Tag: John Lewis

Remembering civil rights icon John Lewis for “enduring pursuit of equity”

Rep. John Lewis greets graduates and their families as the 2015 Commencement speaker at Lawrence University.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is mourning the loss of Congressman John Lewis, an iconic figure who tirelessly fought for civil rights and racial justice. He taught us, the nation and the world about leadership and vision and showed us what it means to be a courageous champion of human and civil rights.

Lewis passed away late Friday following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.

Lawrence had a long relationship with the civil rights pioneer and longtime congressman. In June 2015, the school awarded Lewis an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, and Lewis delivered the spring Commencement address, his third visit to the campus.

“We try to prepare each of our students for a life full of meaning, success, and consequence; Congressman Lewis provided a beautiful model of such a life each time he joined us on campus,” Lawrence President Mark Burstein said. “We will miss his voice, spirit, and enduring pursuit of equity.”

Lewis first visited Lawrence in April 1964 as head field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He spoke at a campus-sponsored Civil Rights Week event.

He would return in February 2005 to deliver a convocation address in Memorial Chapel.

Rep. John Lewis talks with graduates and visitors to the spring Commencement in 2015.

When he returned in 2015, his story had been well chronicled, from the injuries he sustained in the historic 1965 march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery to his leadership in the civil rights movement to his rise as an influential member of Congress, serving the state of Georgia for 34 years.

He was joined in the 2015 visit to Lawrence by Appleton native and fellow Freedom Rider James Zwerg.

In his Commencement address, Lewis told the graduates and others who had gathered on the Main Hall Green that we need to embrace unity, no matter our ethnic background, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation.

Watch Rep. John Lewis’s 2015 Commencement address.

“We are one people, we are one family, we are one house,” he said. “We are brothers and sisters.”

He told the graduates they have a moral obligation to speak up against discrimination, encouraging them to “get in good trouble” in making the United States — and the communities in which they live — more compassionate and more inclusive.

“You can do it,” he said. “You must do it. Not just for yourselves but for generations yet unborn.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Civil Rights Legend John Lewis Speaks at Lawrence University Convocation

U.S. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a leading figure on the front lines of this nation’s civil rights movement, speaks on the importance of student activism and involvement in the protection of human rights and civil liberties in America Tuesday, Feb. 8 in the third installment of Lawrence University’s 2004-05 convocation series.

Hailed as “a genuine American hero” for his courage in the face of discrimination and human injustice, Lewis delivers the address “Get in the Way” at 11:10 a.m. in the Lawrence University Memorial Chapel. The event is free and open to the public.

The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Lewis, 64, grew up in the segregated South of the 1940s and ’50s, a time when signs for “Whites” and “Colored” were commonplace. Inspired by radio news broadcasts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.and his message of peaceful reform, Lewis committed himself at an early age to human rights activism.

While attending Fisk University, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville and participated in the famed “Freedom Rides” of the early 1960s, occupying bus seats reserved for whites only. At the age of 23, he became chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, helping organize student activism and earning recognition as one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement, joining King, Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins.

As SNCC chairman, Lewis was a principal architect of, and a keynote speaker at, the March on Washington in August, 1963, in which King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Two years later, Lewis led a march for voters’ rights in Alabama that ended in violence when marchers were attacked by state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” News accounts of the event helped speed the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that same year.

Lewis entered public politics in 1981 with his election to the Atlanta City Council. He joined the U.S. Congress in 1986 and has represented Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District in Washington the past 19 years.

Profiled in a 1975 Time magazine article entitled “Saints Among Us,” Lewis’ efforts on behalf of human rights and civil liberties have been recognized with numerous awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize, the John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for lifetime achievement, the NAACP Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement and the National Education Association Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award.

Lewis earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University and is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition, he has been recognized with nearly a dozen honorary degrees from Duke, Harvard and Princeton universities, among others.

His biography, “Walking With The Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,” was published in 1998.