For more than 50 years, he has had one main goal: To continue an unwavering fight for justice. The life and career of John Lewis will be documented in the fascinating documentary John Lewis–Get in the Way. This is the first documentary biography of Lewis, the son of sharecroppers, who grew up in rural isolation, seemingly destined for a bleak future in the Jim Crow South.
But Lewis took a different path, rising from Alabama’s Black Belt to the corridors of power on Capitol Hill, his humble origins forever linking him to those whose voices often go unheard.PBS Distribution releases John Lewis–Get in the Way on April 18.The program will also be available for digital download.
The program covers more than half a century, tracing Lewis’ journey of courage, confrontation and hard-won triumphs. At the age of 15, his life changed forever when he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio. It was 1955, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Lewis listened with rapt attention as the young preacher called for nonviolent resistance to the harsh injustice of segregation. Lewis embraced Dr. King’s spiritual call with a fervor that would transform the course of his life.
As a student activist in the vanguard of the civil rights movement, Lewis was arrested and jailed for the first time during the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins in 1960. During the 1961 Freedom Rides, he was repeatedly assaulted by angry mobs. He was the youngest speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington, and in March 1965, Lewis led the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama, where state troopers attacked peaceful protesters with billy clubs, bullwhips and tear gas. Their horrific actions were broadcast on news reports into living rooms across America; eight months later, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.
Following a film festival run and featuring never-before-seen interviews shot over 20 years, the program features Lewis, a masterful storyteller, relating the gripping tale of his role in these history-making events. Other key interviewees include civil rights activists Andrew Young, C.T. Vivian, Juanita Abernathy and Bernard Lafayette, as well as Lewis’ congressional colleagues Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Emanuel Cleaver and Amory Houghton.
Once an activist pushing from the outside, Lewis, now 77 years old, has become a determined legislator creating change from the inside. Considered by many to be the conscience of Congress, with equal measures of modesty and forcefulness, Lewis strives to persuade D.C. power brokers to hear the voices of the unheard. He fights for those suffering from discrimination, poverty, poor education, police brutality, inaccessible healthcare and limitations on voting rights. Despite setbacks—and there have been many—John Lewis’ eyes remain on the prize.