United States Congressman John Lewis was a prominent figure in the civil rights movement who once worked side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But before he marched on Washington in 1963, he was a 21-year-old seminary student who left school to become a Freedom Rider.
On May 9, 1961, when Rep. Lewis stepped off the bus and into a South Carolina bus terminal, he says he was attacked by an angry white man.
"My seatmate was a young white gentleman by the name of Albert Bigelow, and the moment we stepped off the bus, we attempted to enter a so-called white waiting room," he says. "And a group of young men came toward us and started beating us. I was beaten and left bloody."
Throughout the beating, Rep. Lewis, a man raised in the segregated South, never raised a fist. How did he endure the violence? "During the time I was being beaten and other times when I was being beaten, I had what I called 'an executive session' with myself. I said, 'I'm going to take it. I'm prepared,'" he says. "On the Freedom Ride, I was prepared to die."
Rep. Lewis' passion was fueled by a deep desire to end racial discrimination. "I had grown up seeing those signs," he says. "I didn't like it. I hated those signs that said 'white men,' 'colored women,' 'white waiting,' 'colored waiting.' So I wanted to do something about it."