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Remembering John Lewis

Representative John Lewis, the Civil Rights activist committed to non-violent protest, champion of racial equality, and the “conscience of Congress” died on July 17. He was 80. This week, Lewis will lie in state at the US Capitol, a ceremonial tribute that honors the lives of America’s most important leaders.

Seven years ago, Arent Fox was fortunate to host Mr. Lewis and four other 1961 Freedom Riders who withstood firebombings and brutal beatings in the struggle to desegregate buses and trains and promote voting rights.

The group came together in February 2013 for a panel discussion as part of the first public event in Arent Foxs new DC office. The panelists included Mr. Lewis, Hank Thomas, Dion Diamond, Rev. Reginald Green, and Joan Mulholland. They were joined by author Eric Etheridge, whose book “Breach of Peace” is a photo-history of the Freedom Rides, including mug shots and updated photos and interviews of the 328 riders arrested in Jackson, Mississippi.

Mr. Lewis told the audience that day that when he heard about Rosa Parks he was “inspired to find a way to get in the way.” He pointed out that then-President Obama was born in 1961 when some of the Freedom Riders were sitting in jail in Mississippi. “Very few of us, if any, will change the grip of history. These people sitting here have,” said Senator Byron Dorgan.

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