many white southerners towards both the protestors and the media is astounding.

John was chairman of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) from 1963 until 1966. Their main goal during that time period was to register black voters in the South. During 1965 SNCC began to splinter – some members wanted SNCC to become more aggressive and renounce non-violence, and there were others who did not want white members. John Lewis was opposed to both these options – he was always committed to both non-violence and an integrated America. He resigned from SNCC.

John Lewis is a religious person but he does not overwhelm you with this in his story. He points out the essential role of the church, and the activist women in the church, who often provided a safe haven from the dangerous outside world. The church was often the rallying point for the Civil Rights movement.

John Lewis continued his political activism. Eventually he ran for Congress in 1987 in Atlanta, Georgia and won. What a transition! From being a protestor with multiple arrests, to becoming a U.S. representative in Washington D.C.!

This is a remarkable and gripping journey. It is very insightful and essential to an understanding of the United States in the latter half of the 20th century.

Page 307 (my book)

They were the rank and file, in Selma, in Americus, in Little Rock, everywhere. You see their faces today in photographs in history books and nobody knows their names. That young guy sitting stoically at the lunch counter in Jackson with mustard streaming down his face and a mob of white hoodlums crowded around him and taunting and laughing – who is he? Where is he today? The young man whose pants leg is being torn by a snarling German shepherd in Birmingham – what is his name? Where is he? Whatever happened to the little girl who was turned head over heels by those fire hoses?

Page 309

What tends to be forgotten among the dramatic photographs and news accounts of the moments of violence that erupted during so many demonstrations... in so many cities across the South during the civil rights era were the days and days of uneventful protest that took place outside these courtrooms and jails. People silently walked a picket line for hours on end, or sang freedom songs from dawn till dusk, or simply stood in line at a door they knew would not be opened, hour after hour, day after day. The patience and persistence it took to endure those countless hours of weary boredom in stifling heat or bone-chilling cold, in driving rain and wet slushy snow, is as admirable as the bravery it took to face the billy clubs of those deputies.
66 reviews5 followers
April 11, 2010
This is probably the best movement memoir (from any movement) that I have ever read. John Lewis is just the kind of solid person that every movement needs more of: principled but not dogmatic; combining patience for the people with impatience for injustice; focused on getting results more than getting credit; stodgy rather than flashy; deeply aware that it is the masses who actually make history; always prioritizing organizing over getting mass media publicity. He is not without pride, and he is gifted with an amazing -- and self-admitted -- stubbornness, but he is also openly self-critical.

His autobiography is unshy about its author's true feelings on everything that happened and everyone he knew in those heady and violent days of the movement he helped lead. Lewis is also forthright about his continued commitment to a politics which can seem quaint in our own time: he still believes in the "Beloved Community," and is attached to the principles of militant nonviolence that he learned from James Lawson in Nashville forty years before he wrote this book (and fifty years before our own time). Nonviolence not only as a powerful tactic, but as an extension of a religious (not just almost-religious) view of the world.

Even where you don't quite share his views, you are bound to respect his courage, as well as the service he rendered for all of us (alongside nameless thousands of others, he is quick to add) in the greatest fight for freedom that this country has seen in the last century.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,345 reviews411 followers
December 5, 2020
4.5 stars. Having found the graphic novel, March, to lack sufficient detail, I wanted to read more about John Lewis. This personal memoir of the civil rights movement was authored by John Lewis, who played a central role as a Freedom Rider, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and lifelong activist. John was raised in a large cotton-picking family in Alabama, and was fortunate to earn a college scholarship to become a preacher and move to Nashville. In college, John quickly became enamored with non-violence and was involved in many protests in this progressive Southern city, eventually moving on to Atlanta and Washington D.C. where he dedicated himself to improving the lives for all blacks, with no concern for his own safety. John was one of the original Freedom Riders, led the march in Selma, where he was badly beaten on the Edmund Pettus bridge. He speaks candidly about his views of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, including the profound impact of their assassinations and his own efforts to enfranchise black voters, including passing the Voting Rights Act, were nothing short of historic.
Profile Image for Dewin Anguas Barnette.
208 reviews12 followers
September 6, 2016
There are not enough words in the English language for me to describe how wonderful this book is. It is not only, by far, the best book on the Civil Rights Movement I have read as of yet, it is the best book I have read. The best thing about it is that it is completely honest. It is straightforward and does not cast a dreamy glow over everyone involved as the majority of other books do. I learned about the differences in opinion among the different organizations, and how they were all necessary and beneficial in their own ways. I learned all about SNCC, which until I read this book, I had only very limited knowledge of. I "met" several main players in the movement that most books don't even acknowledge, like Diane Nash and Jim Lawson. It gives a telling overview of the arch of the movement, from the 50s to the 70s, and how it changed so significantly and why.

But, best of all, I got to know a man who is humble, determined, consistent, the definition of caring, and who represents just about all other positive adjectives in the dictionary. John Lewis, whom I knew not one thing about before reading this book, was and still is the walking embodiment of the the mission of nonviolence. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the face and the voice of the Movement; A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin were the brain; CORE and SCLC were the arms; SNCC was the legs and feet; and John Lewis was the heart.
10 reviews2 followers
December 2, 2009
This book was amazing and a great history lesson. I'm a congressional staffer and I've always had to contain my excitement whenever I passed Rep. John Lewis in the hallway. I knew that he marched with MLK during the civil rights movement and that was enough to earn my eternal respect and admiration. I finally got around to reading his book and was even more amazed. He began working in the civil rights movement when he was a sophomore in college. He was literally at every major event in the civil rights movement and beyond. He was in the Ambassador Hotel as a RFK campaign staffer when he was assasinated. He spoke at the March on Washington. He was there on "Bloody Sunday" one of the worst days of the civil rights movement. He was there for the march from Selma to Montgomery. He was there for the Freedom Rides. He did most of these things before he was 25! I think we as young people forget how close history is to our own lives. Reading this book reminds me that this man has lived through amazing change in his lifetime, more than I can ever hope to see, and the fact that I can walk by him in a hallway tells me that his story is not a history book yet, it's a story that is still being written.

P.S. John Lewis was on the only speaker at the March on Washington to live to see President Obama's inauguration. How cool is that?
Profile Image for Desiree.
142 reviews1 follower
August 15, 2009
This book should be required reading for everybody, especially students and those with power. The Beloved Community should be the goal of all people. John Lewis is an amazing man and it is a wonder that he is not better known in today's world. He is a hero and should be treated as such.
Profile Image for Barry Medlin.
343 reviews27 followers
July 28, 2022
Outstanding! One of the best books I’ve ever read! Inspiring and motivating, written by the hero and leader he was, John Lewis!!

A lot of excerpts stood out, but this one was important to share: “the right to demonstrate was, to me, something that must never, never be compromised. The right to challenge authority, to raise questions, point up issues, draw attention to needs, demand change, is at the basis of a truly responsive, representative democracy. People simply must never give up their right to protest. They must never cash in their right to dissent. They must never, ever deal that liberty away.”

This is a book I will read over and over!
Profile Image for Dayna.
Author 11 books24 followers
January 11, 2010
I've never read anything like this before, a history of the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of someone who was on the front lines (but who we don't hear much about). I was literally holding my breath in suspense/shock at several moments in the book, in particular when the first group attempts to march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to gain a better understanding of a very important segment of our nation's history. So eye opening for me!
286 reviews12 followers
July 18, 2018
This book has been sitting on my coffee table for about 18 months. I've been looking at it and thinking, "Do I want to read that?" But I was kind of out of nonfiction, so I picked it up, and I am so glad I did.

If you don't know John Lewis, he was one of the original (well, really second wave) Freedom Riders in the early 1960s. One of the most famous photos of that time is him being beaten by an Alabama policeman on the Edmund G. Pettus bridge in Selma. He was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was on the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Council. He knew Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael, and Bayard Rustin, and Julian Bond, and Fannie Lou Hamer, and Bobby Kennedy, and dozens of other known and unknown heroes and key figures of that time. For over 20 years, he's been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Atlanta, Georgia, and in 2017 he led the sit-in on the House floor to protest the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act.

The title is explained in the preface. As a child, Lewis was in his aunt's house with a bunch of other siblings and cousins during a tornado, and the not-very-well-built house was groaning as if it might come off its foundation. His aunt directed the kids to march to the corners that were least stable, and hold the house down by their own weight, and then move when the wind moves. It seems that she was hoping this would work, but also trying to calm herself and the children, and give everyone something to do. And the house survived!

Once that stunning metaphor is in place, Lewis (with Michael D'Orso) presents a very personal view of his childhood, his involvement with SNCC, his life as a Freedom Rider, his lifelong commitment o Gandhian nonviolence, his agreements and disagreements with various tendencies in the Civil Rights movement. He emerges from the book as astonishingly clear in his beliefs and pure in his actions, and yet I never felt like he was aggrandizing himself or trying to put himself in a good light. The story goes through his first election to the U.S. Congress, and ends with a clarion call for changes which ... to put it mildly ... we have not seen in the 20 years since the book was published. (Less polarization, more listening, seeing each other more clearly.)

He idolized MLK much more than I do. He's deeply inclined to make excuses for people, and that's one of the things that makes him likable. The two things that make the book for me are the authenticity of his voice throughout (either D'Orso is a brilliant ghost writer or the voice isn't as authentic as it feels) and the power of his convictions, which are remarkably close to my own.

Not only a fine book in its own right, but also kind of ideal to read when you can't look at the current news for one more minute.
Profile Image for Bryan Craig.
177 reviews52 followers
August 21, 2018
This is a must-read story of one of the civil rights' greatest names. Even people familiar with the story will learn a lot from this book. The segments that include the Freedom Riders, Birmingham, and Selma are page-turners. Very emotional and powerful.
Author 3 books29 followers
September 17, 2018
This book was published twenty years ago, but it is more relevant now than it was in 1998. Our right to vote was not under attack then the way it is now. It's important for all Americans to learn what patriotic Americans like Lewis endured in order for us to have the right to vote. It's also important that people who are part of protest movements today read this book so that they can see what real suffering is. Even the BlackLivesMatter activists (not to mention the METOO whiners) who have been called terrorists have not been beaten and tortured the way the nonviolent civil rights protesters of the sixties were. Several pregnant women were beaten and miscarried. And, of course, a few activists were murdered. I was not aware of how close Lewis was to both Reverend Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. He was in Indianapolis working on Kennedy's campaign on the day that King was assassinated, heard Kennedy's eloquent speech in person, and then saw him cry later. And he was in California with Kennedy, waiting for him to return to his room, when the candidate who represented hope after the death of his idol and father figure King was also murdered. Lewis has lived a consequential life and written an important historical record of it.
Profile Image for Cathy Allen.
144 reviews12 followers
March 30, 2012
A colleague of Congressman John Lewis once called him "the only man who was already a great man before he arrived in Congress." And that is certainly true. I do not believe there is a greater living American. John Lewis's story is of fundamental importance to all of us who love our country and all the people in it. His memoir is compellingly told and beautifully written. A must read! I have never met Congressman Lewis personally, but a cherished friend gave me an autographed copy of this book in 1998. It is one of my most prized possessions.
Profile Image for Lorrie.
735 reviews
August 25, 2020
This is a large, heavy book! My thumbs hurt, my hands are sore but my soul has been fed. I needed this book, especially at this point in my life/in history. I knew John Lewis was a great man; however, I did not know the extent, the depth, of his greatness. I am glad a friend recommended this book in our book club. What a book to reach my year’s reading challenge goal.


MY PERSONAL NOTES FOR BOOK CLUB ARE BELOW — not a part of my review.

I was reminded that Emmett Till was from Chicago. He was 14 years old the summer he visited his relatives in Money, Mississippi. On a dare from his friends, he said “Bye, Baby” to the white woman behind the counter of a country store as the kids were leaving. That night he was killed. Shot through the head, one eye gouged out & a 75 lb. cotton gin fan was wired around his neck, then he was thrown into the Tallahatchie River.

The first step John Lewis formally protested in his life was when he write a petition stating a Pike County library must be open to public tax paying black people.

His mother brought home a brochure from the American Baptist Theological Seminary. Students would be required to work on-campus in exchange for their education, room & board. John applied & was accepted.

Of particular interest to me was the controversy of building Interstate 40 right thru the middle of Nashville thereby splitting up the black neighborhood & immediate access to stores & local buildings. Similarly was the dividing of Atlanta in order for a large highway. In Atlanta’s case, John was instrumental in ensuring they got only a 2-lane Highway instead of the proposed 4-lane Highway. Money was at the center of the debates.

While a student, John studied the Spirit of History/Fate/The Guiding Hand as well as Horace Mann and the shame one feels if living a life while making no contribution to history. He learned homiletics—the Art of writing and preaching sermons. He was introduced to the Freedom Riders. In 1947 the Journey of Reconciliation, a response to a 1946 Supreme Court ruling that made segregation on interstate buses illegal. James Farmer was the architect of the Freedom Riders.

Lewis refers to the rhythm of a mob, how it’s temperature rises as the hours pass, how it is timid & careful at first but then grows bolder as its size & restlessness increase. And then the sun sets bringing the twisted kind of courage that comes from the cover of darkness.

Interestingly to me was John’s mention of Cairo, IL. Although northern, this town bordered by KY & MO was southern in every way. It was very small, very rural & very segregated. All voter applicant names were printed in the paper. This signaled to the merchants, businesses, federal food distribution workers which black citizens had recently registered to vote. Those black citizens were fired, lost access to food, etc.

George Wallace was mentioned in this memoir. 1963 was his reign as governor of Alabama. He enforced segregation everything.

Lewis also discusses Malcolm X. Lewis was not in favor of Malcolm’s choice of black nationalism, separatism & his attitude of an eye for an eye.

John favored JFK since he was the best of 2 choices. He was not a strong supporter. He was a huge supporter of Robert Kennedy and MLK. His most prized autograph later on would become MLK’s signature in his book. This book he kept in a lock box. He found this book for 50 cents in an antique store. John’s own personal copy of MLK’s book hand personalized to him by MLK himself had been left in a rental & had disappeared over the years.

John Lewis would not go along with any law or group that separated people. He did not believe in exclusions. He was known as not voting along color lines. He voted or supported who he saw as doing right.

Lewis mentions the extreme right wing group, the John Birch Society, proponents of extreme segregation

Redlining was explained. This is the process of businesses denying funding, purchase, insurance coverage to those interested in purchasing in an area where they are not desired; hence, ensuring segregation.

P. 449 - West Virginia was visited by Lewis. He found it to be totally shameful with its poverty, black lung disease from the coal mines, and dirty children. Although he found the people poor, he found a great sense of hope & spirit. Lewis tried to get Jimmy Carter to visit WV, but Pres Carter ignored him. In fact, Carter seemed to ignore or not listen to most of what Lewis did or said.

“Not a team player” code for “He can’t be bought”.

P. 485- “The alternative to reaching out is to allow the gaps between us to grow and this is something we simply cannot afford to do. We live together in the same house—in different rooms perhaps, but under the same roof and within the same walls. If one section of our house begins to rot—a basement, a back room, a closed-off closet—the entire structure is in danger of collapsing.”
Profile Image for Chrisiant.
362 reviews16 followers
October 18, 2007
This is a great history of the civil rights movement from an atypical perspective, but a really important one. John Lewis was there for a lot of the important moments, but wasn't swept up and held on to as one of the shining stars of the civil rights movement - a central grunt worker who maybe didn't get to take enough bows for it all.

I liked that the narrative connected pieces of the civil rights movement I had only ever understood in their separate parts, for example how the Black Panther Party sort of rose up out of the ashes of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee - I had no idea the two were connected at all. Also connections between A. Phillip Randolph's work with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Dr. King's work with the Southern Christian Leadership Council, and the SNCC's work (many actions conceived of and run by SNCC were things I had attributed to Dr. King and the SCLC).

Sometimes I think Rep. Lewis holds himself up as a little more righteous than I can believe he is, and he spends a little too much energy justifying why he fell on opposite sides of a decision from some of his counterparts, but overall I appreciate the tone in which he writes this memoir, and I wish that he was more fairly represented in the commonly-taught history of this movement.

I'm looking forward to hearing his keynote address at a conference I'm working at in a few weeks. It will be very interesting to see him in person.
Profile Image for Moni.
4 reviews
August 6, 2011
This book was on my summer reading list going into my freshman year. It was the "mandatory" book. When I actually got to school, I found I was one of only a handful of kids who actually read the book cover to cover, and the English teacher didn't actually mind: "I think when they were picking out the books for the summer reading, they didn't realize how long-winded this one is." Aside from being a little annoyed that I wouldn't actually get any credit for reading the book, I felt it was a shame that almost nobody else read it. This is a wonderful book. Sure, there are parts that are a bit boring, like when John Lewis talks about his chickens. However, overall, I found the book incredibly fascinating. I learned that I knew nothing about the Civil Rights movement before reading that story. As my second book, I chose Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals, which is her memoir about being one of the nine teenagers to first integrate into Little Rock Highschool; John Lewis touches a bit on the integration in his own book. If you want to learn more about the movement, I say read both.
Profile Image for George Sink.
133 reviews
April 3, 2019
This was an incredibly in-depth look into the history of the civil rights movement from one of its leaders. When I started reading it I felt like I was sitting in a room next to the author as he told his story, as well as the story of the movement, and it was extraordinary. Many of the pictures he painted with words have stuck with me, from the sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters to the marches in Washington DC and Selma, and everything in between. I learned more about the people behind the movement, the philosophy underpinning it, and the political and social dynamics surrounding it than I had ever realized before. This took a while to read, simply because there was so much to take in. His perspective is a powerful one that we can use these days. I recommend it highly.

"Part of the effort of the movement was to tame the madness of men, to take the beast that lives in all of us and turn it toward love, to show humankind a different way, to teach the way of compassion, of connection and community, of peace and nonviolence."
Profile Image for Sue.
31 reviews1 follower
January 7, 2014
On a meandering around Alabama along with small sections of Alabama and Mississippi, I discovered that a story that peppered my youth was much deeper and sadder than what I remembered hearing/reading about. First hand accounts enrich any chapter in our nation's history and this one is no exception. Because those voices in the spotlight are the typical standard of how we learn our history, the windows we become familiar with, the perspective we eventually internalize, we miss out on an understanding that can make a difference in how we go forward as the citizens of a country we love. John Lewis is a voice we need to read and understand. His first hand accounts take us there, seeing these events through his personal lenses. It is a journey worthy of your time, deserving of your attention. Take the walk.
Profile Image for William Shank.
8 reviews
March 2, 2015
If ever there was a true hero, John Lewis is surely one of them. Humility, commitment, courage and perseverance. This book gives one of the best accounts of the Civil Right movement available...and from the first hand experience of one who was on the front lines. Outstanding!
13 reviews
May 11, 2020
This was a great, firsthand account of the atmosphere in the USA before, during, and shortly after the Civil Rights Movement.
Profile Image for Ruth Everhart.
Author 4 books106 followers
July 18, 2020
Reading this book is an undertaking -- it's lengthy, but there are no sentences or paragraphs you want to skip. I read it in chunks before bed, and found that it stayed with me for weeks I read it, as if John Lewis was now occupying a piece of my consciousness, which was a blessing. If you are interested in intersectionality and racial justice, you will want to read this for it's clear exposition of the history of the Civil Rights movement, from the eyes of a reliable narrator who was there.
Profile Image for Kate.
53 reviews4 followers
December 12, 2020
In this terrible year with its terrible losses perhaps none is as big as our loss of John Lewis. I was utterly engrossed in this book because while it is subtitle “a memoir of the movement” (and it is, indeed, a fascinating account of the civil rights movement of the 60s) it puts that movement in full context. Nuanced and complex takes on Dr. King, the Kennedys, the 1968 democratic convention are there alongside the view from a leader of the March on Washington and the March to Montgomery. Written in 1998 it pre-dates but hopes for Obama (and I was so happy throughout that he lived well through Obama’s two terms). Finally, it leaves us with a hope for the future that is as relevant - or even more so - today as it was 22 years ago. A true American icon with so much still to teach us.
Profile Image for Charles Gonzalez.
119 reviews12 followers
August 11, 2013
What can I say, but that this was an amazing experience, from the moment I opened it to the last words that I just finished 5 minutes ago. Like alot of boomers who lived through the civil rights period, I had a glancing understanding and knowledge of that central struggle in American history. However, like most Americans, white and black I believe, I did not have a real, emotional connection to the spirit that guided those American heroes, of which John Lewis is one of the major actors. I first learned of his story by reading "The Children" David Halberstam's masterpiece of the Freedom Rider generation. Taylor Branch's trilogy gave me a much fuller understanding of its entire history. "Walking wth the Wind" completes the story for me, by giving me a very personal history of the struggle, its origins in the lunch counter sit downs to the Freedom Rides, the March, Selma and all that followed. Congressman Lewis' life story, his courage, committment to social justice, his focus on t achieving the "Beloved Community" are a revelation. I have never read nor experienced more moral courage in anyone than in this man, who to this day, continues his work in the cesspool that is Washington DC. How he can work among his colleagues at all is testimony to his life's work and committment to the eternal struggle to make this county a better place. I could go on with this, but let me close by saying that this man is an example to all Americans, and is a book I will save to give to my grandson, who is only 3 now, but who will at some point, soon, need to understand the true meaning of courage, committment and a moral compass. Many people believe that Mr Lewis' experiences and lessons are antiquated, out of date and of no use to modern America. They are wrong.
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