103 Famous John Lewis Quotes for Inspiration and Motivation

John Robert Lewis was a prominent American civil rights leader and politician.

He chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and leading the historic “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Lewis was inspired by the bravery of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. to challenge the racial inequalities of the Jim Crow South.

In Nashville, he studied nonviolent protest and participated in numerous sit-ins and Freedom Rides, frequently facing arrest and assault.

Considered one of the civil rights movement’s “Big Six” leaders, Lewis played a crucial role in events like the March on Washington and the Freedom Summer project.


Related: Stokely Carmichael Quotes from the Civil Rights Leader and Ralph Abernathy Quotes from American Civil Rights Activist

His advocacy for voting rights culminated in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, a peaceful demonstration met with violent police response known as “Bloody Sunday.”

The nationwide outcry following this event contributed significantly to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.

Lewis remained active in civil rights after leaving the SNCC, serving as an Atlanta city councilman and later representing Atlanta in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Renowned for his unyielding commitment to equality, Lewis was awarded numerous honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

His life and contributions continue to inspire advocates for justice and equality.

Let’s have a look at the best quotes by John Lewis.

John Lewis Quotes

1. “I don’t understand it, how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam and cannot send troops to Selma, Alabama, to protect people whose only desire is to register to vote.” ~ (John Lewis).

2. “Too many of us still believe our differences define us.” ~ (John Lewis).

3. “You have to tell the whole truth, the good and the bad, maybe some things that are uncomfortable for some people.” ~ (John Lewis).

4. “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).

5. “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).

6. “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).

7. “Not one of us can rest, be happy, be at home, be at peace with ourselves, until we end hatred and division.” ~ (John Lewis).

John Lewis Quotes

8. “We must be headlights and not taillights. ~ (John Lewis).

9. “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).

10. “Without prayer, without faith in the Almighty, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.” ~ (John Lewis).

Best John Lewis Quotes

11. “I always felt growing up that in the South there was evil but also good – so much good.” ~ (John Lewis).

12. “We need some creative tension; people crying out for the things they want.” ~ (John Lewis).

13. “My mother and father and many of my relatives had been sharecroppers.” ~ (John Lewis).

14. “When I was 15 years old in 1955, I heard of Rosa Parks. I heard the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. on our radio. ~ (John Lewis).

15. Early on, I wrote a letter to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was 17. I felt called, moved.” ~ (John Lewis).

16. “You have to be persistent.” ~ (John Lewis).

17. “The March on Washington was a March for Jobs and Freedom. There are still too many people who are unemployed or underemployed in America – they’re black, white, Latino, Native American and Asian American.” ~ (John Lewis).

18. “I grew up in rural Alabama, 50 miles from Montgomery, in a very loving, wonderful family: wonderful mother, wonderful father. We attended church; we went to Sunday school every Sunday.” ~ (John Lewis).

19. “Some of us gave a little blood for the right to participate in the democratic process.” ~ (John Lewis).

20. “MLK, Jr. taught me how to say no to segregation, and I can hear him saying now… when you straighten up your back, no man can ride you. He said stand up straight and say no to racial discrimination.” ~ (John Lewis).

21. “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.” ~ (John Lewis).

22. “What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and its grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible.” ~ (John Lewis).

23. “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).

24. “If you’re not hopeful and optimistic, then you just give up. You have to take the long hard look and just believe that if you’re consistent, you will succeed.” ~ (John Lewis).

25. “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).

26. “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).

Famous John Lewis Quotes

27. “We need someone who is going to stand up, speak up, and speak out for the people who need help, for the people who have been discriminated against. ~ (John Lewis). I believe that you see something that you want to get done, you cannot give up, and you cannot give in.” ~ (John Lewis).

28. “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).

29. “In 1965, the attempted march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7 was planned to dramatize to the state of Alabama and to the nation that people of color wanted to register to vote.” ~ (John Lewis).

30. “The scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in the American society.” ~ (John Lewis).

31. “Too many people struggled, suffered, and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.” ~ (John Lewis).

32. “Without our faith, we wouldn’t have been able to succeed. On many occasions, before we’d go out on a sit-in, before we went on the freedom ride, before we marched from Selma to Montgomery, we would sing a song or say a prayer. Without our faith, without the spirit and spiritual bearings and underpinning, we would not have been so successful.” ~ (John Lewis).

33. “We’re one people, and we all live in the same house. Not the American house, but the world house.” ~ (John Lewis).

34. “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).

35. “My parents told me in the very beginning as a young child when I raised the question about segregation and racial discrimination, they told me not to get in the way, not to get in trouble, not to make any noise.” ~ (John Lewis).

36. “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).

37. “We come to Selma to be renewed. We come to be inspired. We come to be reminded that we must do the work that justice and equality calls us to do. ~ (John Lewis). In Selma, Alabama, in 1965, only 2.1 percent of blacks of voting age were registered to vote. The only place you could attempt to register was to go down to the courthouse. You had to pass a so-called literacy test. And they would tell people over and over again that they didn’t or couldn’t pass the literacy test.” ~ (John Lewis).

38. “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).

39. “You must be bold, brave, and courageous and find a way… to get in the way.” ~ (John Lewis).

40. “Never give up. Never give in. Never become hostile… Hate is too big a burden to bear.” ~ (John Lewis).

41. “Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Never lose that sense of hope.” ~ (John Lewis).

42. “The vote is precious. It’s almost sacred, so go out and vote like you never voted before.” ~ (John Lewis).

43. “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).

Profound John Lewis Quotes

44. “We must continue to go forward as one people, as brothers and sisters.” ~ (John Lewis).

45. “I’m very hopeful. I am very optimistic about the future.” ~ (John Lewis).

46. “When you make mistakes, when you’re wrong, you should admit you’re wrong and ask people to forgive you.” ~ (John Lewis).

47. “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).

48. “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).

49. “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).

50. “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).

51. “Sometimes you have to not just dream about what could be – you get out and push and you pull and you preach. And you create a climate and environment to get those in high places, to get men and women of goodwill in power to act.” ~ (John Lewis).

52. “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).

53. “You have to be optimistic in order to continue to move forward.” ~ (John Lewis).

54. “Rosa Parks inspired me to find a way to get in the way, to get in trouble… good trouble, necessary trouble.” ~ (John Lewis).

55. “Never become bitter, and in the process, be happy and just go for it.” ~ (John Lewis).

56. “I studied the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence in Nashville as a student. And I staged a sitting-in in the fall of 1959 and got arrested the first time in February 1960.” ~ (John Lewis).

57. “When I was 15 years old and in the tenth grade, I heard of Martin Luther King, Jr. Three years later, when I was 18, I met Dr. King and we became friends. Two years after that I became very involved in the civil rights movement. I was in college at that time. As I got more and more involved, I saw politics as a means of bringing about change.” ~ (John Lewis).

58. “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).

59. “There is a need for a movement of non-violent direct action.” ~ (John Lewis).

60. “Reading the Martin Luther King story, that little comic book, set me on the path that I’m on today.” ~ (John Lewis).

61. “What ‘March’ is saying is that it doesn’t matter whether we are black or white, Latino or Asian. It doesn’t matter whether we are straight or gay.” ~ (John Lewis).

62. “I was honored to have an opportunity to speak on August 28th, 1963.” ~ (John Lewis).

63. “Following the teaching of Gandhi and Thoreau, Dr. King, it set me on a path. And I never looked back.” ~ (John Lewis).

64. “It’s a shame and a disgrace that so few people take part in the political process.” ~ (John Lewis).

65. “We had teachers, we had high school principals, we had people teaching in colleges and university in Tuskegee, Alabama. But they were told they failed the so-called literacy test.” ~ (John Lewis).

66. “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).

Top John Lewis Quotes

67. “Selma helped make it possible for hundreds and thousands of people in the South to become registered voters and encouraged people all across America to become participants in a democratic process.” ~ (John Lewis).

68. “I think President Barack Obama has been a good president.” ~ (John Lewis).

69. “I am very, very hopeful about the American South – I believe that we will lead America to what Dr. King called ‘the beloved community.'” ~ (John Lewis).

70. “You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right.” ~ (John Lewis).

71. “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).

72. “The action of Rosa Parks, the words and leadership of Dr. King inspired me. I was deeply inspired. I wanted to do something.” ~ (John Lewis).

73. “I wanted young people to know that I was just a typical child.” ~ (John Lewis).

74. “Without the Sisters of St. Joseph, I might not be standing here.” ~ (John Lewis).

75. “There may be some difficulties, some interruptions, but as a nation and as a people, we are going to build a truly multiracial, democratic society that maybe can emerge as a model for the rest of the world.” ~ (John Lewis).

76. “The government, both state and federal, has a duty to be reasonable and accommodating.” ~ (John Lewis).

77. “I really believe that all of us, as Americans… we all need to be treated like fellow human beings.” ~ (John Lewis).

78. “I believe in forgiveness; I believe in trying to work with people.” ~ (John Lewis).

79. “I have met every president since President Kennedy. And I think Barack Obama must be listed as one of the best. This young man has been so inspiring – not just to people in America but to people all around the world.” ~ (John Lewis).

80. “Dr. King was one of the most inspiring human beings I ever met. He was such a warm, compassionate, and loving human being.” ~ (John Lewis).

81. “I do not agree with what Mr. Snowden did. He has damaged American international relations and compromised our national security. He leaked classified information and may have jeopardized human lives. That must be condemned.” ~ (John Lewis).

82. “I think Dr. King would be pleased to see the number of elected officials of color – African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and progressive whites.” ~ (John Lewis).

83. “When I was growing up in rural Alabama, it was impossible for me to register to vote. I didn’t become a registered voter until I moved to Tennessee, to Nashville, as a student.” ~ (John Lewis).

84. “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).

85. “The press is supposed to serve as a check on government.” ~ (John Lewis).

86. “We should be creative, and we should accommodate the needs of every community to open up the democratic process. We should make it easy and accessible for every citizen to participate.” ~ (John Lewis).

87. “I don’t think Trump really believes in all this stuff. But he thinks this would be his ticket to the White House – at least to get the Republican nomination.” ~ (John Lewis).

88. “I grew up very poor in rural Alabama.” ~ (John Lewis).

89. “Comics, in a sense, the style, the images – it’s almost like music. They say music is a universal language, but when the eyes behold something, a figure, somebody moving; it’s real, and it cannot be denied.” ~ (John Lewis).

90. “The vote controls everything that you do.” ~ (John Lewis).

91. “Listening to Dr. King on the radio inspired me. Coming under the influence of Jim Lawson inspired me to think that I, too, could do something.” ~ (John Lewis).

92. “You have to go with your gut sometimes, and how you feel.” ~ (John Lewis).

93. “I travel all the time, but when I come back to the South, I see such progress. In a real sense, a great deal of the South has been redeemed. People feel freer, more complete, more whole, because of what happened in the movement.” ~ (John Lewis).

94. “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).

95. “If it hadn’t been for that march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, there would be no Barack Obama as President of the United States of America.” ~ (John Lewis).

96. “The party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland. The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater.” ~ (John Lewis).

97. “The documented incidences of voter fraud are very rare, yet throughout the country, forces have mobilized in over 30 states to stop it. These efforts are very partisan.” ~ (John Lewis).

98. “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).

99. “There’s nothing wrong with a little agitation for what’s right or what’s fair.” ~ (John Lewis).

100. “Sometimes I hear people saying, ‘Nothing has changed.’ Come and walk in my shoes.” ~ (John Lewis).

101. “I think my whole life has been one of sort of daring, and sort of sailing against the wind instead of just going with the wind.” ~ (John Lewis).

102. 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).

103. “We must bring the issue of mental illness out into the sunlight, out of the shadow, out of the closet, deal with it, treat people, have centers where people can get the necessary help.” ~ (John Lewis).

You Might Like

Short Biography of John Lewis

John Robert Lewis was a pivotal figure in American civil rights history and politics, representing Georgia’s 5th district in Congress from 1987 until his passing in 2020.

John Lewis

An active participant in key civil rights movements, including the Nashville sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and the 1963 March on Washington, Lewis is best remembered for leading the Selma marches, marked by the harrowing “Bloody Sunday.”

Full Name John Robert Lewis
Born February 21, 1940 Pike County, Alabama, U.S.
Died July 17, 2020 (aged 80) Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Resting place South-View Cemetery
Political Party Democratic
Spouse Lillian Miles​(m. 1968; died 2012)​
Children 1
Education American Baptist College (BA), Fisk University (BA)
Occupation Politician, Civil Rights Activist

Throughout his 17 terms, Lewis was a prominent Democratic leader, earning numerous accolades, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Quick Facts about John Lewis

  • John Lewis was a pivotal civil rights leader and congressman.
  • Born on February 21, 1940, in Troy, Alabama.
  • He grew up experiencing segregation in the South.
  • He was influenced by Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent resistance principles.
  • Part of the “Big Six” civil rights movement leaders.
  • He played a key role in the iconic 1963 March on Washington.
  • He advocated tirelessly for voting rights, notably in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches.
  • He was lected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986, serving Georgia’s 5th district.
  • Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by President Barack Obama.
  • Co-authored a celebrated graphic novel trilogy titled “March.”
  • He was arrested over 40 times for his activism, championing nonviolent protest.
  • Coined the term “good trouble” advocating for justice through civil disobedience.
  • Risked his life as a Freedom Rider, challenging segregation on interstate buses.
  • At 23, was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.
  • Advocated for LGBTQ+ rights, emphasizing equality for all marginalized communities.
  • Honored with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2001.
  • Strongly supported gun control legislation during his congressional tenure.
  • Instrumental in establishing the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
  • He was posthumously awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize in 2020.
  • His legacy inspires ongoing activism and equality efforts.
  • Emphasized the power of voting in democratic societies.
  • Encouraged education on civil rights history for future generations.
  • Advocated for healthcare and social justice issues in Congress.
  • He was known for his eloquent and powerful public speaking.
  • Supported policies aimed at addressing racial and economic disparities.
  • Actively participated in protests throughout his life, including in his later years.
  • Worked to foster bipartisanship in his legislative efforts.
  • Engaged with young activists and leaders, passing on his knowledge and experience.
  • Believed in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and social justice.
  • His life and work are studied in schools as a model of leadership and courage.

Top Questions about John Lewis

Q: What is John Lewis most renowned for?

A: John Lewis is most famous for being a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He co-founded and chaired the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), led the Freedom Rides, helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, and was instrumental in the Selma to Montgomery Marches.

Q: What were some of John Lewis’ significant contributions?

A: John Lewis was instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, leading protests and marches against racial discrimination. He was one of the main organizers of the 1963 March on Washington and served over 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, advocating for civil rights and social justice.

Q: How did John Lewis impact voting rights?

A: John Lewis played a crucial role in the Voting Rights Act of 1965’s passage. He led the “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery, advocating for African Americans’ voting rights, which helped end discriminatory voting practices and secured equal ballot box access.

Q: Is John Lewis also the name of a large company?

A: Yes, the John Lewis Partnership in the UK, which includes the John Lewis and Waitrose retail brands, is the country’s largest employee-owned business.

Q: How did John Lewis inspire others?

A: Lewis inspired many through his steadfast commitment to nonviolence, courage against adversity, and belief in grassroots activism. His speeches and writings continue to motivate people to fight injustice and strive for a fair society.

Q: What activities is the John Lewis company known for?

A: The John Lewis company, established in 1864, is a leading UK omni-channel retailer with 34 stores and a significant online presence, known for its retail brands John Lewis and Waitrose.

Q: What legacy did John Lewis leave behind?

A: John Lewis left a legacy of resilience, perseverance, and dedication to equality and justice, profoundly impacting American history. His life’s work continues to inspire others to pursue social change and adhere to nonviolence and peaceful protest principles.

Share with others!
Chandan Negi
Chandan Negi

I’m the Founder of Internet Pillar - I love sharing quotes and motivational content to inspire and motivate people - #quotes #motivation #internetpillar