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Barack Obama, John Lewis, and the Legacy of the Civil Rights Struggle

Keywords: Barack Obama , United States , America , South , politics , presidency , civil rights movement , voting rights , SNCC

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Abstract:

The watershed election in 2008 of Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to have African ancestry resulted from the life work of such civil rights activists as U.S. Congressman John Lewis. Born on a sharecropper’s farm in 1940, the African American Lewis grew up in segregated Alabama. As a college student in Nashville, he joined the sit-in protests and volunteered for the original Freedom Ride in 1961. He was elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, becoming the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. The radical shift to Black ultimately forced Lewis out of SNCC. Consequently Lewis capitalized on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, turned his attentions to voter registration campaigns, and continued working within the system. In 1986 he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent Atlanta’s Fifth Congressional District, a seat he continues to hold today.

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