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The congressman leading the House sit-in is a Civil Rights hero

As the United States House of Representatives was about to go about its normal business on Wednesday morning, Rep. John Lewis, walked up to the front of the House and sat on the floor. 

He was joined, initially, by around 30 other Democratic members of Congress, though that number grew to include around 170 representatives — plus 20 senators — throughout the day. 

Lewis, 76, was leading his colleagues in a sit-in to try to force more votes on legislation that would bolster gun control.

"We have been too quiet for too long," Lewis said on Wednesday. "There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise, when you have to move your feet. This is the time."

The Lewis-led sit-in generated headlines throughout the day, especially because there was no traditional live-feed. Because Congress was not technically in session — Republicans called a recess when they realized what was afoot — the C-Span cameras that usually record proceedings were not allowed on. Reporters, too, were kept from broadcasting, but politicians began to do some tweeting and live streaming of their own, capturing social media attention. The sit-in trended on Twitter for most of Wednesday. Eventually, C-Span and other networks picked up the blurry live streams from inside the House. 

The sit-in harkened back to the protests that first put Lewis in the public eye. 

Born in Alabama in 1940, he led sit-ins at "whites only" restaurants as a teenager, and joined the "Freedom Rides" demonstrations against segregation in 1961. 

Lewis became known as a member of the "Big Six" Civil Rights Movement leaders. He spearheaded American nonviolent protest as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1963 and helped to plan that year's March on Washington, where he was the youngest person to take to the microphone. 

The civil rights activist was also a leader of the march in Selma, Alabama, during which activists who demonstrated so that black Americans might have the right to vote were brutalized by police. That 1965 march came to be known as "Bloody Sunday." Lewis' skull was cracked amid the violence.

After fighting for voting rights in the '60s, Lewis went on to win a congressional seat in 1986. From there, he went on to become known as the "conscience of Congress," and he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. 

Lewis and other representatives questioned that conscience on Wednesday from the House floor.

“We were elected to lead, Mr. Speaker,” Lewis said. “We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of mass gun violence in our nation.”

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