Boyhood: Part One of John Lewis Series

The John Lewis Series is a collection of pieces created by artist and activist Benny Andrews chronicling the early life of John Lewis before he became Congressman. Part one of the series follows the boyhood of John Lewis.

Boyhood

John Lewis was born to sharecroppers outside of Troy, Alabama in 1940. One of nine children, he was assigned the task of managing chicken coops from an early age.

Field Workers (John Lewis Series), Benny Andrews, 2005, From the collection of: The National Center for Civil and Human Rights
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Children Playing, Benny Andrews, 2005, From the collection of: The National Center for Civil and Human Rights
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Coming Storm (John Lewis Series), Benny Andrews, 2005, From the collection of: The National Center for Civil and Human Rights
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John Lewis was born to sharecroppers outside of Troy, Alabama in 1940. 

Field Workers (John Lewis Series) (2005) by Benny AndrewsThe National Center for Civil and Human Rights

John Lewis was born to sharecroppers outside of Troy, Alabama in 1940. 

Children Playing (2005) by Benny AndrewsThe National Center for Civil and Human Rights

One of nine children, he was assigned the task of managing chicken coops from an early age. 

Feeding The Chickens (John Lewis Series) (2005) by Benny AndrewsThe National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Preaching to the chickens

Young John dreamed of being a preacher and practiced delivering sermons to the farm’s chickens. These were his first rehearsals for what would become a career punctuated by stirring speeches and calls to action    

Segregation (John Lewis Series) (2005) by Benny AndrewsThe National Center for Civil and Human Rights

As a child, he experienced the discrimination and segregation of Jim Crow, including attending segregated schools and being denied a public library card due to his race. Unable to check out books, the enthusiastic learner spent hours reading inside. 

Coming Storm (John Lewis Series) (2005) by Benny AndrewsThe National Center for Civil and Human Rights

“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

Weathering The Storm (John Lewis Series) (2005) by Benny AndrewsThe National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Due to safety concerns, his parents discouraged direct action against racial inequality. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Speaking (John Lewis Series) (2005) by Benny AndrewsThe National Center for Civil and Human Rights

But teenage John Lewis was inspired by news of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and the defiant courage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Sermon (John Lewis Series) (2005) by Benny AndrewsThe National Center for Civil and Human Rights

John Lewis listens to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak.

John Lewis with M.L. King (John Lewis Series) (2005) by Benny AndrewsThe National Center for Civil and Human Rights

John Lewis meets Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I was so inspired by Dr. King that in 1956 with my brothers and sisters and first cousins, I was only 16 years old, we went down to the public library trying to check out some books and we were told by the librarian that the library was for whites only and not for colors! It was a public library! I never went back to that public library until July 5th, 1998, by this time I'm in the Congress, for a book signing of my book "Walking with the Wind"”

John Lewis

The Good Bye, From the collection of: The National Center for Civil and Human Rights
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"Take a long, hard look down the road you will have to travel once you have made a commitment to work for change. Know that this transformation will not happen right away. Change often takes time. It rarely happens all at once. In the movement, we didn't know how history would play itself out. When we were getting arrested and waiting in jail or standing in unmovable lines on the courthouse steps, we didn’t know what would happen, but we knew it had to happen."
— John Lewis

Credits: Story

About the artist: Benny Andrews (b. 1930, d. 2006) was a celebrated African American painter, printmaker, and collage artist. Born to sharecroppers in Plainview, Georgia, he went on to study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before finding success in New York City. His narrative works documented social and political themes of the times, including depictions of the American Civil Rights movement, anti-war protests, personal and familial narratives, and the relocation of American Indians. He later illustrated children’s books about the lives of prominent figures in Black history including his friend Congressman John Lewis. The John Lewis Series was one of his final bodies of work.

“For Benny, there was no line where his activism ended, and his art began. To him, using his brush and his pen to capture the essence and spirit of his time was as much an act of protest as sitting-in or sitting-down was for me.” – John Lewis

Digital Story Curators - Sam Landis & Lauren Tate Baeza

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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