Barack Obama — February 15, 2011 at 9:33 am

John Lewis receives the Medal of Freedom today


Today at 1:30 p.m., President Barack Obama will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Congressman John Lewis.

Representative John Lewis from Georgia was a pioneer in the Civil Rights Movement, a man jailed over 40 times, beaten and bloodied for his views and actions. He attended President Obama’s inauguration as the only living speaker from the rally at the March on Washington.

From his Wikipedia entry:

Lewis was instrumental in organizing student sit-ins, bus boycotts and non-violent protests in the fight for voter and racial equality. He endured brutal beatings by angry mobs and suffered a fractured skull at the hands of Alabama State police as he led a march of 600 people in Selma, Ala. in 1965.

During an appearance at the Washtenaw County Democratic Party Annual Dinner two years ago, Congressman Lewis, along with Dean of the House John Dingell, was introduced by former Congressman Mark Schauer with these words:

In an era when genuine American heroes are harder and harder to come by, it’s an honor for me to serve with Congressman Lewis in the House and a real treat to have him here in Michigan tonight. Thank you, John, for being here. Thank you for everything you’ve done to make this country a better place and for your passion and integrity and for keeping Dr. King’s dream alive…As you know, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” Well, America and Michigan voted for change last year but now we have a better sense of what Dr. King meant when he said change comes through continuous struggle. The struggle now, of course, is over health care reform, something John Dingell knows a little bit about. One of the criticisms I often hear around my district about this effort is “what’s the rush?”

Well, John Dingell has been introducing a bill to provide health insurance to every single American since 1957, before I was born. Before I was born and I’m getting gray hair! So it’s been too long. So when people ask, “what’s the rush?”, I say we can’t afford to wait. It’s been a long struggle, decades in the making, but when health insurance reform – WHEN health insurance reform passes this year in the US Congress, the name on the bill will be of the man I’m proud to serve with…Congressman John Dingell.

Congressman Lewis spoke about his own position on health care reform and told the Ann Arbor crowd:

I believe that health care is a right and it’s not a privilege but a right. And that the quantity and the quality of a person’s health care should not be decided by the size of their personal wallet, that person’s bank account or the zip code that that person lives in.

He had this to say about his Republican colleagues:

When I was a young child, I wanted to be a minister. I wanted to preach the Gospel. So, from time to time, with the help of my brothers and sisters and my first cousins, I would get all of our chickens together from the chicken yard like you’re gathered here in this room. My brothers and sisters and first cousins would line the outside around the chicken yard. Along with the chickens, my brothers and sisters and first cousins would become part of the congregation, of the audience and I would start preaching.

But when I looked back some of the chickens would bow their heads, some of the chickens would shake their heads, but they never quite said “amen”!

But I’m convinced that some of those chickens that I preached to in the 40s and the 50s tended to listen to me much better than some of my Republican colleagues listen to us in the Congress today or they listened to me better, I would think, better than Joe Wilson.

I think some of those chickens were probably a little more productive. At least they produced eggs!

John Lewis is a living legend. I’m proud to have met him and so very thrilled that he is receiving this amazing and well-deserved honor.

The Medal of Freedom award ceremony will be streamed live at

All photos by Anne C. Savage. Please do not reproduce without permission. For more of her amazing photography, visit Anne’s Flickr page.

UPDATE: Here’s a couple of photos:

I’m just sayin’…