Congressman John Lewis Once Again Rises To The Forefront In New PBS Doc

The first biographical film of the congressman and civil rights leader offers a glimpse at his warmth and humor.

Congressman John Lewis Once Again Rises To The Forefront In New PBS Doc
John Lewis about to vote at his polling station in Atlanta, Georgia. [Photo: courtesy of Early Light Productions]

WHAT: John Lewis: Get in the Way, the first biographical documentary about congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, to premiere February 10 on PBS.

WHO: Producer/director Kathleen Dowdey, Rep. John Lewis, plus interviews with civil rights activists Andrew Young, C.T. Vivian, Juanita Abernathy, and Bernard Lafayette, and Lewis’s congressional colleagues Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Emanuel Cleaver, and Amory Houghton.

WHY WE CARE: For a half a century, Lewis has been a seminal fixture in the civil rights movement and civil disobedience. Despite being nearly beaten to death by police during the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama, he remained an advocate for nonviolent resistance. At 76, he is the remaining living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King delivered his I Have a Dream speech.

Lewis’s best-selling, award-winning March has introduced this struggle to new generations, while he continues to embody those early tenants in government—leading last spring’s sit-in to protest gun control, the inaugural boycott, and testifying against objectionable cabinet picks.

John Lewis arrested in Nashville, 1961[Photo: courtesy of The Tennessean]

Through more than 20 years of some previously unseen footage and interviews, the film takes viewers on a journey from Lewis’s roots as the son of sharecroppers to his work to end segregation and gain African-American voting rights, to his work as a Washington, D.C., insider to combat discrimination, poverty, poor education, police brutality, inaccessible health care, and voter limitations—especially in the face of today’s political climate. But it also gives us a glimpse to his warm, mischievous side.

“He’s a person everyone should know,” says director Dowdy in this video recorded at the Woodstock Film Festival. “He appears to be a serious person; he’s very dedicated to his issues, but he also has a wicked sense of humor.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.

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