22 Inspiring John Lewis Quotes on Voting, Education, and Social Justice

When it comes to fighting for human rights "good trouble" just may be the answer as these John Lewis quotes show.

Not all trouble is bad trouble, and as the life and legacy of statesman and Civil Rights activist John Lewis denotes, change can come as the result of “good trouble.” Not one to shy away from fighting for the advancement of civil and human rights, Lewis, who served 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, played a pivotal role in changing the course of American history. He was one of the original members of the Freedom Riders in the 1960s, an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and he also led one of the most infamous marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge which ultimately became known as “Bloody Sunday.” His actions and advocacy eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His life and contributions to the fight against equality for all people have been depicted in Ava Duvernay’s Selma, the 2017 PBS documentary John Lewis: Get in the Way, the CNN documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble, Bobby Kennedy For President, and in these other documentaries about race everyone needs to see.

Lewis’s life and legacy show that we must never forget the price that our ancestors paid for our civil liberties and that the fight for equality must endure in the spirit of love. Lewis once stated, “I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.”

After you’ve read these inspiring John Lewis quotes, peruse these Black History month quotes, James Baldwin quotes, and peace quotes for more motivation.

Civil Rights Marchers Cross Edmund Petus BridgeBettmann/Getty Images
Reverend Joseph Lowery, his wife Evelyn, and John Lewis (L-R) lead several thousand civil rights marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to continue their 160-mile trek from Carrollton to Montgomery.

John Lewis quotes on voting

“As it stands now, the voting section of this bill will not help the thousands of black people who want to vote,” Lewis said. “It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama, and Georgia who are qualified to vote but lack a sixth-grade education. One man, one vote is the African cry. It is ours, too. It must be ours.” — John Lewis quote from the 1963 March on Washington

“My greatest fear is that one day we may wake up and our democracy is gone.” — John Lewis quote from the documentary, “John Lewis: Good Trouble”.

“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.” — John Lewis in a 2019 CommonWealth Interview

“Sometimes you have to not just dream about what could be—you get out and push, and you pull, and you preach. And you create a climate and environment to get those in high places, to get men and women of goodwill in power to act.” —John Lewis quote from A Conversation With Bill Moyers, 2013

“I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.” —John Lewis quote from the 50th anniversary at the March on Washington, August 2013

“Black men and women were not allowed to register to vote. My own mother, my own father, my grandfather, and my uncles and aunts could not register to vote because each time they attempted to register to vote, they were told they could not pass the literacy test.” —John Lewis quote from a 2009 NPR interview

“Too many people struggled, suffered, and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.” —PBS News Hour 2012

“Selma helped make it possible for hundreds and thousands of people in the South to become registered voters and encouraged people all across America to become participants in a democratic process.” USA Today interview, 2015

“To make it hard, to make it difficult almost impossible for people to cast a vote is not in keeping with the democratic process.” —The Atlantic interview, 2012

“Some of us gave a little blood for the right to participate in the democratic process.” —Goodwin College commencement speech, 2013

“In Selma, Alabama, in 1965, only 2.1 percent of blacks of voting age were registered to vote. The only place you could attempt to register was to go down to the courthouse. You had to pass a so-called literacy test. And they would tell people over and over again that they didn’t or couldn’t pass the literacy test.” —Democracy Now! interview, 2014

“I remember back in the 1960s—late ’50s, really—reading a comic book called ‘Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Story.’ Fourteen pages. It sold for 10 cents. And this little book inspired me to attend non-violence workshops, to study about Gandhi, about Thoreau, to study Martin Luther King, Jr., to study civil disobedience.” —John Lewis quote from the 50th anniversary on Selma, 2015

Nashville Public Library Awards Civil Right Icon Congressman John Lewis Literary AwardRick Diamond/Getty Images
John Lewis views for the first time images and his arrest record for leading a nonviolent sit-in at Nashville’s segregated lunch counters, March 5, 1963. He was earlier honored with the Nashville Public Library Literary Award on November 19, 2016, in Nashville, Tennessee.

John Lewis quotes on social justice

“Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” —John Lewis from the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020

“Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” —from Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change

“Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.” —from Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change

“To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again.” — John Lewis quote from the 1963 March on Washington

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” —a John Lewis tweet from June 2018

“The civil rights movement was based on faith. Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith. We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something.” PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly interview 2004

“We have been too quiet for too long. There comes a time when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your feet. This is the time.” — At the House sit-in after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, 2016

“We need someone who will stand up and speak up and speak out for the people who need help, for people who are being discriminated against. And it doesn’t matter whether they are Black or White, Latino, Asian or Native American, whether they are straight or gay, Muslim, Christian, or Jews.” — U.S. Congress, 2017

“It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds and thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets to speak up, to speak out, to get into what I call ‘good trouble,’ but to get in the way, and because of the action of young and old, Black, white, Latino, Asian-American, and Native American, because people cried and prayed, people will never, ever forget what happened and how it happened, and it is my hope that we are on our way to greater change.” —on Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s death.

“It was not enough to come and listen to a great sermon or message every Sunday morning and be confined to those four walls and those four corners. You had to get out and do something.” —John Lewis quote at the same Black Lives Matter protest. These are more inspiring Christian quotes to inspire you every day.


Quotes for the Fight Against Racism

Lynnette Nicholas
Lynnette Nicholas is a culture expert, children's media consultant, on-camera host and certified Rotten Tomatoes film critic covering the latest in Black culture, parenting, books, film, TV and faith. A graduate of the University of Florida, Lynnette also writes for Essence, Common Sense Media, Your Teen Magazine, HuffPost, Taste of Home, Parade and more. She is currently based in New York City, and when she's not writing or traveling, you can find her at an art gallery, theater performance or film screening.