Representative John Lewis in Conversation with Danny Lyon
Aug 9, 2016

A public lecture at the Whitney with photographer Danny Lyon and Congressman John Lewis.

Danny Lyon and Congressman John Lewis in conversation in the Hess Family Theater, July 2016. Photograph by Andrew Kist

In conjunction with the exhibition Danny Lyon: Message to the Future, the Whitney hosted a conversation between Congressman John Lewis and artist Danny Lyon on July 15. Lewis and Lyon first met in the early 1960s, when the Congressman was serving as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Lyon was the organization’s first official photographer. Lewis has served as the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s fifth congressional district since 1987. The only living “Big Six” leader of the Civil Rights Movement, he has received numerous awards, including the Medal of Freedom–the highest civilian honor in the United States–which President Barack Obama awarded him in 2010. The program was introduced by Elisabeth Sussman, Curator and Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography. Sussman described the history of Lewis and Lyon’s friendship, stating “this program brings together two men who have dedicated their lives to social activism and to bringing greater equality and empathy to our national culture.”

The two panelists on stage with a Civil Rights photograph displayed above.

Danny Lyon and Congressman Lewis, July 2016. Photograph by Andrew Kist

During the conversation, Lewis underscored the importance of Lyon’s photographs in the outcome of the American civil rights movement: “You made a major contribution to inspire so many people. Through your books, your films, and the beautiful photographs you made it plain. You made it real. And because these photographs were shared with people all around America and all around the world, they were moved. They were inspired to do something. To say something. To move their feet and a make a little noise. It was a great thing for an artist to do.”

The speakers also discussed Lewis’s current leadership in Congress on issues such as gun control, voting rights, and the upcoming presidential election. When a member of the audience asked what America should do to prevent hate and discrimination, Lewis stated, “What the American people must do is not to give up. We’ve got to organize and mobilize and go out and vote like we’ve never voted before.”

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By Lindsey Stoll, Public Programs Intern