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John Lewis Speech and Interview

This video is presented as part of’s 25th Anniversary Conference.

From April 2006: Congressman John Lewis, long-time Georgia representative and national civil rights leader, receives the ABA Dispute Resolution Section’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Section’s annual meeting in Atlanta.  See John Lewis’ powerful presentation,’s following interview, and read about Congressman Lewis’ remarkable life.

Editorial Note from Robert Benjamin 0718/2020

Congressman John Lewis, while being willing to seek out and engage “good trouble” in the pursuit of human dignity and justice, demonstrated something of equal importance—- especially in this day and age.  He showed that along  with stirring “good trouble”-which is necessary to pry open matters that must be confronted so as to stem further infection, he never lost sight of the equal importance that must be given to how such difficult issues are managed.  

Many  people are well intended but too few are willing to  harness themselves to the studied discipline and steeled determination necessary to negotiate such matters effectively as John Lewis has done  throughout his storied life.  He demonstrated the tenacity that is  required for a negotiative process to take hold in dealing with the difficult, if not existential issues. that we are compelled to face. Not only does the work require tolerance for ambiguity, but the  capacity to endure the urgent and painful patience that occurs from knowing that many may people are suffering or even dying while waiting for change to come about. Even in the heart of the best and most confident negotiator,  doubt that can linger in the shadows, even though John Lewis gave no hint of any such doubt.

I was and remain honored and inspired by the opportunity I had to talk with him, even if only briefly. I suspect he would be the first to say that he did not achieve his outcome. But he was no loser, as some might adjudge him to be. In how he dealt with adversity, worked with opponents, treated others along what was often a brutal path in his life, he is in that small circle of winners who allow us to have some hope for our human specie. The work he set out to do remains incomplete but his mission- how he pursued his mission- is a thing of beauty.

Congressman John Lewis, is the recipient of the American Bar Association Section on Dispute Resolution’s Lifetime achievement award, given at the Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, his home and the center of the Fifth Congressional District. Congressman Lewis has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1986.

Congressman Lewis’ dedication and his career are the stuff of legends. In his early years, in the 1960’s, he served alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement organizing non-violent demonstrations throughout the south. In the years thereafter, he was the Director of the Voter Education Project, registering minorities to vote, and in 1977 was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to head-up the federal volunteer agency, ACTION.

The span and sweep of his career leaves one legitimately awestruck with respect and admiration for the risks he took and work he offered in bringing about momentous change in the social and political climate of this country. He harkens back to an age when the United States truly did set a high standard for the world in the pursuit of justice, equality and opportunity.

His remarks made one nostalgic for times past when thoughtful and engaging oratory was valued as he spoke of the circumstances that gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement. The rhythmic cadence of his words gave authenticity to his energy and passion. And if his speaking was not enough, his sincere graciousness was amply apparent in his unusual willingness to take time with each of the some 50 people who lined up to talk with him at the end of the ABA Plenary session.

What came through in the video interview with Congressman Lewis was the importance of strategy and tactics in the prosecution of the civil rights movement, and specifically the use of negotiation. Principles of peace and justice were obviously not accepted by those who resisted change. Ironically, behind the public face of the movement were countless ongoing negotiations with local authorities about the nature and boundaries of each demonstration, and ultimately, between King, Lewis and others with the federal government and President Lyndon Johnson.

The necessity of negotiation is not lost on John Lewis. He observes that no matter how right you think you are — even today in the current congressional partisan wrangling — you’ve got to keep the door open to talking, as frustrating as that often is. About Congressman John Lewis

John Lewis has proudly served Georgia’s 5th congressional district for nearly 20 years.

Born a son of sharecroppers in Troy, Alabama in 1940, John Lewis was influenced as a youngster by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to become involved in the civil rights movement.

By the age of 23, he was the chairman of the Student Non-violent Co-coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In March of 1965, Lewis, along with Hosea Williams led hundreds of peaceful protesters in what would come to be regarded as one of the seminal moments of the civil rights movement.

While marching across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in route to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state, Lewis and the protesters were brutally attacked by Alabama State Troopers. The senseless brutality of “Bloody Sunday” and the media coverage that followed it helped hasten the passage of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965.

John McCain has said that “Congressman Lewis is one of the most courageous persons the civil rights movement has ever produced.”


Robert Benjamin

Robert Benjamin, M.S.W., J.D., has been a practicing mediator since 1979, working in most dispute contexts including: business/civil, family/divorce, employment, and health care. A lawyer and social worker by training, he practiced law for over 25 years and now teaches and presents professional negotiation, mediation, and conflict management seminars and… MORE >

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