Rep. John Lewis Honored at Atlanta University Center
By Cheryl D. Fields
U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ long commitment to racial justice and equal educational opportunity drew accolades last month from the six institutions that comprise the Atlanta University Center.
Higher education, civic and community leaders from throughout the region were on hand during a rare joint convocation to honor the 60-year-old legislator. Many offered their personal appreciation and congratulations to the Democratic civil rights leader from Georgia. Morehouse College’s president, Dr. Walter E. Massey, presided over the convocation, which was held in the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel on the Morehouse campus and drew more than 2,500 faculty, students and administrators.
“Congressman Lewis has been a very strong supporter of initiatives that provide educational opportunity for all of America’s young people — whether at the K-12 level, or at the postsecondary level,” said Catherine LeBlanc, executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges. “Because he is a graduate of a historically Black college, Fisk University, he has a particularly sensitive appreciation for these institutions and the contributions that they make to our country. It is very fitting that the institutions here in the Atlanta University Center pay tribute to him today, not only for his service to them and the other constituents of Atlanta, but as well for his service and contributions to all Americans.”
Joining Massey and LeBlanc at the convocation were the presidents of Clark Atlanta University, the Interdenominational Theological Center, Spelman College, Morris Brown and the Morehouse School of Medicine. Also participating in the ceremony were Dr. Samuel D. Jolley Jr., executive director of the Atlanta University Center; Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes; Atlanta Mayor William “Bill” Campbell; the Atlanta University Center Orchestra; the Morehouse College Glee Club; and the Morehouse College ROTC.
Morris Brown’s president, Dr. Delores E. Cross, presented Lewis with an honorary doctorate. The college was the only institution involved in the event that had not previously presented the congressman with the terminal degree. The other five presidents — Drs. Audrey Manley, Robert Franklin, Louis W. Sullivan, Thomas W. Cole Jr., and Massey — presented Lewis with citations.
Manley said Lewis’ legacy reminded her of Frederick Douglass’ contention that “power concedes nothing without demand.” She praised AUC students for their commitment to demanding justice through political activism, citing a Spelman voter registration drive that had signed up 762 new voters as an example.
“It is fitting that we follow in the footsteps of Congressman Lewis and make that demand today with our vote,” she said. “I am proud that AUC students are actively involved in the continued progress of our nation.”
Lewis underscored the importance of intellectual tenacity during his remarks, and called for a spirit of unity and collegiality among students in the AUC community.
“I cannot tell you how much it means to me to be honored by the Atlanta University Center in this way,” he said. “To see all of these young people, professors and administrators gives me such a warm and good feeling.”
Lewis began his career in political activism as a college student. He chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1963-66, in which capacity he led several nonviolent protests, including the historic 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. This and other highlights from his life are featured in his award-winning autobiography, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, published in 1998.
“It was in a place much like this — in a community of Black college students — that we learned about the discipline and philosophy of nonviolence and from which we drew the strength to begin the sit-in movement,” he told the AUC crowd gathered in his honor.
Lewis was elected to his first congressional term in 1986, representing the fifth congressional district, which includes the city of Atlanta and parts of Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties. At Black Issues’ press time, he was campaigning for an opportunity to serve his seventh term in Congress.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com