U.S. Rep. John Lewis to Deliver Commencement Keynote
Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis (D-Ga.) will receive an honorary degree and deliver the keynote address at Goucher College’s 124th Commencement on Friday, May 22, 2015.
President José Antonio Bowen will preside over the ceremony, which will begin at 10:30 a.m. on the Margaret M. Winslow Great Lawn, between the Athenaeum and Katharine and Jane Welsh Hall. For more information, visit www.goucher.edu/commencement.
Often called “one of the most courageous persons the civil rights movement ever produced,” Rep. Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights and securing civil liberties.
He was born the son of sharecroppers in 1940 outside of Troy, Alabama. 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. Since deciding early on to become a part of the civil rights movement, Rep. Lewis has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.
As a student at Fisk University, he organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. In 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Rep. Lewis risked his life on those rides many times and was beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South.
During the height of the civil right movement, Rep. Lewis was named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for organizing student activism in the movement. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the “Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.” And at age 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963.
In 1964, Rep. Lewis coordinated efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The following year, he and Hosea Williams, another notable civil rights leader, led more than 600 peaceful protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. They had intended to march to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state, but were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” News broadcasts and photographs revealing the senseless cruelty of the segregated South helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks, and serious injuries, Rep. Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. After leaving SNCC in 1966, he continued his commitment to the civil rights movement as associate director of the Field Foundation and as the director of the Voter Education Project, where he was able to help add nearly 4 million minorities to the voter rolls.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Rep. Lewis to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.
In 1981, Rep. Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council and advocated for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. He was elected to Congress in November 1986 and has served as the U.S. representative of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District ever since. He is senior chief deputy whip for the Democratic Party in leadership in the House, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a member of its subcommittee on income security and family support, and ranking member of its subcommittee on oversight.
He has been awarded more than 50 honorary degrees from prestigious colleges and universities throughout the United States, and he has received numerous awards, including the highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize; the NAACP Spingarn Medal; and the only John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for Lifetime Achievement ever granted by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
Rep. Lewis is the co-author of the No. 1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel memoir trilogy MARCH and Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, winner of the 2012 NAACP Image Award for Best Literary Work – Biography.
He earned a B.A. in religion and philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, Tennessee. Rep Lewis lives in Atlanta, and has one son, John Miles.