Civil rights hero to present college’s MLK address
Jan. 13, 2017
Hailed as a trailblazer of the civil rights movement, U.S. Rep. John Lewis will
present the annual Martin Luther King Jr. address at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 26 in Callaway
Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.
Lewis has represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District since 1986. Roll Call,
a publication covering Capitol Hill since 1955, has called him “a genuine American
hero and moral leader who commands widespread respect in the chamber.”
President Dan McAlexander said the college is honored to welcome a pioneer like
Lewis to campus.
“For more than five decades, John Lewis has stood on the front lines of social
change as a champion of civil rights,” he said. “He embodies the integrity and
moral courage we strive to encourage in our students.”
Lewis was born the son of sharecroppers in 1940 outside Troy, Alabama. He
grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools. As a
young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery bus boycott
and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts.
As a student at Fisk University, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated
lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1961, he volunteered to participate
in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals
across the South.
During the height of the movement (1963—1966), Lewis was named chairman of the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which he helped form. The group was
largely responsible for organizing the movement’s student activism, including sit-ins
and other activities.
By 1963, he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the civil rights movement.
At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic
March on Washington in August 1963.
In 1964, Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voter registration drives
and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The following
year, Lewis joined Hosea Williams to lead more than 600 protestors across the Edmund
Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965.
Intending to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting
rights in the state, the protestors were attacked by Alabama state troopers in
a confrontation that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” News broadcasts and photographs
of that day helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
After leaving SNCC in 1966, he continued his commitment as associate director
of the Field Foundation and through his participation in the Southern Regional
Council’s voter registration programs. Lewis went on to become the director of
the Voter Education Project. Under his leadership, the VEP transformed the nation’s
political climate by adding nearly four million minorities to the voter rolls.
In 1977, Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000
volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.
In 1981, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. While serving on the council,
he was an advocate for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. He was
elected to Congress in November 1986 and has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia’s
Fifth Congressional District since then. He is senior chief deputy whip for the
Democratic Party in leadership in the House, a member of the House Ways and Means
Committee, a member of its subcommittee on income security and family support,
and ranking member of its subcommittee on oversight.
Lewis holds a degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University, and is a
graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, Tennessee.
He has been awarded more than 50 honorary degrees from colleges and universities
throughout the United States, including Harvard University, Brown University, Princeton
University, Duke University, Clark-Atlanta University, Columbia University, Fisk
University and LaGrange College.
He received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, from President
Barack Obama, the Preservation Hero award given by the National Trust for Historic
Preservation, the Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize, the President’s
Medal of Georgetown University, the NAACP Spingarn Medal, the National Education
Association Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award and the only John F. Kennedy
“Profile in Courage Award” for lifetime achievement ever granted by the John F.
Kennedy Library Foundation.
Lewis is the co-author of the New York Times bestselling graphic novel memoir
trilogy “March.” The books have earned several awards and are being used in schools
across the country to teach the civil rights movement. They also have been selected
as a first-year common reading text at colleges and universities such as Michigan
State University, Georgia State University and Marquette University.
He is also the author of “Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change”,
written with Brenda Jones and winner of the 2012 NAACP Image Award for best literary
work-biography. His biography, “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,”
earned the Anisfield-Wolf book award as well as the Robert F. Kennedy book award.
He is also the subject of “Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front
Lines of the Civil Rights Movement” and “John Lewis in the Lead.”
He has been interviewed for documentaries, news broadcasts, and journals, including
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, CNN Headline News, CSPAN’s Washington Journal,
Time magazine, Newsweek magazine, The New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post,
USA Today, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Boston Globe.