New Documentary Celebrates Rep. John Lewis' Half Century of Nonviolent Resistance

For more than 50 years, civil rights legend John Lewis has been fighting for justice. Now, PBS and Georgia Public Broadcasting are celebrating the life of the Georgia represenative in a new feature documentary titled John Lewis: Get in the Way. The film airs on February 10, 10:30pm ET.

Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama, on February 21, 1940. Both of his parents were sharecroppers. When he was 15, he heard Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking on the radio about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and combating segregation through non-violent protests. It was a pivotal moment in Lewis' life. 

The young activist began participating in historic actions such as the 1961 Freedom Rides and the 1963 March on Washington. Lewis led the 1965 Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama, where he was nearly killed. 

"On March 7, 1965, a group of us attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to dramatize to the nation that people wanted to register to vote," Lewis recalled in a 2012 interview with Democracy Now!

"In Selma, Alabama, in 1965, only 2.1 percent of blacks of voting age were registered to vote. We had to change that, so we sought to march," he added. 

Lewis led the march to the courthouse to protest the so-called literacy test being flunked by African-American lawyers, doctors and teachers alike.

"We got to the top of the bridge. We saw a sea of blue—Alabama state troopers—and we continued to walk."

The mayor called the troopers to advance.

"You saw these guys putting on their gas masks," he recalled. "They came toward us, beating us with nightsticks and bull whips, trampling us with horses. I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick. I had a concussion at the bridge. My legs went out from under me. I felt like I was going to die. I thought I saw Death."

Lewis still doesn't know how he made it across the bridge to a church, from where he was taken to a local hospital. He is now 76 years old, still working every day against discrimination, poverty, poor education, police brutality, inaccessible health care, and limitations on voting rights.

On January 28, Lewis visited an Atlanta airport to speak with travelers detained under President Trump's immigration ban, signed the previous day. “Why don’t we just sit down and stay a while?" he asked the attorneys and allies gathering. 

"You must find a way to get in the way and make our country a better place," Lewis says in the film. 

John Lewis: Get in the Way is part of a full lineup of Black History Month programming on PBS.

Watch the trailer:

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