Statement on the Loss of Congressman John Lewis
Chicago – John Lewis was a true champion of voting rights in America. After participating in numerous marches, being jailed 40 times in his struggle for the right to vote, and advocating for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he served as Executive Director of the Voter Education Project (VEP). Based in Atlanta, GA, VEP was created by the Southern Regional Council to register African Americans to vote across the South.
In 1971, three Mexican American leaders in Texas traveled to Atlanta to ask John Lewis to expand VEP to Texas and help register Blacks and Mexican Americans. In 1972, he hired Juan Andrade, now USHLI President, to be his Texas State Coordinator for voter registration. In 1974, Willie Velasquez founded the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), and Andrade moved to Columbus, OH and founded the Midwest Voter Registration Education Project (MVREP), now USHLI. VEP served as the prototype model for both organizations.
The two Latino organizations have registered a combined total of nearly five million new voters. Both Velasquez and Andrade received Presidential Medals from Bill Clinton for their service to the nation, an accomplishment made possible by the early vision and support of John Lewis.
Dr. Juan Andrade said, “Little did I realize in 1972 that I was working for the person who would become the godfather of Black and Latino political empowerment. While tens of millions have benefitted from his life and career, it was a personal privilege and an honor for me to work with him and learn how to empower others. He shaped my life’s work, and I mourn his loss in a very personal way.”