United States

A tribute to John Lewis, the conscience of the Congress


As we continue the journey for racial understanding as a firm, today RSM remembers John Robert Lewis, an American politician and civil rights leader who spent much of his life fighting for equality in America. He was the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district since 1987, serving in his 17th term in the House, and was the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. John Lewis spent his life and career working to achieve equality through peaceful protest and end systemic racism. He was fearlessly on the front lines of the bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, with blows to his body and a fractured skull to prove it. Mr. Lewis was a valiant stalwart of the civil rights movement and helped secure the right to vote for all Americans through the Voting Rights Act.

We remember the life and legacy of John Lewis, who was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders in 1960, as a student at Fisk University. He was elected the chairman of SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1963, which was the principal channel for student non-violent protest during the civil rights movement. He leaves us all to humbly, yet boldly fight the battle for equality and against hate, that he began as the son of a sharecropper, through his student activism and ultimately working beside Dr. King, helping organize a peaceful march in Washington, DC to ensure all segments of society equal opportunity for justice and the American dream. He was one of the youngest speakers at the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and in recent years, was the last surviving speaker from that milestone event that changed perspectives and policy.

At age 26, John Lewis showed us all the lesson of  having the courage of our convictions to act in service to others, as he led the march for voting rights and social justice from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Televised images of the beatings of Mr. Lewis and scores of others outraged the nation and galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson presented to a joint session of Congress eight days later and signed into law on August 6th of that year. A milestone in the struggle for civil rights, the law eliminated the literacy tests that Black people had been compelled to take before they could register to vote and replaced segregationist voting registrars with federal registrars to ensure that Black people were no longer denied the ballot. Once registered, millions of African-Americans began transforming politics across the South. And their voting power opened the door for Black people, including John Lewis, to run for public office. His life was evidence that courageous voices and action can be the catalyst for positive change.

Elected in 1986, he became the second African-American to be sent to Congress from Georgia since Reconstruction, representing a district that encompassed much of Atlanta, including the location of our RSM office in the district.  While he represented Atlanta, his natural constituency was disadvantaged people everywhere. Known most for his relentless pursuit of justice, his colleagues called him "the conscience of the Congress." In his later years, Lewis spent much of his time educating young people on the imperatives of equality. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. John Lewis fought a courageous battle against pancreatic cancer and continued to fight against systemic racism until the end. He died on the same day as did another stalwart of the civil rights movement, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, who was also a close associate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we continue our work as a firm to live our values and hold culture, diversity and inclusion as fundamental, the memory of John Lewis - his words, his life of service, his quest for meaningful progress and his leadership, inspires us all. He believed that all have a part to play in achieving fairness in our communities and as a nation. In honor of his memory, I would like to thank you all for continuing courageous conversations, being intentionally inclusive with each other and working together to achieve a better firm and society.